Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the HDP, Turkey's leading Kurdish party
Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the HDP, Turkey's leading Kurdish party, addresses his supporters in Diyarbakir 9 October 2014Reuters/Osman Orsal

With his youthful good looks and dynamic oratorical style, Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas has earned himself the moniker 'the Kurdish Obama' – he can now add electoral success to the traits he shares with the US president.

Demirtas's People's Democratic Party (HDP) gained 13% of the vote in Sunday's election (7 June), drawing votes not only from Turkey's huge Kurdish minority but also from secular Turks opposed to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP party.

In a victory speech in Istanbul, Demirtas bolstered his left wing credentials, with reference to Turkey as a whole rather than his own Kurdish background.

"We, as the oppressed people of Turkey who want justice, peace and freedom, have achieved a tremendous victory today. It's the victory of workers, the unemployed, the villagers, the farmers. It's the victory of the left," he said.

He will now lead 79 HDP MPs in the Turkish Parliament, marking the first time in history that Kurds have gained seats after breaking through the 10% minimum which critics suggest was designed specifically to deprive the Kurds of parliamentary representation.

It is a testament to the threat that Demirtas poses to Erdogan's power that the increasingly-despotic Turkish president launched fierce attacks during the election campaign. Erdogan branded his Kurdish rival a "pretty boy" and accused him of being a front for the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Those barbs have done nothing to diminish Demirtas's support. He is referred to as 'Selocan' by his supporters which translates as 'My Darling Selo', AFP reported.

His reaction to a bomb attack on a Kurdish rally in Diyarbakir on Friday also won him praise after he urged his supporters in the volatile Kurdish regions not to take to the streets, writing on Twitter that 'Peace will win', which became a trending hashtag on social media.

Analysts attribute Demirtas's successes not only to his skills as a speaker and his youth, but to his ability to fight Erdogan, considered a consummate political street-fighter, one-to-one and not be cowed by his powerful political rhetoric.

"Demirtas gained a vast popularity in recent weeks for his ability to stand up to Erdogan, deal with him on a rhetorical level," Ege Seckin, analyst at IHS, told IBTimes UK last week prior to the election.

"His winning points? He's a very good speaker and his political capabilities have proven to be a good match against Erdogan, a political mastermind."

Erkan Saka, who teaches at Istanbul's Bilgi University, said Demirtas – the second eldest of a family of seven children from the Kurdish city of Elazig – is key to HDP's grassroots campaigning that attracted many volunteers all across the country.

"He's a good communicator, sometimes I think of him as Erdogan in his early years but with a basic difference: Erdogan is more aggressive and unifying, while Demirtas uses political humour to address his policies."

He told Turkish media during the campaign that he became politically motivated at the age of 15 after attending a funeral of a Kurdish politician who was allegedly murdered by the Turkish security services. After graduation, he became a human rights lawyer.

"The HDP has done a lot in the past weeks to present itself as a peaceful and liberal party, which champions human rights and fills a gap in Turkish political landscape," Seckin said.

"One of HDP's senior representatives took part in the Gezi protest, was one of the leading figures. It is a bottom-up movement."

With both the Kurds and the nationalists ruling out a coalition with Erdogan and his AKP, Turkey is on its way to a second set of elections soon but that will not detract from Demirtas's achievement. The Kurds are a parliamentary political force in Turkey for the first time and Erdogan has had his substantial wings clipped by a politician who will serve as a dangerous rival.