Turkish winners matter for debate, loser certain

The really important issue for AKP is to come to a decision about party policy. Do they endorse the Erdoğan style of "making politics"?

Murat Belge
1 July 2015

President Erdogan's palace.

President Erdogan's palace. Demotix/ Nathan Morley. All rights reserved.

Who the winner is of the June 7 elections in Turkey is a matter for debate. Each one of the four major parties involved can point to some partial success. But the loser is certain. Tayyip Erdoğan, the president, and not a political party, is the loser of the elections.

This is because Tayyip Erdoğan brushed away all written and unwritten rules (including the Constitution, etc.) meant to stop any possible partisanship of the President. He swept aside his own party and "appointed" a Prime Minister during (and before, as well) the election campaign. Relying on the favour bestowed on him by the electorate in the Presidential Elections and hoping to procure a sufficient majority to change the Constitution for a "presidential system" with no constraints, he sailed ahead alone throughout the campaign. The quite drastic fall in AKP votes and the dramatic rise of the HDP, number one target of Erdoğan, show that the majority of the Turkish people did not approve of his policies and were wary of what he might do as "President-Sultan" in the future.

The elections yielded some paradoxical results: AKP, the biggest loser, is still the first party, with around 40% of the total vote. The most spectacular winner, HDP, comfortably over the 10% barrier, is still the fourth among the four. The MHP and the CHP both came in below their expectations, though there is some rise in the MHP's votes.

The three opposition parties ended up with 60%. The electorate could not come to an agreement about who should come to power (not a likely event, anyway); but it was quite clear about whose power should be checked. The natural consequence of such a situation would be the three opposition parties forming a coalition, probably a temporary one, to counteract the serious transgressions of AKP and Erdoğan: to start the corruption cases, to re-organise the Judiciary pulverised by the AKP Ministry of Justice and also to annul the 10% barrier. To curb the President would be another major target for a coalition of this nature.

But it seems that things will not unroll in this fashion. The reason is MHP, which seems (beginning with the election campaign) to be more preoccupied with HDP than the AKP. The Chairman, Bahçeli, has declared the party’s determination not to participate in any coalition, but especially one where HDP plays a role, albeit this is only giving outside support – for instance, to a CHP-MHP government.

It is likely that MHP doesn't particularly relish the idea of forming a coalition with AKP, mainly because this will most probably mean glossing over the corruption cases and other suspicious policies of the previous AKP governments. If CHP is pushed into this position, MHP may come out as the "main opposition party".

However, this attitude of MHP is actually helping AKP, as from their point of view the most "damaging" solution may be the formation of a coalition which leaves AKP out. MHP had been dropping hints about a secret alliance between HDP (or, rather, Öcalan) and AKP; but now, it is this MHP policy which seems to serve AKP better.

CHP has been out of power for a long time. This is the main reason why especially the top command level shows some willingness for an AKP-CHP policy; but there is an equally strong pressure, especially from the lower echelons, for a policy that bans any friendly relations with the AKP. After forming a vociferous opposition, for quite valid reasons for the most part, it seems difficult for the CHP to come to some kind of reconciliation with AKP.

Where does Erdoğan stand?

Where does AKP stand in this confusion? Or rather, the more strategic question is, where does Erdoğan stand? Erdoğan has been unusually silent since the election day. In his few public statements he has been far less provocative than his normal performance. He has talked about the necessity for politicans to control their egos! Does this mean that Erdoğan has got the message and is preparing to change his style?

I find this hardly credible. Erdoğan has sufficiently manifested his strong will-power. But now, it is not only a case of "greed for power", but also of a need of defense. Surrender of power may lead to some really grave consequences for Erdoğan. The equilibrium--or disequilibrium--that resulted from the June 7 elections can have hazardous effects personally on Erdoğan, in particular. The opposition of yesterday now has enough numbers of seats in parliament to take back Erdoğan's secret budget or send him packing out of his "Palace" or impeach him. Therefore the best solution seems to be a new round of elections, in order to create a new single-party government, formed by AKP.

But, how can this be guaranteed? Erdoğan and his party still have the broadest space for political manoeuvring. If a government cannot be formed in 45 days, the President can absolve the Parliament and call for a new election. Erdoğan can rise to this. But will people change their mind and vote for AKP once more? Or will this kind of crisis-mongering further alienate the electorate?

General elections lead to strenuous times. Campaigns create tension. During the last elections bombs exploded, people were killed. Luckily, casualties were not as high as they easily could have been. It is not normal to have elections every six months.

Consequently, from the point of view of Erdoğan, if a renewal of elections is necessary, this must be "blamed" on the rivalry between the opposition parties. At the same time the message that the electoral defeat of AKP means "crisis" must be communicated to the people. “The other three parties are inept. They only know how to disagree. They cannot come together to fulfil some positive task. In this way, votes lost to HDP and MHP can--perhaps– be recovered.”

The lost aura

Is this a realistic estimate and therefore a plausible policy? Will the Turkish electorate find this explanation convincing? I believe not. AKP, and more than AKP, Erdoğan himself, have lost that magic aura they had until about 2012. The last percentage they reached in the recent election is about 10% lower than their highest. There is considerable decrease in absolute numbers although about two million people have been added to the voting population in the meantime.

There may be shifts from party to party in the opposition but it is very difficult for AKP to get back what it lost. In the atmosphere of polarization created by Erdoğan, people did not so much vote "for" X and Y as they voted against Erdoğan. There are not any cogent reasons for these people to change their attitude in the near future.

AKP?.. What can happen inside AKP?

There has been a huge transformation in the party during these 14 years. The founders and the militants of the earlier years have been pushed out of influential positions. Erdoğan's present day advisers and aides are mostly new people who approached the party after it proved its mettle – and not the ones who showed the "mettle". Erdoğan went over all the lists of candidates before the last elections to make sure that his ardent followers would be the only ones to get into parliament. But even such staunch yes-men would balk at "renewal of the election", having gone to considerable pains to climb over the hurdles in June.

The really important issue for AKP is to come to a decision about party policy. Do they endorse the Erdoğan style of "making politics"?

I do not think that the more experienced political cadres are happy with the political tension that Erdoğan expressly created. I do not think that the conservative provincial bourgeoisie, which has so far supplied the most important class support to AKP are happy with Erdoğan-type of politics. In spite of such discontent, Erdoğan still has the widest power-base and is seen as the "political magician" in the party mechanism in general.

Politicians in AKP would naturally prefer to take their time. But time has become too precious after the elections. For the time being, the ideal solution for them would be to form a coalition with either CHP or MHP, and in some way appease Erdoğan and convince him not to intervene and interfere in government matters – at least for some time. But "renewal of the elections" is probably the solution that appeals most to Erdoğan.

It is a difficult moment for all involved.

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