Turkish election has resurrected the hope that the juggernaut of neoliberal economics, political despotism and Islamic conservatism might have run its course
Turkey’s much anticipated election on June 7 has somewhat diminished the halo of AKP’s electoral hegemony. With this is resurrected the hope that the juggernaut of neoliberal economics, political despotism and Islamic conservatism successfully forced down the throat of the Turkish population by Justice and Development Party (AKP) might have run its course.
This is the bigger long-term outcome of the recent Turkish election. Yet the June parliamentary election was viewed with interest in Turkey and outside for two immediate reasons. One, it was seen as barometer of whether the Turkish electorate would endorse President Tayyip Erdogan’s intention to replace the parliamentary system with an imperial presidency. Second, how the groundswell of opposition to the triad of neo-liberal economics, political despotism and Islamic conservatism solidified in the authoritarian figure of Erdogan will play out electorally.
In the event, the election result was loud and clear. The Justice and Development Party (AKP), the supreme electoral winning machine of the last decade, won the highest number of 258 seats which are down from 327 in the last election of 2011. Although this tally of parliamentary seats is in itself quite impressive, it is not enough to satisfy the dream of Erdogan for turning Turkey into a presidential form of system. Changing this requires two thirds majority in the parliament.
More significantly, for the first time, the AKP finds itself in situation where it cannot form a stable government without the support of a coalition partner. Opposition parties, on the other hand, have fared well. The secular Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) gained 132 seats with 24 per cent share of the vote. This result is 3 seats down from 135 seats the party won in 2011 election. The Turkish Nationalist Movement Party has secured 80 seats in the parliament with 16 per cent share of the vote. Thus the party has improved from its 53 seats in the outgoing parliament. One of the highlights of the June 7 elections is the record number of women entering parliament. As compared to 79 women deputies of the last parliament of 2011, the new parliament has a record number of 98 women MPs.
Of the opposition parties, the biggest surprise was sprung by the People’s Democratic Party (HDP). Previously, the party has fought elections under furtive banners to evade the official restriction placed upon its operation. In the last parliament, the party fielded candidates on an independent slate. In the event, HDP won 35 seats in the last parliament. However, with this election the HDP has entered the Turkish mainstream politics with a bang. This electoral success came at the heels of the party’s impressive showing at the last presidential election when its candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, won 10 per cent of the popular vote.
HDP has won 80 parliamentary seats on 13 per cent of the share of the vote. HDP is a breath of fresh air in Turkish politics with two young politicians, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yusekdag as male and female co-leaders. This is mound-breaking precedent in the midst of male-dominated political parties. This is reflected in the party’s women list. The party has 31 women MPs in the parliament, the highest of all political parties. One of its female MPs is the niece of Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of Kurdistan Workers Party, and now behind bars for anti-state activities. The party has played some role in bringing government and the PKK on the peace table.
Although the HDP is pro-Kurdish in its orientation, it has enjoyed broader appeal among left and liberal Turks. In particular, the party has made efforts to court women, minorities and gay and bisexual communities. With the HDP’s impressive electoral showing the Kurdish question has been thrust back on agenda in Turkish politics. This has been one of the festering sores of Turkish politics. Over the years, Kurdish identity and its cultural and political expressions have been ruthlessly suppressed by the Turkish state (Kurds constitute 20 percent of the Turkish population).
The party seems to have benefited from a wave of protests that have rocked the country in recent years. This trend was capped with the Gezi Park protest in 2013 which mobilised an unprecedented numbers in different cities. Alone in Istanbul 16 per cent of the population participated in the protest. Gezi Park protest capped a trend which saw 400 protests in the country prior to the Gezi protest. These protests have been directed against policies of neoliberalism, conservative Islam and political despotism.
Together, these policies have led to suppression of workers’ rights, extraction of natural resources for the benefit of capital. It is important to place the June parliamentary elections against this background. While elections have delivered a strong rebuke to the AKP, it has also resulted in a fragmented mandate. The June election has not produced any clear winner. In fact, no party is in a position to form the government on its own, though AKP can form a minority government with 258 seats, 18 short of a majority.
But to form a majority government, AKP would need coalition partners. The only possible coalition partner the Nationalist Movement Party has ruled out coalition government with the AKP. Other opposition parties are so ideologically opposite of the AKP that it is inconceivable that they would form coalition government with the AKP. The AKP on its part will also not like to govern in a coalition because of its long period of single party rule. However, if the government is not made within 45 days then a new election will have to be called.
In that case, the Turkish electorate will be asked to give a clear-cut verdict on whether they want business as usual with the AKP and further entrench neoliberalism with a Muslim face or break the mould of Turkish politics and take a decisive turn for a secular, centre left politics where the rights of minorities are honoured and allowed uninhibited political expression. The future direction of Turkey is most likely to be determined in two months time if we go by the way things pan out in the coming weeks.