Turkey votes for stability
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) made a strong come back in the November 1 snap election and won a stunning, landslide victory. In just five months since the June 7 election the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi regained a decisive majority in parliament. Voters were convinced that these were crucial elections and showed up in record numbers at the ballot boxes. The voter turnout had never been so high: 85.18%.
In June the majority of voters wanted change. It resulted in a hung parliament as the AKP lost 9% of the vote and got 53 seats less in the parliament. For the first time since 2002 the party lost its majority. As parties were unable to form a coalition government President Erdogan decided to call for snap elections. Surprising everybody the AKP won 49.3% of the vote and 317 of the 550 seats.
The elections were held under the shadow of deadly violence from Turkish members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and renewed clashes between the army and militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Kurdish: Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê – PKK) in the predominately Kurdish east and south-east of Turkey. More than 140 soldiers and policemen lost their lives in these clashes.
On July 20 a Turkish suicide bomber of ISIL killed 33 leftist Kurdish and Turkish activists in the town of Suruç, 10 km north from Kobani in Syria. After being under siege for many months by ISIL the activists had travelled to Suruç to participate in the rebuilding work of Kobani.
Three weeks before the election the capital Ankara was the scene of the deadliest terrorist attack in Turkey’s modern history: two Turkish suicide bombers of ISIL killed 102 leftist Turkish and Kurdish activists.
The increasing violence and political tension created the perfect climate for the main slogan of the AKP: Vote for stability and security. The 9% swing voters that left the AKP in June all returned and the party of president Erdogan won a stunning victory. According to a survey by Ipsos Türkiye for CNN Türk 10 % of AKP voters decided to vote for AKP after the Ankara bombings, as well as 5% of HDP voters. Fear seemed to have been the main determining factor in the decisions of the swing voters.
The size of the victory surprised friend and foe. Why? All polling companies had predicted that voter behavior wouldn’t be very different from the June elections. AKP would win a couple of percentage points, but barely enough to regain the majority, they all predicted. Nobody expected that many conservative religious Kurds who voted for the pro Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (Turkish: Halkların Demokratik Partisi – HDP) would return to the AKP. But they did. They hated the return of violence, funerals and curfews after a two-and-a-half –year period of peace and economic development in the poorest region of the country. They seemed to be convinced by the election propaganda of Prime Minister Davutoglu and President Erdogan that the HDP was partly to blame for the attacks of PKK and its urban militants. With their renewed campaign of violence the PKK showed that tutelage of guns over politics is still alive in Turkey. The men in the mountains call the shots not the HDP. The leftist HDP barely passed the 10% election threshold, got 10.7% and lost 2.4% compared to June.
Another big loser was the Nationalist Movement Party (Turkish: Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi – MHP). They lost 4.39% and 40 seats in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. They were punished by nationalist voters because their leader Devlet Bahçeli didn’t have any proposals to solve Turkish political and economic problems. He became known as ‘Mr. No’, because he didn’t respond in a constructive way to any suggestion of cooperation with the AKP in a possible coalition.
The main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (Turkish: Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi – CHP), got stuck with a quarter of the votes again and got 25.3%. It increased it votes only a tiny bit with 0.38%. The party doesn’t have a vision for the future, lacks a charismatic leader and doesn’t have a modern and effective party organization.
The overwhelming concern of half of the electorate seemed to be stability and security. They were less bothered by the deteriorating process of attacks on democratic rights, pressure on and intimidation of media and journalists critical of the government, politicizing of the justice system and the ongoing witch hunt against judges, prosecutors, policemen, teachers and businessmen and business organizations with links to the Gülen movement. Turks who are inspired by this religious and social movement led by Turkish Islamic scholar and preacher Fethullah Gülen, are being accused of infiltrating state institutions to establish a parallel state. Prosecutors, the AKP government and pro AKP media refer to their one time ally as the Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization (FETO).
The only aim AKP didn’t succeed in was pushing the HDP under the election threshold of 10%. Would that have been the case AKP would have had a two thirds majority to change the constitution without the input of any other party. Now they need a three-fifth majority of 330 seats to take their proposal for a new civilian constitution, to replace 1982 one that was written by the military junta, to a referendum.
Although Prime Minister Davutoglu promised reconciliation with all parts of society in his victory speech, and promised that his government would protect the rights of all 78 million people in Turkey, it is more likely that the politics of polarization, hate speech and revenge against those who disagree or oppose the AKP will continue. Only days after the election 46 civil servants and police officers were detained in Izmir on suspicion of being members of the ‘parallel state’. Dozens of journalists and other employees were dismissed working at pro Gülen media taken over by a pro-government caretaker panel. Their TV channels were removed from cable provider Digiturk. Several people were arrested for allegedly ‘insulting’ Erdogan. And police officers in Ankara searched offices of business groups working under the Turkish Confederation of Business men and Industrialists (Tuskon), known for having links to the Gülen movement. Pro-government journalists called for the dismissal of several critical columnists of the Dogan Media Group. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the chairman of the main opposition party CHP asked why the government ‘fears free media’. “These demands (for the dismissal of journalists) are a blow to democracy. It shows that the ‘Goebbels’ process has begun”. http://bit.ly/1MqLD0T
During a security summit on November 4 Prime Minister Davutoglu ordered major operations against the PKK “without interruption in winter conditions”.
In a speech on the same day however President Erdogan, addressing village heads, signaled that he wants to restart negotiations with imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, but under a new name: national unity and fraternity process.
AKP promised the voters stability and security. Half of the electorate gave the party a renewed mandate to fulfill this promise. Political stability and economic progress is only possible with an improvement of democracy and an independent judiciary. Otherwise investors will go to other emerging markets with their capital and know how. There is no time to lose, according to Ali Babacan, the architect of AKP’s economic policy. The new government has a window of opportunity of 90 days to start new structural reforms to get the Turkish economy out of the middle income trap. “We must take action rapidly on reforms about subjects such as labor markets, product markets, fighting corruption, competition and transparency or else we will have to wait for the 2019 elections”. http://bit.ly/1REQifG
Turkish politicians have lost two years because of four elections between 2013 and 2015, and because of political infighting with the rival Islamic Gülen movement. Credit rating company Fitch stated that political risk persists in Turkey. “Reduced uncertainty over elections and the composition of the government does not necessarily translate into reduced political risk. Domestic political tension will remain high if Recep Tayyip Erdogan resumes his efforts to extend the power of the presidency.” http://bit.ly/1MDS2Bu
Within days of its election victory the AKP reopened the debate of changing Turkey’s parliamentary system into a presidential system as part of a new constitution. Erdogan wants to rule as an executive president with no or very few checks and balances. The fight over a new constitution and Erdogan’s ambitions to rule as a postmodern sultan promise to produce enough explosive material for continued political tension inside and outside the parliament.