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Monday, 30 November 2015

Reverse transitology? Elections and political change in Turkey

David Madden (SEESOX Associate and Senior Member of St Antony's College)

On 16 November, Kerem Oktem spoke at SEESOX on Turkey after the elections. Othon Anastasakis chaired, and welcomed Kerem back to St Antony’s.

In the elections on 1 November, AKP won back the 10% of the vote they had lost in the 7 June elections, mainly from pro-Kurdish HDP and the extreme nationalist MHP. There were a number of explanatory models for the vote swing: manipulation of the vote, consolidation of the conservative right wing block, deliberate choice of Islamo-fascistic tendencies, and voter intimidation. In fact, although overall the elections were neither free nor fair, they were probably accurate in the counting of votes. Kerem inclined to the voter intimidation thesis, drawing a parallel with the election campaign of the Committee of Union and Progress in 1912, which is also known as the 'elections with a stick' and which got the CUP victory despite strong opposition.

Looking back, the 7 June elections had appeared to be the liberal moment, or the liberals’ moment. After a divisive and sectarian campaign, the AKP lost the single majority and almost 10% of the votes. The rising stars were Selahattin Demirtaş and the Peace and Democracy Party HDP, offering the promise of a pro-Kurdish party transforming into an all-Turkey party, and the possibility of a Kurdish-Turkish movement with a socially progressive agenda. But the AKP did not form a coalition, and Erdogan never asked the second party, CHP, to do so. Instead he called repeat elections.
If the 7 June elections were the worst in living memory, the elections of 1 November proved even worse. From the AKP, there was a shift to the language of law and order, a crack-down on opposition media, belligerence against Kurds and the politics of threat and intimidation. This was accompanied by psychological terror and actual violence in the Kurdish Southeast, with clear signs of state complicity. The Kurdistan Workers Party, PKK, which has fought for some form of statehood in southeastern Turkey as well as in Syria proved happy to play along with this. The new reality in Turkey showed four characteristics: competitive authoritarianism, radical Islamism, regime maintenance and political survival, and fascistic methods of governance.

All this was happening under conditions of severe economic, political and regional crises, which is a notable change from the earlier years of AKP government. Ultimately the project would fail, but Turkey would emerge a very different place.

In answer to questions, Kerem added the following:
  • There are many comparative cases of 'competitive authoritarianism', both in the region (Macedonia, Russia) and beyond (Latin America). Yet the new authoritarianism of Erdoğan and the AKP is neither stable, not sustainable under the conditions of economic crisis.
  • The ideological core support for political Islam and the AKP lies probably between 25%-35%; the rest vote for the party for a set of reasons ranging from economic dependence on government policies, fear of economic stagnation and political insecurity.
  • Erdogan has basically stopped talking about EU aspirations, as his aspirations lies elsewhere. In this context, chancellor Merkel's 'realpolitik rapprochement' with Turkey over the refugee crises is rather cynical.
  • On migrants, it is not clear that Turkey now had the state capacity to deliver on any “bargain” with the EU. It is also obvious that the EU will not be able to deliver on the promise of revived accession talks under the current deterioration of human and political rights in Turkey.
  • Abdullah Gül has been marginalised to a significant extent.
  • On ISIS, there are strong suspicions that parts of the security apparatus are in direct contact. There is also some ideological sympathy among followers of political Islam regarding ISIS.
  • The Turkish military seems to have lost its political role for now, and appears to be largely under control of the government. 

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