The return of the Justice and Development Party in the recent election has a whole host of implications for the future of the country and the wider region
In my last contribution on Turkish electoral politics, while welcoming the result of June 2015 election as a mould-breaking event in terms of the entry of pro-Kurdish and pro-minorities opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) into the parliamentary mainstream, I expressed apprehensions that the inconclusive June election would most likely lead to another election. My apprehensions were fuelled by the fact that the long-ruling Justice and Development party (AKP), having grown used to authoritarian single-party government, would not be too enthusiastic on the idea of sharing power with any political party in coalition arrangements. In August, after passing up the opportunity to usher in plurality into the Turkish political system, President Erdogan announced fresh election for November 1 - to get a more emphatic mandate from the Turkish electorate.
However, between June and November, the scene of Turkish politics has been bloodied by renewed fighting between the Kurdish activists and the state security apparatus, the unprecedented crackdown on media and bombing of the opposition rallies in the Kurdish dominated region. This escalating wave of bloody violence peaked with twin bombing of the opposition rally for peace, killing more than 100 mostly Kurdish opposition activists, including members of the opposition party HDP in October.
While the opposition pointed its finger at the dubious role of the law enforcements agencies before and after the bombing with an attached hint of possible government complicity, the AKP leadership lost no time in using the bombing to enhance its national security credentials. President Erdogan was quick to blame both ISIL and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in one breath. Yet the idea of the PKK killing its own base did not go down well with the opposition. This tragic event also coincided with an escalation of attacks on the Kurdish regions.
Amid this growing chaos, the leaders of the AKP made a naked pitch to turn the November election into an election for stability and security. President Erodogan presented himself as the only one standing between stability and anarchy. The result of this fear mongering was the voters’ stampede towards the AKP. The fear factor is obvious in the election results.
The Turkish electorate has delivered a rousing victory to the ruling Justice and Development party which has ruled Turkey since 2002. The party scored almost 50 per cent of the vote, with 317 seats in 550-members strong parliament. This tally allows the AKP to form a single-party government as it did in 2002. Only the June election results jolted the AKP from its complacency, when its voting share fell to 40 per cent, making the formation of the single-party government an impossibility.
The main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), has retained its solid voter base, which has shown steady erosion to the point of posing no threat to the AKP’s dominance. The CHP gained 134 seats on a share of 25 per cent of the popular vote. There is little change in the performance of the CHP since the June election, showing its stable but shrinking base. The new pro-Kurdish opposition party, the HDP, after dodging official proscription for years, was able to get into the parliament in the June election by winning 13 per cent of votes with 80 seats. The party has slipped to 10.8 per cent votes in the November election with only 59 seats in the parliament. Party activists are putting up a brave face on this performance against the unprecedented harassment the party has received at the hands of the Turkish establishment.
Another nationalist opposition party, National Action Party (MPH) has also seen its share of vote drop. The party’s share of parliamentary seats has dropped from 80 to 40 in the November election. Some observers think that AKP’s hyper-nationalist electoral campaign was instrumental in peeling off a significant number of voters from the National Action Party (MPH).
The return of the AKP in full Ottoman regalia has a whole host of implications for the future of Turkey and the wider region. First, while the June election ushered in the hope of rolling back the juggernaut of neoliberal economic and Islamic despotism, the November election has rudely dashed hopes of plurality, progressive politics and roll back of neo-liberal hegemony in domestic affairs and belligerence in the neighbourhood. The November election has swung the pendulum in favour of the politics of neo-liberalism, Muslim piety.
Second, whereas the June election had dimmed the halo of the AKP impregnability, the November election has recovered the party’s growing hegemony.
Third, there is now a looming possibility of Turkey tipping insensibly into the presidential form of government even though the AKP government does not have the required two-thirds majorities.
Four, the prospects for peace may also recede now that the AKP has won on a more overtly nationalist platform. This is attested to by escalation of the war between the Turkish state and its Kurdish minority.
Five, the EU support for Kurdish rights, which has been steadfast over the year, may also decline due to the strategic importance of Turkey in stemming the flow of refugees into Europe. Erdogan has already set tough conditions for extending help to Europe on the refugee crisis. For the opposition parties, the visit of Angela Merkel during the election campaign to tie Turkey into EU asylum and immigration system was seen as aiding and abetting the return of Erdogan with a thumping majority. This does not augur well for Kurdish rights in Turkey.
Six, the AKP will feel emboldened into military adventure in the neighbouring countries on the back of the November mandate. Turkey is already one of the major regional players deeply embroiled in the on-going civil war in Syria. The new mandate may give fillip to its extraterritorial belligerence.
Lastly, it is inside Turkey that the repercussions of elections will be felt. In the run-up to the November election, there was massive crackdown on media. This has continued after the election. Though HDP has made into the parliament, it would be difficult for the party to operate as freely as in the run to the June election.
On surface, the Turkish voters have chosen stability and security, but underneath the fissures are beginning to deepen.