The Violence of Stability: Some Notes on the Turkish Elections of 1st November

The Violence of Stability:
Some Notes on the Turkish Elections of 1st November

Abstract

This paper analyses the context of Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi’s (AKP) return to majority rule in the repeat elections of 1st of November. It argues that the ‘state of emergency’ introduced by the AKP in the aftermath of Gezi uprising reached its peak following the June 7, 2015 elections and took the form of a ‘preferred chaos.’ This ‘me or chaos’ strategy of the AKP and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan proved to be successful, and paved the way for the outcome of the November elections. The paper also criticises the post-election mainstream expectations of AKP’s return to ‘factory defaults’ or ‘reformist spirit of 2002,’ and argues that the political economy of that period facilitated the current authoritarian rule of the AKP. Repetition of such an ‘era’ is very difficult within the current crisis-ridden world market context. If anything, Turkey is more likely to witness further authoritarianism, economic problems, and negative consequences of AKP’s foreign policy. This paper thus argues that ‘New Turkey’ will neither be a promising place for progressive politics, nor will it be an easy place for the AKP to govern either.

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Turkey’s authoritarian neoliberal and Islamist Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Justice and Development Party) (AKP) won back the majority in a ‘repeat’ election on the November 1 2015, gaining almost 50% of the votes. The results indicate that since the June 7, 2015 elections the AKP had increased its votes by almost 5 million –from 40.8% to 49.5%– at the expense of both the nationalist Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (Nationalist Movement Party) (MHP) whose votes decreased from 16% to 11.9%, and the pro-Kurdish left-wing Halkların Demokratik Partisi (People’s Democratic Party) (HDP) whose votes decreased to 10.8% from 13.1% in June; as well as other nationalist/Islamist minor political parties. The social democratic Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (Republican People’s Party) (CHP) kept its votes at around 25%, with the increase in votes being insignificant. The outcome of the elections was surprising –even for the AKP officials and pro-government polling companies, the majority of whom had suggested that it would be unlikely that the AKP would form a single majority government. It seems that the so-called “Shy Tory Factor” –a term referring to conservative voters’ voting behaviour in Britain suggesting they either do not reveal their true preference to pollsters or switch preference at the last moment– played a role in cultivating this outcome, as well as a historic failure of the polling companies in Turkey. [1]

This was an extraordinary election which cannot properly be assessed by looking at the election campaigns and election manifestos of the political parties, or the ordinary concerns of citizens. The continuing ‘state of emergency’ introduced by the authoritarian AKP in the aftermath of the Gezi uprising in June 2013 reached its peak following AKP’s loss of majority (for the first time since 2002) during the June 7, 2015 legislative elections. The AKP and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did not accept the outcome of the elections, and due in part to the fragmented opposition and MHP’s antagonistic attitude towards the HDP, managed to remain fully in power until the ‘repeat elections’ on November 1, 2015. During the time between elections, the AKP and President Erdoğan decided to pursue a ‘chaos’ strategy to win back the majority, giving the message to the nation that only a ‘strong’ AKP could ‘govern’ Turkey.

Following the June 7, 2015 elections, the negotiation process with the Kurdish movement was suspended; clashes started again with the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistani (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) (PKK); and the Kurdish regions were an object of an ongoing ‘state of emergency. Hundreds of HDP members were arrested; its buildings were attacked; Kurdish workers and shops owned by Kurdish people were attacked in Western Turkey in September in a series of events, reminiscent of Kristallnacht.[2] Hundreds of activists, students, unionists, and citizens who demanded peace were killed in suicide bomb attacks in Suruç in July and Ankara in October; allegedly because of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) attacks.[3] A fear of ‘terror’ paralysed the whole nation. Pressure on the journalists and media intensified, and plain bourgeois-democratic rights were suspended to a significant extent, which is not new but intensified following the June 7, 2015 elections.

The already fragile economy further deteriorated following the first election, and the Turkish Lira reached historic lows against the U.S. Dollar, while unemployment increased to its highest point since 2010. During this time 310,000 more people have been added to the list of the indebted who cannot pay their loans or credit card debts back.[4] Under these conditions, as it has been used in the past by other neoliberal authoritarian establishments and leaders,[5] President Erdoğan’s election message before November 1, 2015 was clear: “Either it’s me or chaos!”[6]

This strategy worked as the AKP now has a strong majority with 317 seats out of 550 in Parliament; yet this is still insufficient for constitutional changes or referendum (330 seats are needed for a constitutional referendum). However, there is little doubt that President Erdoğan will attempt to change the parliamentary system to a presidential one –where he, in his words, could run the country like a business and supplant the “many-voiced” parliamentary system.[7] Apparently, a spectre is haunting Turkey, the spectre of Carl Schmitt.[8]

Meanwhile, liberal intelligentsia, mainstream media, the big bourgeoisie, and even the opposition CHP officials call for a return to the “good old days” and so-called “reformist” period of the AKP; namely its first term in power, 2002-2007.[9] What they mean is a return to EU-backed ‘democratic’ reform process and polity, structural reforms on economy, and rapid growth accompanied by these reforms. They assessed the 2002 elections as a watershed moment which put an end to the anti-democratic status-quo, and thus as a rupture for a democratic rule, which would be pursued by the ‘reformist’ former Islamists. They see the problems of Turkey in moving away from the 2002-2007 ‘spirit,’ and “rolling back reforms that has led to malaise in Turkey,” they argue.[10]

However, the ‘class-blind’ nature of these arguments obscures the real picture of that era. The so-called ‘democratic’ reforms were a ‘legitimation strategy’ for the AKP; in order to increase its bargaining power with the big bourgeoisie and military, rather than a genuine democratisation process. This process was very selective and narrow from the very beginning.  In the economic realm, the AKP simply followed a path already established in the aftermath of the 2001 crisis, which introduced a depoliticised and technocratic management of economy; an anti-labour economic policy and further institutionalisation of rule of money. Moreover, the world market was experiencing a boom before the crisis, which benefited ‘emerging markets.’ Thus, the high growth performance of the era was not achieved through a progressive economic policy, and is now very difficult to repeat in the current world market context.

Concomitantly, the same policies led to a deterioration of the conditions of the masses,[11] which made them dependent on the AKP, and put them in a position to demand stability more than anything else. Given the anti-labour stance of the post-2001 reforms (anti-inflationary credibility based on low wages, lack of an employment policy, privatisation, flexibilisation of the labour market), real wages declined significantly and the unemployment rate increased to double digits. This was accompanied by an increase in precarious and insecure conditions for the labourers. This created the basis for the “making of the indebted man”[12] in the Turkish context in the 2000s. Hence, although the ratio of household debt to disposable income was insignificant in Turkey in the 2000s (only 7.5% in 2003), it increased to 55.2% in 2013.[13]

The very same policies also made the masses dependent on AKP’s conservative social assistance strategy –as almost 13 million people are covered by this strategy– and helped the party to contain the working class.[14] For them, chaos should be avoided, and because of the conservative nature of these masses, it has been always easy for the AKP to manipulate their nationalist and religious sentiments.

This account is in sharp contrast with the above-mentioned expectations, and argues that the period in question paved the way for today’s authoritarian neoliberalism with an increasingly Islamist character, which now leans towards fascistic tendencies. Our expectations also reflect the ‘pessimism of the intellect’ à-la-Gramsci for the new era. The ‘New Turkey’ promised by the AKP will not be a promising place for progressive politics, nor will it be easy for the AKP to ‘govern’ in the old way either. It now faces important economic problems which might end up in crisis; a very difficult position in the Middle East as a result of catastrophic foreign policy; and a very polarised nation. It has, however, no one else to blame now but itself.

M. Erman Erol, PhD Candidate, University of York

Please cite this publication as follows:

Erol, M. E. (November, 2015), “The Violence of Stability: Some Notes on the Turkish Elections of 1st November” Vol. IV, Issue XI, pp.35-40, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey), London, Research Turkey (http://researchturkey.org/?p=10011)

Endnotes

[1] “Shy Tory Factor” was apparent in a number of elections in Britain, most notably in 1992 and May 2015. See The Economist, ‘The Return of the Shy Tories?’ [Accessed on 1st November 2015], Available at:

http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21650716-return-shy-tories

[2] Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) refers to a wave of violent anti-Jewish pogroms in Nazi Germany.  This pogrom targeted the Jews, Jewish-owned stores, buildings and synagogues on 9-10 November 1938. See Holocaust Encyclopedia,  [Accessed on 11th November 2015], Available at: http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005201

[3] ‘Chief Prosecution Says ISIS Responsible for Ankara Massacre, [Accessed on 3rd November 2015], Available at:

http://bianet.org/english/politics/168724-chief-prosecution-says-isis-responsible-for-ankara-massacre

[4] ‘İki Seçim Arası Çok Kırıldık,’ Habertürk, [Accessed on 2nd November 2015], Available at:

http://www.haberturk.com/ekonomi/ekonomi/haber/1117515-iki-secim-arasi-cok-kirildik,

[5] Most famous one is by former Argentine President Carlos ‘El-Turco’ Menem in 1995 elections. See A.C. Dinerstein (2002), The Battle of Buenos Aires: Crisis, Insurrection and Reinvention of Politics in Argentina. Historical Materialism, 10(4), pp.5-38.

[6] ‘Erdoğan Triumph Leaves Turkey Polarised,’ [Accessed on 2nd November 2015], Available at:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-34697150

[7] D. Dombey (2015). ‘President Tightens Grip on State,’ Financial Times, Special Report on Turkey, 15.04.2015, p.1.

[8] See C. Schmitt (1988), The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, Cambridge: MIT Press.

[9] The post-election TV debates were dominated by the discussions around the possibility of AKP’s return to its ‘factory defaults.’ See also TÜSİAD’s post-election press release for its expectations, [Accessed on 2nd November 2015], Available at:

http://www.tusiad.org/__rsc/shared/file/TUSIAD-Basin-Bulteni—2-Kasim-2015.pdf

For CHP Deputy President responsible for Economic Affairs Selin Sayek Böke’s views on 2002-2007 period and economic reforms, [Accessed on 3rd November 2015], Available at:

http://t24.com.tr/yazarlar/murat-aksoy/ekonomide-de-ustunlerin-hukuku-gecerli-hale-geliyor,10258

For the identification of AKP’s early years with democratic reforms and economic success, see, Z. Öniş and E. Bayram (2008), Temporary Star or Emerging Tiger? Turkey’s Recent Performance in a Global Setting, New Perspectives on Turkey, 39, pp.47-84; also see D. Acemoğlu and M. Üçer (2015), ‘Rolling Back Reforms Has Led to this Malaise,’ Financial Times, Special Report on Turkey, 15.04.2015, p.1.

[10] Acemoğlu and Üçer (ibid.).

[11] For a critical evaluation of post-2001 economic adjustment and its effects on wage-labour, see E.Yeldan (2009), Patterns of Adjustment in the Age of Finance: The Case of Turkey as a Peripheral Agent of Neoliberal Globalization, The IDEAs Working Paper Series, 01/2009, [Accessed on 2nd November 2015], Available at:

http://www.networkideas.org/working/feb2009/01_2009.pdf

[12] See M. Lazzarato (2012), The Making of the Indebted Man, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).

[13]‘How Debt Threatens Turkey’s Economy, Financial Times, [Accessed on 3rd November 2015], Available at:

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/0b9b66bc-cc98-11e3-ab99-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3qLHQmkYl,

[14] İşte AK Parti’nin ‘Sosyal Yardım’ Gerçeği, Radikal, 29.12.2014, [Accessed on 2nd November 2015], Available at:

http://www.radikal.com.tr/politika/iste-ak-partinin-sosyal-yardim-gercegi-1260849/

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