Friday,20 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1258, (13 - 19 August 2015)
Friday,20 October, 2017
Issue 1258, (13 - 19 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan’s war for votes

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has his eyes set on the ultra-nationalist vote for the country’s autumn elections, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid in Ankara

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Al-Ahram Weekly

His reading of the results of the electoral marathon on 7 June was quick and decisive. His party’s staggering drop in the polls was because he had not sufficiently courted the Turkish right-wing ultra-nationalists.

This is the conclusion that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has drawn from the country’s June elections, observers say. He must have imagined that his peace project with the Kurds and the secret negotiations he initiated a couple of years ago with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan drove many of his supporters to cast their votes for the ultra-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) headed by Devlet Bahçeli.

Thus, as soon as Erdogan had recovered from the shock of the electoral flop of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), for which he had campaigned so fervently in defiance of the Turkish constitution, he decided to try to win over ultra-nationalist voters for the snap elections he plans for this autumn.

These will be carried out with the support of various vested interest groups, some Islamist, some very moneyed, that had pinned their futures on the AKP’s remaining in power without a partner and regardless of charades about a coalition government. 

It has not taken long for Erdogan to begin his new strategy. On 20 July, the town of Suruç in the southeastern Anatolian province of Sanliurfa was rocked by a suicide bomb attack that killed 34 people and left dozens of others critically wounded.

While the most likely agent behind this attack was the Islamic State (IS) group, as the target was Kurdish activists who had come to Turkey to discuss ways to rebuild Kobani, itself recently recaptured from IS, the Turkish government took this as an opportunity to sound the drums of war.

 This was done instead of launching an investigation into the security lapses that may have made the attack possible, and on the surface the war drums were in line with the demands of the US-led coalition against IS.

However, Turkey’s guns were aimed more at the Kurdish peace process and by extension the country’s largest ethnic minority. The purpose may not have been to kill the peace process, but there was an intention to create a climate in which ultra-nationalist and anti-Kurdish passions can be manipulated in the run-up to elections that will probably take place in November. 

According to Erdogan’s calculations, those elections, held against a hate-filled backdrop, will secure his AKP the overwhelming majority he needs in order to push through the constitutional amendments necessary to transform Turkey’s system of government into a presidential one, thereby crowning the imperial authority he has already begun to wield.

As for the chronic Kurdish question, perhaps Erdogan will condescend to consider this again after he gets what he wants in the elections.

However, it appears that the fighter planes dispatched on “high-precision” missions to attack PKK camps in northern Iraq have failed to accomplish the envisioned scenario, notably because of a change, even if seemingly small, in the ranks of those who until recently have taken little interest in public affairs. This has also been reflected in the Turkish press, which in spite of restrictions continues to voice its opinion on what is happening in the country.

 Turkish society will lose out as a result of Erdogan’s calculations, and the loss of its decision-maker, in the shape of Erdogan itself, may be just as horrendous. Worse yet, Erdogan shows no sign of admitting the dangers of his strategy, a disaster in itself in the light of the Islamisation that has penetrated all areas of the Turkish Republic.

One need only mention the occasional demonstrations, setting off from mosques after Friday prayers, in which marchers cry out against the “heresy” of democracy and call for the reinstatement of the caliphate. Unlike most of the other protest demonstrations in Turkey, these encounter no police resistance.

It is no exaggeration to say that the state of Turkish democracy is now pitiable in view of the harassment the regime metes out not just upon opponents to the ruling party but also upon anyone who voices a word of criticism of its leader.

One example involves the Cumhuriyet newspaper, which was guilty of nothing more than exercising its journalistic duties when it sent a team of reporters to the Supreme Court in Ankara to cover the kidnapping of Judge Selim Kiraz that took place in March this year. The following morning the newspaper featured its coverage of the incident complete with photographs.

One might have thought there would be nothing out of the ordinary in this, particularly in a country that is ostensibly striving to join the EU and whose government is forever protesting that it respects freedom of expression. However, a public prosecutor immediately opened an investigation into the newspaper and summoned its reporters for questioning.

The grounds cited were that the newspaper or its reporters had “disobeyed instructions”, though it was unclear what those instructions were. At the end of four months of investigation the prosecution has now asked to have 18 journalists sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison on charges of “promoting strife and encouraging terrorism”.

These charges were ostensibly based on the coverage of the kidnapping, but what the charge sheets omitted to mention was the true offence the newspaper had committed in criticising Erdogan and his thirst to consolidate his authoritarian rule.

In the 1990s, no one would have compared the state of democracy in Turkey to that which existed in Iraqi Kurdistan for the simple reason that democracy did not exist at all in the latter country. Today, however, the situation is being reversed.

In largely autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, trends are moving towards a parliamentary system of government that will reduce the powers in the hands of Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani, precisely the opposite of what is being sought by the proponents of a Turkish presidential system that will concentrate more power in Erdogan’s hands.

There is plenty of evidence of Turkey’s deterioration on the home front, not least of which is the corruption that the opposition press persistently exposes. In the latest chapter in the Turkish corruption scandals, the Sözcü newspaper has ridiculed AKP Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci, who once boasted of his poor roots and “growing up wearing torn trousers” but can now afford to buy a $4 million villa in the exclusive Sariyer district of Istanbul.

Another factor that may stand in the way of Erdogan’s schemes are mounting fears among the public of increasing violence if the military operations continue, especially given the fragility of the overall security situation.

At all events, the question remains as to whether Erdogan and his clique can achieve their bid to regain an absolute parliamentary majority by sounding the war drums. The answer to this will be supplied by the early elections that will form the third and last act of the tragedy of the demise of the AKP, the first two being marked by the 7 June elections and the suicide bombing targeting Kurds on 20 July.

 

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