A congress of the party met on Sunday in the capital Ankara to elect Pervin Buldan, an Istanbul lawmaker, and Sezai Temelli, an HDP deputy co-chairman, as the new leaders of the HDP.
The two, who were the only candidates in the leadership vote, will replace Selahattin Demirtas who has been in jail over charges of supporting terrorism. Demirtas served as leader of HDP, the second largest opposition party in Turkey, since June 2014.
Party officials said authorities had sought to block the HDP congress as police stopped delegates’ cars and carried out frequent ID checks. Some 32,000 people, including members and supporters, attended the congress while reports suggested that around 500 people had been arrested in the days leading up to the event.
Serpil Kemalbay, a former co-chair, condemned the arrests, saying they were carried out “arbitrarily” and with the aim to undermine HDP’s efforts for holding a “healthy” conference.
Most of those arrested in recent days have expressed their objection, either in the media or online, to Turkey’s continued military operation in a Kurdish-controlled territory northwest of Syria. Ankara has defended the action, which has left many dead in its military ranks since it began on January 20, saying it is fighting those that are in fact an extension of outlawed Kurdish militants in Turkey.
In a speech to the congress, Buldan said prior to her election that the HDP would continue to oppose government policies in dealing with Kurds both inside Turkey and also in the neighboring Syria.
“No matter how much they try to isolate us, no matter how much they try to discourage us by force and oppressive policies, we will rely on the spectacular strength of our rights and legitimacy that shines like the sun,” she said, adding, “We will not be a part or accomplice of this dark and lawless period in Turkey’s history.”