Turkey will be voting again on November 1st. The parliamentary elections earlier this year (7.6.15) brought an end to more than a decade’s rule by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Although he is supposed to hold a non-partisant position as Turkey’s president, Erdogan campaigned intensively for his party in the hope of winning a majority and transform the parliamentary system into a presidential one. Throughout the campaign, Erdogan justified his ambitions by referring to the “national will” [milli irade] that would be concretized by the elections. However, that same “national will” dictated a very different result. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) was able to surpass the 10% threshold and destroy AKP’s one-party rule, shattering Erdogan’s dreams of initiating a presidential system that will replace the current parliamentary one. The system he proposes will provide more powers to the position of president. If the HDP had not passed the threshold, all deputies from the Kurdish cities would be from the AKP, which could have continued its one-party regime and kept Erdogan in power. Since the June 7 elections took place, I have not heard so much about the “national will” and it seems that the representatives of the ruling party no longer respect it with regard to the results. Besides, Kurds became the enemy because pro-Kurdish HDP passed the election threshold and won the seats in the Kurdish region which would otherwise be won by AKP as the second biggest party, and the [already fragile] peace process and the ceasefire – its most visible aspect – ended at a cost of many lives.
After the election, Turkey witnessed days of silence from Erdogan’s side (Ticking clock marks Erdoğan’s silence after election). When it was finally broken, it was to declare that a new election was needed. As he probably wanted, after 45 days of uneventful coalition talks, the country is now preparing for another election. During the coalition talks process, the stance of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) was most surprising. If it had cooperated with the HDP and the The Republican People’s Party (CHP), a coalition without the AKP would have been possible. However, the MHP’s phobia regarding the Kurds was apparently greater than a desire to be in the government. The MHP distanced itself from all parties, including the AKP and the resulting impasse is one of the reasons for the snap elections. A more likely coalition government might have been formed with the AKP and the CHP. Most of the coalition talks were spent between these two parties. When many observers believed there could be a coalition, the Suruç massacre happened, bringing an end to all civic talk and Erdogan’s harsh rhetoric against the Kurdish movement and his desire for a new election dominated public discourse.
Turkey now has an interim government which unsurprisingly is dominated by pro-AKP members. Most of the state apparatus is also controlled by bureaucrats appointed by the AKP. In these conditions, citizens are right to be anxious about the election process and civil initiatives like Oy ve Ötesi, a former nominee for the BOBS Awards, are playing asignificant role to raise awareness. I will observe civil initiatives and hopefully share these on this platform in the future. However, some polls indicate that the AKP will lose votes and the results might not differ much from those of June. This is my feeling too. Under normal circumstances, the AKP will not win enough seats to form a one-partygovernment. Erdogan probably believes that the end of ceasefire will deter many Turks who voted for the HDP to do this again. But the HDP could actually consolidate its voter base beyond the Kurdish constituencies, pass the 10% threshold again and once again disrupt Erdogan’s plans. Some AKP voters would prefer the MHP this time and vice versa. Both parties have an intense nationalist discourse and they seem to compete for the same constituencies. However, the last time Erdogan relied on nationalist rhetoric – in the local elections five years ago – the MHP ended up being the biggest winner. We will see if things are different in November. During the coalition talks, the CHP preferred non-confrontation and was pro-active. Under the leadership of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the party gradually abandoned confrontational pro-secularist rhetoric against Islamist parties like the AKP, despite its focus on anti-corruption rhetoric. It continued to be harshly critical of the AKP’s domestic and foreign policies. However, after the elections, Kılıçdaroğlu embraced a unifying discourse and underlined the fact that the party was ready to assist in formation of a coalition, even with the AKP. At one point Kılıçdaroğlu even offered the premiership to MHP’s leader Devlet Bahçeli in a possible coalition government. I believe that the CHP will maintain its voter base and could even come out stronger due to citizens appreciating its positive stance.
In sum, for outsiders like me, the AKP shows every sign of losing on election night. I only hope that Erdogan and his cronies continue to believe in themselves so that there are no attempts to rig the results. I hope too that they will face the citizens’ discontent. I am worried, however, that it will be difficult to monitor the regions populated by Kurds – it has been difficult to obtain good citizen-based coverage from there this summer. In the past two months, the state has declared several districts as non-admissible to civilians. If the war escalates, the validity of the election results in the regions where the Kurdish HDP has a predominant majority will be at stake…
Erkan Saka is an assistant professor at the School of Communication at Istanbul’s Bilgi University. He teaches New Media Cultures and Cyber-Anthropology. He earned BA and MA degrees at the Sociology Department of Boğaziçi University, Istanbul. He received his PhD at the Anthropology Department of Rice University (Houston, USA). He has been a political blogger since June 2004. He has been member of The Bobs jury in 2014-2015.