North Africa, West Asia

Turkey in limbo

Will the new election help take Turkey out of its impasse? Is there any hope that the results will be any different this time, amidst growing uncertainty about the future?

Oguz Alyanak
27 August 2015
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Sadik Güleç/Demotix. All rights reserved.

In post-election Turkey, there is much to worry about and little to find comfort in. On the political front, more than two months have passed since the general elections and a government is yet to be constituted. Having lost parliamentary majority, the AKP was forced into a coalition, which it has failed to form. The other parties were also unable to face the AKP as a unified front, with the nationalist MHP closing the door to cooperation with the HDP.

Even in the unlikely case that the three parties form a coalition without the AKP, the president has made it clear that he would not entertain such a possibility. In fact, despite his failure to form a coalition government, the president has not granted any party other than the AKP the right to lead the search for a coalition. He recently declared that as of November 1, Turkish citizens would go to the ballot box for a new round of elections.

It is highly unlikely that the results will lead to a more positive and stable outcome, considering the AKP’s need for additional seats in parliament. These would most likely have to come at the cost of either the HDP or the MHP failing to meet the electoral threshold. Neither scenario is likely.

Parliamentary impasse is only part of the reason for our fear of the future. War in Syria has long been a problem for Turkey. Yet within Turkey’s borders, the situation had remained relatively peaceful. Today, that peace is no more. Following the massacre in the rural district of Şanlıurfa, Suruç, which took the lives of 33 young members of the leftist ESP (Socialist Party of the Oppressed) visiting a cultural center on 20 July, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has ended its ceasefire with the Turkish state, which had been in effect since 2013—a period known as the 'Solution Process'. Since then, on television, news programs have been opening with lists of the names of fallen soldiers—martyrs, as they are referred to. This is followed by video clips of Turkish jets retaliating, killing dozens. “Terrorists” as they are called.

On the news, we also hear that the Turkish economy stands on shaky ground. Since early this year, the Turkish lira lost 26 percent of its value against the American dollar. Ministers attempt to placate the public. There is nothing much to worry about; this is all natural, they argue. Our Turkish lira has long been overvalued vis-à-vis the American dollar, they continue. But the tradesmen in stores say otherwise. Since most purchase their products in dollars and euros from overseas, and sell in Turkish Liras, the fluctuation in the exchange rate affects them direly.

And no televised show would be complete without President Erdoğan. Following his month-long hiatus from the screens, he is back. He tells us that we got what we deserved. By not granting him his wishes, it was we who called for Turkey’s drift into impasse on all fronts. Yet, there is a way out! New elections are on the horizon, to get Turkey out of this mess. And here’s the recipe: vote for the AKP, make them not only regain parliamentary majority, but also the majority to change the constitution—thus giving the parliament enough power to change Turkey’s political system from a parliamentary democracy to a presidential one—and the problems will disappear. His only way out involves us empowering him. And he is willing to take all measures necessary to eliminate all alternatives we might seek.

While Erdoğan and the AKP expect to lure non-AKP votes by exposing them to extended periods of political uncertainty, violence and economic decline, analysts warn that this strategy may backfire. Since a four-party parliament (AKP, CHP, MHP and HDP) will most likely lead to results not radically different from the results of the June elections, one possible move is for the HDP to be eliminated from the political scene.

The General Public Prosecutors’ Office of the Supreme Court of Appeal has already been asked to examine possible links between HDP and the PKK and to decide whether HDP’s discourse is unconstitutional. Though no investigation is yet open, in the likelihood that an investigation takes place and HDP is closed down, one can only expect further violence to ensue.

Another possible move, as political analyst and HDN columnist Murat Yetkin writes, is for the president to use his “extra powers”, such as declaring a state of emergency, in order to postpone or cancel the upcoming November elections. In that case, by making limbo a permanent state, the president is most likely counting on voters to cave in and vote for the AKP.

In face of all this, many in Turkey are starting to lose the power to endure. It is questionable, however, whether the way things unfold will be to its architect’s liking. Protests are sprouting in new venues, including the martyr funerals where protestors go beyond ordinary forms—chanting collectively, raising placards or clashing with the police—and instead, are more direct in their anger, collectively cursing at individual political targets and even attempting to mob them. 

May Allah damn you!

The following is a scene from a martyr’s funeral. The event took place on 21 August in my hometown, Bursa, where the Minister of Health, Mehmet Müezzinoğlu, came close to being the victim of collective rage.

Over a year ago, the-then prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, faced a similar scene when he visited Soma, the epicenter of a mining accident which took the lives of 301 miners. In Soma, what agitated the already mourning public was Erdoğan’s ill-fated remarks that death is in the nature of mining business. He was able to evade angry protestors by finding refuge in a supermarket. In Bursa, the situation was equally tense.

However, what led the public to lose control was more than the sadness people felt in response to the killing of a soldier. For Turkey has lost thousands more in its decades-long war against Kurdish guerillas, and often, outrage in martyr funerals would be directed at the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

This time, however, the target was also Müezzinoğlu for his ill-fated remarks. A few days previously he had argued that chaos would have been avoided had the Turkish constituents abided by Erdoğan’s wishes to transform Turkey from a parliamentarian system into a presidential system, thereby granting Erdoğan the title of both the President of Turkey and the Prime Minister of the AKP. To the general public, his words reiterated Erdoğan’s threat: give us what we want and the killings will stop.

The chaos Müezzinoğlu speaks of is Turkey’s relapse into a “war on terror”. Since the PKK ended its ceasefire with Turkey last month, the war between Kurdish guerillas and the Turkish armed forces has escalated, leading, more recently, to the killing of eight soldiers in the southeastern town of Siirt. Bursa happened to be the hometown of one of those soldiers, a university graduate who was recruited into the army to complete his mandatory military service. Following custom, the body of the dead soldier was sent to his hometown, where a 'martyr funeral' was held. The courtyard of the Ulu Camii (Holy Mosque), Bursa’s largest iconic mosque, was filled with thousands who came to pay their respects to the fallen soldier. Flags were posted on each storefront, lights were dimmed, traffic was stopped, and other daily activities were suspended during the span of the funeral prayer.

Lined up in front of the coffin were ministers from Bursa, including Müezzinoğlu. The first round of protests took place in the courtyard. A man from the crowd reminded Müezzinoğlu of his comment and asked him how much more blood would be shed until Erdoğan is granted his wish. The protestor’s words were supported by claps. The coffin was then carried out of the mosque courtyard along with chants of “martyrs do not die, the country cannot be divided.”

The second round of protest followed after Müezzinoğlu left the courtyard to pay a visit to the fallen soldier’s parents’ house. This time, another man in the crowd, rather than posing a question, instead showed his contempt for the minister by cursing him: “May Allah damn you. May Allah damn you in a thousand ways.” This energised the already hyped up crowd, leading to orchestrated booing and intermittent attempts to breach the police barrier to physically assault the minister. The minister found refuge in a nearby government building.

The road to the June elections in Turkey was paved with much optimism. The possibility that the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) would pass the electoral threshold, thus ending the AKP’s one party rule and curbing Erdoğan’s powers, defined the hopeful tone in most political analyses. In post election Turkey, one in which both goals were achieved, there seems, however, little to be hopeful about. As uncertainties permeate politics and economy, the move is towards a new round of elections. Yet will the new election help take Turkey out of its limbo? Is there any hope that the results will be any different this time? While few seem to regret the votes they cast in June, a growing uncertainty about the future lingers on everyone’s minds.

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