Monday,24 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1250, (11 - 17 June 2015)
Monday,24 September, 2018
Issue 1250, (11 - 17 June 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan takes slap in face

Though Turkey’s ruling party is casting defeat as victory, Sunday’s elections results signal a sea change against significant odds that could end Erdogan’s megalomaniacal plans, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

Now they are groping their way in the capital, which they had thought belonged exclusively to them as no one else counted. And in a sense they were right. That was not just arrogance speaking, as for all practical purposes it was their capital, and all revolved around that throbbing light bulb at its heart, the premises of their ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) which stood tall, proud and unrivalled as it peered out over an Anatolia that was being reborn under the peerless and unsurpassable leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But suddenly, as of 8pm Sunday evening, their Ankara grew gloomy, that light bulb began to quiver, and the once secure and familiar ground began to tremble beneath their feet.

What happened? Is it the beginning of the slide into oblivion? It has happened before to other political parties in the latter half of the past century, such as the Democrat Party headed by Celal Bayar and Adnan Menderes, or the Motherland Party founded by Turgut Ozal, or the True Path Party led by Süleyman Demirel and Tansu Çiler. Or is a momentary setback, a dip in fortunes, to be followed by another rise? Unfortunately, there are no precedents for such a scenario to draw from in the past six decades of political party politics in Turkey.

Certainly such questions were reeling in their minds as they struggled to recover from the shock and scrambled to present a courageous face and show themselves as steadfast and firmly clinging to principles. They amassed hundreds of their supporters in front of that party headquarters in the upscale Ankara neighbourhood of Balgat so that they could cheer the “victor” who had actually suffered defeat. That “victor” was Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the master architect of the “zero problems” policy that ultimately yielded zero good relations with neighbouring and other countries. The cheerers had to wait for a while three hours but eventually he arrived, coming from his hometown, Konya, in the centre of the country.

Meanwhile, in Uskudar, the district of Istanbul on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus where Erdogan’s large, heavily fortified and tightly guarded home is located, an eternal eerie silence prevailed. There was to be no celebrating in spite of the huge sums of public funds allocated by the Uskudar municipality, which also belongs to the ruling party, for all the decorations, the innumerable posters and billboards bearing the leader’s image, and the many other preparations to hail the dawn of his definitive victory. An earthquake had struck the new and sumptuous presidential palace, the Ak Saray, and swept away the dream of its occupant to launch a latter-day Ottoman sultanate masked as a republic with a presidential system.

So, given the pall over Belgat, Uskudar and the Ak Saray, what do the election results signify?

“To put it briefly, democracy has won and Erdogan has lost,” writes the prominent Turkish writer Omar Noureddin. He explains that for Erdogan, the purpose of these elections was to steer the country away from its proper course and to propel it in totally different direction, which was to transform it into a republic of fear and tyranny ruled by a single individual. Erdogan was proclaiming the vision of a “new Turkey” whereas in fact he was leading the country down the path to a banana republic.

Continuing with his assessment of the results, Noureddin writes that they mean that the people, who were not fooled by his lies, or his fanciful projects, or the illusion of crowds at rallies that were in fact packed by employees, students, women and paid for by the resources of the state, gave him a powerful slap in the face. The repercussions of this will not fade away soon. In fact, he is likely to experience further reversals that could bring a close to his political career.

Whether he is still in shock or was sobered by the blow, Erdogan personally and through his messages on his website at the presidency, appeared calm and almost subdued. His tone was certainly far removed from the customary fiery harangues and vitriol he unleashes at his political adversaries, left and right. Nor was there evidence of that arrogance (not that he had much choice) that led him to flagrantly breach the constitutionally stipulated non-partisan impartiality of his office and openly campaign for the party that he cofounded with former President Abdullah Gül, who himself had not been spared Erdogan’s wrath and ingratitude.

In all events, after rallying from the blow he delivered a speech that was uncharacteristically conciliatory. “The will of our people is above all else,” he said in a statement broadcast from the presidential website rather than in a speech before the public. “The results of the elections have given no one party a mandate to form a government on its own. I am confident that all the parties that took part in the race will conduct a careful and realistic assessment of the current situation and act in a spirit of responsibility so as to preserve stability, the climate of confidence and democratic gains at this phase.”

Some opposition parties may not be acting as decorously as they should, but then they may be forgiven for yielding to the euphoria at the country’s having drawn back from the brink to which Erdogan was driving it. Within hours, some reminded Davutoglu that he had yet to fulfil the pledge he had made at a JDP election rally on 9 May. “I hereby declare, from Hatay in southern Turkey, that if the JDP does not emerge from the elections stronger, if it does not get a large enough majority to form a government on its own, then I will hand in my resignation on 8 June.”

The word “resignation” certainly did not pass his lips during his speech from the balcony of the JDP headquarters in Ankara. In fact, he behaved as though his party had just scored an unprecedented victory. It was almost as though he were speaking from another planet when he said that the JDP “has just recorded a new legend today and no one should doubt that”.

He then, as though still unaware of his party’s electoral setback and clearly unaware of the causes, called on opposition parties “to write a new constitution based on rights and respect for human dignity, and that equips the youth for tomorrow”, and he called on the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the shining star of the polls, to “put a distance between itself and acts of violence and terrorism”. That the PDP broke through the 10 per cent parliamentary threshold and beyond, acquiring a significant chunk of parliamentary seats, is what effectively put paid to Erdogan’s plans to re-tailor the Turkish system of government. In the run-up to the elections the pro-Kurdish party was, in fact, the victim of numerous violent attacks, the bloodiest thanks to suspicious negligence on the part of security agencies being a double suicide bombing at a PDP campaign rally in Diyarbakir on 5 June, claiming at least two dead and 184 injured of whom eight are in critical condition.

So what’s next? Will the JDP form a minority government and plump for early elections? It might be its lifesaver. After all, even if only a caretaker government, it will still have access to all the state resources that it used during the last elections, the state-run media, and all the party faithful that permeate throughout the government bureaucracies, and it can have another go at those familiar ruses for electoral fraud, a good number of which were exposed during Sunday’s polls.

On the other hand, might it let the other three parties have a go at forming a coalition government? The little that has been mentioned on the subject by JDP officials appears more in the nature of a rhetorical dare, if not just a slip of a JDP tongue in a heated moment. In all events, Erdogan would never go for the second option it would be suicidal as the three parties could well overcome their differences if only to converge on the realisation of a single aim, namely to get rid of him. As they would come to control all the ministries, they would have access to all portfolios, including the files of the General Intelligence, which is subordinate to the prime minister, not the president.

Unfortunately, the forthcoming days are likely to raise more questions than provide answers. Still, what matters most now is that democracy has a chance to shine again over Anatolia. One can only hope that the Turkish people continue what was started in Sunday’s poll: the country’s retreat from the abyss of dictatorship.

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