Yuksekdağ is even more impressive in private than she is in public, capable of delivering rhetoric with confidence but also candidly dissecting government tactics, and poking fun at the venal side of politics. Our conversation turns to the AKP’s poster campaign, which has promised cash gifts to mothers on the birth of their babies — the equivalent of €93 for the firstborn, €125 for the second, €187 for the third — in addition to an existing stipend. We both laugh at the absurdity of this, and I ask her whether she thinks women may vote for the AKP as a result of these promises.“A portion of them will do,” she replies. “Many women in Turkey feel they don’t have the option to break out of their role as a mother or wife, and the AKP is the first party to offer them this money — small as it is. They’re grateful.”Yuksekdağ is sharp enough to know that there is a solid reason behind the AKP’s campaign. “You know why the AKP is trying so hard to attract women voters, don’t you?” According to the leaked minutes of an ultra-confidential AKP strategy meeting, recently published on an opposition news-site that was subsequently blocked, the party lost a significant number of votes from women and young people in June, information which corroborated what the HDP had already guessed.I ask Yuksekdağ whether she expects an angry reaction from Kurds in the southeast if the HDP fails to pass the 10 percent threshold. “If we don’t pass, it will not be the real result,” she says, alluding to increasing concern among the opposition that electoral fraud may come into play on Sunday. “We canceled rallies but we know our support hasn’t dropped.”* * *Yuksekdağ is at heart an activist. She cites Rosa Luxemburg, the early 20th century Marxist leader, as one of her role models, and one gets the sense she is deeply frustrated by Turkey’s stagnant political playground. Yet she is determined — and talented — enough to play the part required. She says the HDP is entirely open to a coalition, something many risk-averse Turks regard with suspicion as a considerably weaker option than a single party government. The AKP has played on this fear, with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu recently imploring voters not to “leave me to Bahçeli or Kiliçdaroğlu,” referring to the two leaders of the main opposition parties. ISTANBUL — Figen Yuksekdağ would be a superstar in a country less suffocated by macho politics.As co-chair of the party which unexpectedly robbed the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of its ruling majority in June, Yuksekdağ is one of the most important politicians in Turkey today. She is also the embodiment of the leftist Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) commitment to gender equality, in a country that ranks 120 of 136 on the Global Gender Gap Index. All positions in the HDP are split between a woman and a man as a matter of policy, but it would be ludicrous to view Yuksekdağ as “the token woman.”Since the age of 17, when she was arrested for the first time in a street protest in southeast Turkey, she earned her political stripes with decades of activism before becoming co-chair of the party at its formation three years ago. She is also the kind of politician who dismisses Tansu Çiller, Turkey’s first — and only — female prime minister, as “a cheap copy of Margaret Thatcher.” It is safe to say Yuksekdağ is not a cheap copy of anyone. As Turkey steels itself for the snap election called by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for November 1, Yuksekdağ, 44, is at the forefront of the HDP’s battle to retain its presence in Parliament and again deny the AKP its ruling majority. Yet she receives virtually no exposure in Turkish media — even less than her male counterpart, Selahattin Demirtaş — due to major TV stations boycotting HDP members, who have been accused of spreading “terrorist propaganda” by government officials and Erdoğan himself. The ostensible reason lies in the party’s high-profile backing of Kurdish rights and involvement in the now-stalled Kurdish peace process, which was set to end 40 years of conflict between the PKK, a Kurdish militant group, and the Turkish government. The cynical reason is a PR war of attrition against the HDP.The party, which advocates decentralization of power and minority rights, stormed into Parliament for the first time in June with 13 percent of the vote, clearing Turkey’s uniquely high 10 percent electoral threshold for representation. It was, according to Yuksekdağ, “the most exciting, most hopeful moment in recent political history, perhaps the most euphoric of my life.”Since then, the country has witnessed what she bluntly calls a “war”: a resurgence of the conflict between Turkish troops and the PKK in the southeast, the most deadly terrorist attack in Turkish history, and physical attacks on HDP members and regional headquarters. If the party gets less than 10 percent of the vote on November 1, the AKP will almost certainly win back its ruling majority — “the worst possible” outcome, according to Yuksekdağ.* * *I meet Yuksekdağ at her party’s Istanbul headquarters in Tarlabaşı, a largely derelict neighborhood frequented by drug dealers and migrant squatters, in a scruffy building almost comically dissimilar to President Erdoğan’s 1,000 room “White Palace” in the capital city of Ankara. She is in the middle of a campaign tour which has taken her from the Kurdish regions of the east of Turkey (including the town of Van, where she is the MP), to Europe; she interrupted the tour on October 10, flying to Ankara when news broke of the twin suicide bombings that killed 102 peace activists, among them several HDP members who were targeted in the first blast. The party canceled all rallies until the elections, but Yuksekdağ and Demirtaş are meeting youth and minority groups individually across the country. “They didn’t accept my activism for a while. I had to fight against both macho politics and against my family. But in the end, they saw my commitment, my dedication, and they supported me — not just theoretically, I mean. They actively campaign for me now.”‘In spite of war, peace. In spite of everything, hope.’Yuksekdağ relates a recent incident following the Ankara bombings. The party decided to cancel a meeting on October 11, the day after the tragedy, mainly due to security concerns. Her father, however, urged her to go ahead with the meeting “so they don’t think they’ve scared you.” She smiles affectionately: “That’s the Adana spirit for you!”* * *Yuksekdağ is clearly a fighter, but her fighting spirit is resolutely concentrated on peace at this crucial juncture in Turkish political history. She says around 500 HDP members and supporters have been murdered since June.“They are trying to take our hope away. But the HDP is the future of Turkey, it is still a child, still growing. They can’t kill our future by killing 500 people. That is why in our election video we repeat the word inadına [in spite of]. ‘In spite of war, peace. In spite of everything, hope.’” With only seven days of frantic touring left, Yuksekdağ is calm and collected, sipping a glass of tea as she explains the AKP’s reaction to the June 7 election results.“The AKP was really spooked. They saw that democracy was getting stronger — in fact, that June 7 could serve as the inspiration for democrats to beat anti-democrats. That’s why they started this war.”According to Yuksekdağ, the violence that has marked this summer — including the bombings in Ankara, which appear to have been carried out by ISIL suspects taking advantage of shockingly lax security measures — was fomented by the government in an attempt to intimidate the HDP and its supporters.“The AKP tried to make people think that the HDP and the PKK are the same, but it didn’t work. People don’t believe that.”I am not entirely sure I agree with her — many nationalist Turks do believe this, with or without the encouragement of the AKP. But it is worth noting that Yuksekdağ is her party’s most convincing proof of ethnic objectivity for those who still need convincing of the HDP’s independence. Most Turks assume she is Kurdish, or at least an Alevi, as are the majority of HDP members and supporters (her counterpart Demirtaş, for example, is a Zaza Kurd).She is in fact as “classically” Turkish as they come, the ninth of 10 children born into a Sunni laborer’s family in rural Adana, southeast Turkey. Her family is not leftist at all, she says, and was initially opposed to her adolescent involvement in socialist activism. “It’s a lie — a very dangerous lie — to say Turkey can’t be led by a coalition. The AKP did not embrace a coalition over the summer, but we are open to everything.”Our time is up, but, emboldened by her easy-going demeanour, I can’t resist a bonus question. If she were stuck in an elevator with Devlet Bahçeli — the head of the quasi-fascist Nationalist Movement Party, who famously declared that his party would not vote in favor of anything or anyone the HDP voted for — what would she say?She bursts out laughing. “There is literally no sentence that comes to mind! I have no words.”She thinks for a few seconds. “Well, he would probably refuse to breathe the same air as me out of principle, so he would quickly suffocate and the problem would be solved.”And with that masterstroke, she is off to continue her tour.Alev Scott is the author of the book “Turkish Awakening” (Faber & Faber, 2014) and a freelance writer based in Istanbul. Follow her on Twitter @AlevScott.