Once Upon a Time in Anatolia: Turkish Politics from June 7th to November 1st
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia:
Turkish Politics from June 7th to November 1st
None of the political parties could set up a one-party majority government as a result of the legislative elections held on June 7th. More specifically, decrease in the vote share of the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Justice and Development Party) (AKP) revealed the fact that there has been a reaction towards identification of the ‘reconciliation process’ with the ‘presidential system’ arguments. However, even though the AKP has lost its former political power in the system, the AKP called for early elections instead of forming a coalition government –also due to the intervention of the President Erdoğan. On the path towards early elections, AKP resumed armed struggle with the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistani (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) (PKK), returned back to its nationalist political agenda and moved forward to contribute further to the anti-ISIS coalition. All of these developments can be seen as AKP’s attempt to manipulate the nationalist votes in order to gain parliamentary majority again in the early election. In addition, the recent agreement with US on İncirlik military base can be considered as an attempt to maintain international legitimacy of fight against the PKK. However, this political shift of the AKP after June 7th elections might not help the AKP to win parliamentary majority again in the early elections while threatening Turkey’s domestic and international security and stability at the same time.
Turkey confronted with a political scene for which she was not prepared –although the election results on June 7th were not surprising. The Halkların Demokratik Partisi (Peoples’ Democratic Party) (HDP), secured a victory with 13% share of the vote while it was questionable whether they could even pass the electoral threshold of 10% just before the elections. Although it has been neglected by recent political analyses, the Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (Nationalist Movement Party) (MHP) also raised its share of votes up to 16%. The Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (Republican People’s Party) (CHP) preserved her position by 25% vote share. As a result of the increase in the vote shares of both pro-Kurdish political movement and Turkish nationalist party, the vote share of the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Justice and Development Party) (AKP) was reduced to 40% as opposed to 50% in the legislative elections of 2011. Thus, none of the parties could set up one-party majority government and coalition talks ended in a failure. The AKP did not propose a long-term coalition to any party and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did not assign any other party leader to form a coalition government but the leader of the AKP. After all, the constitutional process has started for snap elections and the president set up a temporary government consisting of the AKP, the HDP and independent members of the parliament.
Moreover, all too suddenly, the ‘reconciliation process’ which targets to find a peaceful solution for ‘the Kurdish Question’ through the negotiations between the government in Ankara and the PKK ended. The non-violence of the negotiation process was brought to an end and the armed conflict resumed. At that same time, Turkey declared that she would act more proactively against the Iraq and Syria Islamic State (ISIS). The negotiations between Turkey and the US have come to an end with an agreement which opens İncirlik military base for anti-ISIS operations as a result of this declaration.
At the end of the day, a new era of dramatic domestic and international developments has started in the aftermath of the June 7th elections. A lot of people ask the same question nowadays in Turkey: Would Turkey confront with these radical changes eventually had the AKP not lost the elections? The answer for this question could shape our comments about the possible results of the early election on 1 November and other developments in the aftermath of the election.
The Revenge of the Snakes
Post-election polls indicate that, contrary to popular belief; decrease in the AKP vote share cannot be explained solely with more conservative Kurdish voters preferring the HDP. KONDA’s (one of the trustable companies) research claims that the amount of votes that the AKP lost to the HDP and the MHP are equal. This research also shows that ‘strategic voting’ took place in June 7th elections and the threat of authoritarianism affected the voting behaviour of the secular and ethnically Turkish voters. The research revealed that a 28-32% of the new votes for the HDP in comparison with the elections of 2011 came from these people.
Therefore, it would not be a complete analysis to claim that the AKP lost its one-party majority solely due to the change in Kurdish conservatives’ voting behaviour. Rather, this picture shows us that the AKP has managed to be disapproved by Kurds, Turkish nationalists, and secular/liberal circles at the same time due its policies. Under those circumstances, it is important to focus on the two main issues of election campaign as follows: ‘presidential system’ and ‘reconciliation process.’ It would be plausible to claim that the election results were determined by discussions on these two issues. To start with, one might examine the changing voting behaviour of people who voted the AKP before, but not on June 7th.
For Kurds, it can be claimed that there has been a confidence crisis. Especially, Erdogan’s involvement in the election process alongside AKP to change the constitution, his persistence for the election of 400 MPs for it, and his putting forward these issues as prerequisites for the continuation of the reconciliation process made Kurdish political movement uncomfortable. Their discomfort was consolidated by the fact that no tangible step forward had been taken about reconciliation process during the election campaign and Erdoğan’s refusal of the Agreement of Dolmabahçe. In other words, there was no option offered to Kurds but continuing a process which is solely linked with Erdogan’s personal will and political future. Demirtaş had announced that reconciliation process would not be an issue of political negotiations and declared their decision for running for elections as a party rather than with independent candidates. Kurdish political movement has never forgotten probably one of the most fundamental primes of political science: ‘power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ In other words, they were not sure about how Erdogan, who would become the absolute ruler of the political system, could be convinced or forced to pursue a fair reconciliation process. HDP’s decision to run for the elections as a party and challenge AKP’s one-party majority government by targeting to pass election threshold could be a product of this concern. Then, they must have thought that it would be more sensible to negotiate a fairer reconciliation with a less powerful AKP than conceding their political power to Erdogan. Moreover, Erdogan’s political stance on reconciliation (and balance of powers within the system) starting from Gezi protests could have also increased the number of people who support this strategy.
Besides, the MHP, which has been ontologically against the resolution process, could also manage to gain new votes from AKP’s constituency. The fact that Erdogan has taken into account Öcalan’s participation in resolution process, has already created a considerable tension amongst nationalist people. MHP has successfully criticised that the process has been managed behind the doors. Probably Erdoğan and AKP did not choose to pursue the process transparent on purpose in order to avoid their nationalist constituency from changing their votes. But, it did not work sufficiently. Even though no one has an idea of what is going on behind the doors, the MHP has interpreted resolution process as negative as possible and claimed that it would be a threat for territorial integrity. Together with this, the MHP has criticised AKP’s system based on nepotistic relationships using the concepts of ‘human honour’ and ‘honourable citizen,’ rather than using the concepts of political science. They defined the citizens who were out of this system as ‘honourable citizens’ and managed to get votes from this part of the society.
To conclude, secular/liberal people has also been convinced that Erdogan would not having an ideal of democratisation since Gezi protests. Therefore, they thought that Erdogan misappropriated the resolution process, using it as political immunity against domestic political opposition. Especially, it was far from being convincing that Erdogan and AKP defended themselves against 17 and 25 December Corruption allegations by claiming that the target of these allegations was to stop resolution process. In this process, a group of liberals supporting the AKP organised a campaign called ‘BarışaBak’ (LookatPeace). The aim was to manipulate the public opinion by stressing the prominence of peace over all the values by diverting the public attention from authoritarianism, corruptions, and pressure on the media. However, the idea of increasingly more authoritarian government seemed not to appeal to the seculars and liberals. For this group, HDP’s running in the elections as a party as opposed to as independent candidates and passing the election threshold was viewed as a great opportunity to vote out AKP rule. And, they achieved it in a way.
At the end of the day, the AKP used ‘resolution process’ as means to reach ‘presidential system’ and failed. Dissatisfying 10 percent of voters from different positions in the political scale was not an easy job but the AKP achieved it. This picture will guide us with analysing the happenings took place after the June 7th elections.
After the elections, there were three options in front of the AKP, and a single option in front of Erdoğan. AKP could create a coalition and form a government with one of the three parties in the parliament. However, it did not go with a significant coalition proposal to any of the parties and did not evaluate none of the alternatives. Thus, the only alternative in front of Erdoğan was preferred compulsorily. This alternative was built on, not sharing the situation of forming the government alone for 13 years with another political party, under no circumstance. For as much as, particularly, the allegations of bribery and corruption which were covered after the 17/25 December investigation, could cause the reappearance before the jurisdiction of many politicians and bureaucrats, even many names in Erdoğan’s close circle. Thereby, in the event of a coalition government, these allegations could become a current issue again and the fate of many names within AKP would be left to this coalition’s mercy. Furthermore, the changing hand to another party of the economy, justice, interior and foreign affairs ministries as well as the social institutions that AKP governments perfectly connected to one another, could threaten the political future of AKP. Therefore, Erdoğan and AKP failed to form a coalition government and started to wait for the snap elections by adopting a new programme in domestic and foreign policies after the June 7th elections.
The main principle of this new policy is to come into power alone for AKP after November 1st snap elections. Erdoğan must have understood by now, that he won’t have 367 members of parliament that is needed to make him president. Moreover, it seems difficult for AKP to gain the 330 members of parliament –which is the threshold to hold a referendum for any changes in the parliament. What the AKP aims for the snap elections is, at least, to maintain the existing status-quo. In this way, Erdoğan, without a legal framework, by means of his control over the AKP, must have hopes to continue to be the ultimate de facto ruler of the system.
After the June 7th elections, Erdoğan’s explanation as the resolution process being suspended, the start of undertaking operations against the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistani (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) (PKK) and nationalistic discourses especially from the AKP, give us sufficient clue regarding Erdoğan and AKP’s intents before November 1st elections. AKP seems to realise that it will not be able to please Kurds, nationalists and seculars/liberals at the same time, nor persuade them to vote again for itself. For this reason, the AKP turned radically to a nationalist agenda. After the elections, the restart of a harsh struggle against the PKK succeeded to build a nationalistic wave. Now, the AKP has the option in front which is to take the helm of the nationalistic state of mind until the elections. If it can succeed in this and show itself as a ‘champion of nationalism,’ it can take back the nationalist-conservative votes that were snatched off by the MHP and can catch up the parliamentary majority. However, as well as this strategy has solemn obstacles in front, its long term consequences do not herald good signs for Turkey neither in domestic nor in foreign policy.
The most important obstacle for AKP’s adopted policy after June 7th elections to generate power alone is the problem of credibility. For as much as, while the resolution process was going on, in other words, within the period from January 2013 until June 7th, the AKP denied to consider all criticisms towards the Process, by putting forward categorical concepts like ‘peace’ and ‘human life.’ The AKP caricatured all sections which expressed these criticisms towards itself as being é
“vampire” or “haematophagous.” The announcement of ending the Resolution Process after June 7th elections, the confession that the PKK is secretly being prepared for a war while the Process was going on, are of confusing nature for the electorate. Forasmuch as, MHP’s warnings in this direction during the Resolution Process had not taken into consideration, moreover it was criticised by the AKP. Nevertheless, Öcalan was taken as an addressee, in fact, during Nawruz celebrations in 2013, 2014 and 2015 in Diyarbakır, there were no interference in the reading of Öcalan’s message to the public. In other words, if the AKP government –which took PKK’s leader as an addressee in person, and legitimise him partially– suddenly adopts an attitude of ‘hawk’ in the war against the PKK, the nationalist electorate may not be allured as it is expected. Likewise, the reactions shown during martyr funerals give the clues of this situation. The resigned discourse of the 1990s ‘may the country live long’ loses its prevalence among martyr’s relatives. Alternatively, questions like why the armed conflicts restarted –where there has been a ceasefire in the last two years– after the AKP lost its power and why the children of politicians do not fight are being asked instead. In a more conceptual statement the main question is this: Is there a difference between war and peace categorically as long as it serves AKP’s contextual interests?
On the other hand, Erdoğan’s interference in person in the process of forming a government together with the political and economical uncertainty of this situation, may cause displeasure on the electorate.
Particularly, during the coalition negotiations process, when considering CHP’s positive and reconciliatory attitude, Erdoğan’s coercive attitude towards snap elections may draw reaction of middle and moderate electorate. Besides, this reaction may get strengthened, if the AKP appears dependent on Erdoğan rather than its own mechanisms, and if it considers first Erdoğan’s priorities rather than its own policies. Thereby, the electorate who position themselves in the middle and who voted for the AKP until now, because it generated stability, may think the stability to be threatened by the AKP in the next elections. Although we do not have a data regarding this situation being reflected on AKP’s votes, it is not difficult to estimate that this negative image of the AKP will be used especially by the CHP during the campaign process.
Finally, the restart of operations against the PKK after June 7th elections, the escalation of nationalist shade in the official discourse and frequently imposed curfews in southeastern settlements may generate a negative impact on Kurdish electorate who used to vote for the AKP, and this electorate may gravitate towards the HDP in the November 1st elections. Forasmuch as, the incidents occurred in September in several parts of Turkey not only in the Southeast, indicated nationalist stress raised by the State could do harm to civilian Kurds too. At the end of the day, it will not be an exaggerating approach to predict Kurds, especially those living outside southeast region, get annoyed of this situation and might empower the HDP in order to stop the ongoing nationalist wave.
The AKP, with its policy adopted after June 7th, seems to put significant burden of foreign policy on Turkey’s shoulders, alongside the impacts that are going to be created in domestic policy. In the meantime, after June 7th elections, Turkey made a move to intensify its position within the Coalition against the ISIS. Turkey, which participated this Coalition last year in September, but did not emphasise sufficiently its determination inside the Coalition, released a letter of agreement regarding İncirlik Air Base in which the negotiations around continued for a very long time. This circumstance being coincided with following the elections and with the days when the fight started against the PKK, caused many remarks about. It was urged upon especially on Ankara’s claim to gain USA’s support, legitimating the conflict with the PKK and it was also seen as part of Erdoğan’s presidential system’s calculations.
However, Turkey’s playing a part in the coalition against the ISIS has brought numerous question marks. First of all, there exists an affiliation between Kurdish groups who fight against the ISIS in Syria organised around the Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat (Democratic Union Party) (PYD) and the PKK. To put it in a more assertive way, there is no possibility to separate these groups from each other. Therefore, it is inevitable that Turkey’s fight against the PKK would have adverse negative impacts on the PYD and consequently to the struggle of the PYD against the ISIS. Under these circumstances, if Turkey’s real objective is to fight against the PKK, it is expected to make severe and difficult commitments in its fight against the ISIS. So that, this may mean Turkey goes to a harsh war with the ISIS alongside the PKK. On the other hand, the conflict environment in which Turkey engages against the PKK and in turn the PYD, may also engender various reactions in the Kurdistan Regional Government. It is an issue of concern, how far Masoud Barzani, who frequently faces off accusations of having personal relationship with Erdoğan from his opponents, is going to risk his domestic policy by remaining close to Turkey. If the conflicts continue, in order to placate internal opposition, Barzani may position himself against Turkey, and Kurdish groups which seem difficult to mesh together may side against Turkey, by meeting on the same level. At the end of the day, Turkey may be obliged to face both a united Kurdish front and an aggressive ISIS menace.
While the elections of November 1st approaching, public surveys, leaked in the media, indicate a similar picture to June 7th, and the AKP will not have the majority in the parliament despite the strategic moves in the time period left. If the situation continues in this manner, it is to the point to mention splitting ways both for AKP and Erdoğan. Either the AKP will consent to share the government and will look for a partner to make a comprehensive and long-term coalition programme, instead of dealing with an inexperienced impetuosity, the issues like Kurdish problem, foreign policy or economic reform. Or the instability and further snap elections scenarios, by Erdoğan’s intervention, will come to the fore. Let’s hope, if the AKP chooses the second way, those who realise within the AKP, that politics will be discredited, economics and foreign policy will be under great risks and the AKP itself will pay a heavy price for this in the following elections, would object strongly.
Dr. Burak Bilgehan Özpek, TOBB University of Economics and Technology, Ankara & Visiting Scholar, King’s College London, Defence Studies
Please cite this publication as follows:
Özpek, B. B.(October, 2015), “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia: Turkish Politics from June 7th to November 1st” Vol. IV, Issue 10, pp.39-48, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey), London, Research Turkey ( http://researchturkey.org/?p=9866)
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