My take on the Turkish elections

Friday, June 12, 2015 

Note: this is an excerpt taken from another post 

Turkish Elections

The day of my departure for Kazan coincided with the holding of parliamentary elections in Turkey.

The big story was that, while the ruling AKP party still got the most votes at 41%, they lost their majority in parliament. This is important mainly because President Tayyip Erdoğan had been hoping to gain a "super-majority" that would allow the AKP to call a referendum putting new powers into the hands of the president. 

From the Turkish Daily Tattler

A lot of my Kemalist friends are celebrating right now--and with good reason--but AKP's election setback doesn't mean that Erdoğan won't get the powers he covets. You need 330 votes in parliament to schedule a referendum. If the AKP makes a coalition with the MHP (Nationalist Action Party), they would likely just be a vote or two shy of getting the necessary votes in parliament. It would be a real stretch--because it seems difficult to believe that anyone from the Kemalist CHP or Kurdish-oriented HDP would lend any support to an MHP-AKP alliance, but stranger things have happened. You can't rule anything out. 

It's also worth noting that, even though the AKP received just over 40% of the vote in an election involving several parties, in a straight up yes-or-no vote on a referendum to create a presidential system giving Erdoğan more powers, the 'yes' side could conceivably do much better. This would be especially the case if, as was the last time a referendum was held that strengthened the AKP's powers (allowing them to pack the Constitutional Court with their own appointees), the referendum question were paired alongside more popular measures. In the case of the last referendum, this meant also including a measure allowing for Turkey's 1980 coup leaders to be brought to trial

 So, in the words of the Wolf, let's not start...well, you know what I mean.   

All of the above notwithstanding, this was a pretty big defeat for the AKP. I didn't find it terribly surprising, though. The AKP, just like every other party in Turkey, is one person's party. Once Erdoğan left parliament and the prime ministry to become Turkey's president, leaving the party in the hands of current PM Ahmet Davutoğlu, it seemed pretty clear that the AKP would be headed toward some sort of diminution in their vote tallies. Look at what happened to ANAP once Turgut Özal became president, or at the electoral fortunes of the True Path Party after Suleyman Demirel's elevation to the presidency. In both of those cases, too, the support of these parties shrank consistently once the leader they were primarily associated with moved on to the presidency and stopped being the leader of the party. 

Özal, Demirel, Erdoğan: they all thought that their parties would survive without them, but none of them built a lasting institution. Instead, their parties are all basically movements built around one person. Once a party-leading prime minister leaves "active politics" and becomes president (which is a position that is supposedly above politics in Turkey but which Erdoğan had hoped to--still hopes to--transform into an American-style presidency), the parties always begin to shrivel up. Indeed, if the AKP doesn't manage to cobble together some sort of bizarre coalition involving both Turkish nationalists and Kurdish rights supporters (which seems very difficult), Erdoğan's ascendance to the presidency will likely end up being seen as the worst thing that ever happened to the AKP. 

But I think people are perhaps writing Erdoğan's political obituary a little too soon. Looking at my FB feed this week, I saw a lot of "now our era of fear and hatred is over" type sentiment written on people's walls. Well, maybe, but I think it's worth remembering that there actually was a lot of fear and hatred taking place in Turkish politics prior to Erdoğan: it was just that the Kemalist and Gezi-types usually weren't the ones feeling the back end of it. Indeed, it was thanks largely to the nasty nature of pre-AKP Turkish politics that Erdoğan managed to create such a potent political movement in the first place. So maybe a bit less triumphalism and a bit more humility and honesty regarding what it was that originally brought Erdoğan to power would be in order here. But yeah--I'm not really holding my breath in anticipation of this. 

Yes, folks have grown weary of his antics, but the resentment toward Turkey's pre-AKP political system that Erdoğan has managed to play upon was, and is, very real. This election was lost by the AKP, rather than won by the main opposition (Kemalist) CHP. Had Erdoğan never left parliament, the AKP would likely be putting together its fourth-straight majority government right now.   

In fact, if you look at the results for all of the parties, it's pretty clear that the big winners were not the main opposition CHP--their share of the vote was pretty much unchanged from 2011--but rather the Kurdish-oriented HDP and the nationalist MHP. The HDP's leader, Selahattin Demirtaş, did a great job of extending his party's appeal beyond Kurds, but I think that a lot of anti-AKP voters cast their ballots for the HDP mainly as a way of getting the party over the 10% threshold required for a party to enter parliament. Had the HDP not gotten over 10%, their votes would have been redistributed proportionally among the remaining parties, an eventuality that would have primarily benefited the AKP. 

What remains to be seen now is what happens with the talks about forming a coalition government or, alternatively, a minority AKP government that would be supported on confidence votes by another party. The leaders of the CHP, MHP and HDP have all said that they won't form a government with the AKP. We'll see about that. While I would be surprised to see the CHP work with the AKP, I could envision either the MHP or the HDP doing so, especially if the AKP gives them what they want. 

Still a force: provinces won by the AKP in 2015 in orange


While Erdoğan's detractors celebrate on Facebook and elsewhere, they should keep in mind that there's still a lot of time left on the clock. Erdoğan is a far shrewder--and much more ruthless--politician than most of his rivals. He won't give up on his dreams of creating an American-style presidential system--with himself holding the reins of power--without first putting up a fight.  

So stay tuned--there's definitely a lot more to come here. 

109 libraries can't be wrong! Get yours to order a copy of Turks Across Empires at the OUP website or from Amazon

More links, commentary and photographs available,
как всегда, at the Borderlands Lounge.    

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