Friday,24 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)
Friday,24 November, 2017
Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Turkey gears up for elections

The four main parliamentary parties in Turkey have released their manifestos ahead of the 7 June elections, writes Cagri Ozdemir in Ankara

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Turkey could be approaching a turning point that might drastically affect its political direction. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule of the last 13 years could slip away. According to some opinion polls, its votes in the elections on 7 June could be below the necessary majority to form a single-party government.

The main reasons for this are the significant changes in the electoral politics of Turkey over recent years and reactions to what is seen as an unfair electoral system. With an election threshhold for entering parliament still at ten per cent of the vote, achieving parliamentary representations is a challenge for many of the opposition parties.

The threshold is a worry for the mainly Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), after the Kurdish political movement decided to become a nationwide force earlier in February. Its decision to run for the elections as a single party was an unexpected move for many and a potentially risky one.

Thus far the Kurds have only sought to become members of the Turkish parliament as independent candidates, in order to overcome the threshold problem, forming party groups once in the parliament.

The HDP secured as many as 35 seats after the 2011 elections, and this round it is seeking to see even more MPs elected and to benefit from the generous treasury grant that is given to parties that make it into parliament.

The potential game-changing position of the HDP has had an impact on the remaining three parliamentary parties, which are trying to develop strategies accordingly and address different segments of society.

While the AKP is aiming to keep itself single-handedly in power, the main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), are seeking to broaden their voting bases to end the reign of the AKP by denying it a majority.

In the meantime, former prime minister and now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been delivering public addresses almost every other day. He is seeking the votes that could allow the new government unilaterally to change the constitution and pave the way for what could be called a “super-presidential system” with extended executive powers.

Erdogan’s attempts have been heavily criticised by the three opposition parties, as the current constitution instructs the president to remain impartial and non-partisan. By contrast, Erdogan has been constantly criticising the opposition parties and warning the electorate against a coalition scenario should the AKP not be able to secure a majority.

 

ELECTION MANIFESTOS: The Turkish electorate will decide on the matters that affect it most, such as the economy and domestic politics, in the elections on 7 June. However, the outcome of the elections will obviously also affect politics in the Middle East at large, in addition to matters that concern NATO and its allies.

While there are significant similarities in the way the opposition parties have formulated their manifestos, the AKP, with the confidence of being the government party, has focused on the continuation of its longstanding policies.

On the domestic side, the economy is the main issue. Considering the relative slowdown of economic growth in the country, as well as the dramatic depreciation of the Turkish lira against foreign currencies over recent months, the four parties have dedicated most of their platforms to economic policies and promises.

The AKP’s focus is on the continuation of macroeconomic gains and the consolidation of these gains through microeconomic adjustments. Due to the bottleneck that the Turkish economy is facing over private debts and decreasing domestic production, the AKP is pushing for an increase in industrial output and putting an emphasis on research and development activities.

All three opposition parties, on the other hand, are focusing on short-term benefits for the general population, especially making concrete promises to appeal to lower-income voters. Dramatic increases in the minimum wage, extra benefits for pensioners, and rent and food aid for the poor are among these promises.

According to Sadik Unay, economic research director at the Ankara-based think tank SETA, these types of promises are reminiscent of the populist parties of the 1990s. Specifically referring to the CHP, Unay said, “It is difficult to benefit from undisciplined fiscal populism and promises of material gain made on the basis of clientelism.

“For such a manifesto to become successful, Turkey would have to have been going through a deep economic crisis, and a political party and programme would need to present itself to resolve the crisis,” he said. For him, these elements are not present at the moment, however.

The lofty promises of the opposition parties appear unrealistic for some, but they nevertheless seem determined to curb the neoliberal policies that the government party has been pursuing over the past 13 years.

All three opposition parties have promised to increase job security, work safety and ameliorate working conditions. They are focusing on matters that are of major interest to society, among them incidents such as mining disasters and widespread subcontracting activities.

 

FOREIGN POLICY: As with its economic programme, the AKP is planning to carry forward the foreign policy vision it has developed over the course of the last few years. Without addressing any of the concrete issues in its immediate neighbourhood, whether Islamic State (IS) to the south or the Western powers’ nuclear deal with Iran to the east, the AKP manifesto reiterates the multilayered foreign policy of the party.

The main opposition party CHP, on the other hand, has highlighted the AKP’s foreign policies that it deems to have been failures, such as worsening relations with the European Union, a sectarian and adventurous foreign policy, and regional isolation.

According to Soli Ozel, an international relations professor at Kadir Has University, the parties’ manifestos are similar in that they place Turkey in the international arena. They also seem to agree on the principles on which Turkish foreign policy should be based.

However, they differ in their policy priorities. While the CHP holds the AKP accountable for pushing the country further into the Middle East and slipping away from the objective of EU membership, the AKP sees the EU membership bid as a strategic long-term goal rather than an immediate one.

“The AKP is rightfully pointing to the EU’s responsibility for the frozen negotiations, but it does not admit the deficiencies on Turkey’s side,” Ozel argued.

However, the most striking difference between the AKP and CHP foreign policy choices appears when it comes to IS and the Middle East at large. The CHP once again holds the AKP accountable for Turkey’s diminishing international image as a “springboard for terrorists.”

According to Saban Kardas, president of the Ankara-based think tank ORSAM, the continuity of the AKP’s foreign policy is the underlying idea of the manifesto. As a result of the political uncertainties in the Middle East in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, it has been difficult to formulate a country-specific approach.

“Although it is possible to make sense of and explain current foreign policy issues in line with the AKP’s approach, it is worth noting that the party does not specifically address Iraq, Syria and Egypt due to the deadlock in these countries,” Kardas said.

“Considering what has been done until now and what is promised for the future, the will for continuity in the current policies is the primary objective,” he said.

 

KURDISH ISSUES: The issue that all four parties differ most on is how to approach the decades-old Kurdish problem. While the AKP is promising to carry forward the talks with outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan, once re-elected it also promises further concrete steps.

The government party pledges to expand democratic rights and freedoms and codify them within a brand new constitution. At the same time, it focuses on the total elimination of the Kurdish armed struggle.

The main opposition party, the CHP, is also promising a final resolution to the negotiations, but it does not specify who will be the negotiating parties. According to Vahap Coskun, a law professor at Dicle University in the Kurdish-populated southeastern city of Diyarbakir, the lack of specifics regarding the negotiating parties raises doubts about the party’s intentions.

“When the CHP talks about negotiations, does it mean the political parties in the parliament, or does it include the PKK and Ocalan in the equation? The AKP and HDP both have a clear stance on this, and they are already talking with the PKK and Ocalan,” Coskun said.

“But is the CHP ready to talk with Ocalan and the PKK? [Party leader Kemal] Kilicdaroglu has on many occasions expressed his disapproval of the talks with Ocalan. Has he changed his mind,” Coskun asked.

The mainly Kurdish HDP is supportive of the direct talks led by the AKP, but it is adopting delicate language to make sure it does not estrange Turkey’s non-Kurdish electorate, which will play a crucial role in helping the party overcome the election threshold.

According to Coskun, to secure votes around the country the HDP is deliberately referring to the ten-point declaration written by Ocalan and announced in February by the joint AKP-HDP delegation. “‘A democratic republic and shared motherland’ is the essence of the declaration, and the HDP is making sure that the Kurdish issue is resolved within a pluralistic democratic environment,” Coskun said.

Meanwhile, the MHP sees the resolution process as basically a surrender to the PKK, and if elected the party has promised that it would halt the talks entirely.

Given such complicated electoral calculations and the HDP’s chances of getting into parliament, a new government in Turkey will certainly bring about significant changes on many levels.

No matter what the outcomes of the elections are, the manifestos and the realisation of any of them in practice will signal a new set of winners and losers in the country.


The writer is a political analyst.

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