Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1269, (5 - 11 November 2015)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1269, (5 - 11 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Behind the AKP victory

Turkey’s ruling AKP has staged a strong comeback in the country’s legislative elections and will now form a single-party government, writes David Barchard in Istanbul

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Al-Ahram Weekly

After elections, money markets are sometimes the best political barometers. On Monday, the Turkish lira leapt by three per cent against the US dollar. A new period of single-party rule is beginning in Turkey after five months of uncertainty and violence following the deadlock in the June general elections.

Turks are now coming to terms with a political earthquake that leaves President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) greatly strengthened and the opposition in pieces.

Instead of the renewed deadlock predicted by most, though not all, opinion polls, the AKP surged to victory in the legislative elections, picking up a comfortable majority of around 40 extra seats. The party received 23.4 million votes (the largest number ever) and 49 per cent of the vote, which was nine per centage points higher than the June result.

These results, announced as Al-Ahram Weekly went to press, are only provisional figures from media and political parties. Just three hours after the elections closed on Sunday, with nearly all the votes counted astonishingly fast, the High Election Council (YSK), the regulating authority, closed its news site. The site, which provides official results, has not reopened since, despite many requests to do so on social media. Its chief said the final official results will be available in ten days or so.

How did the AKP stage its triumphant comeback? Its opponents claim it created a climate of fear by ending the ceasefire with the Kurdish PKK Party, which was followed by a number of deadly terrorist attacks, and then told the country that this was the result of the failure to give it a majority in parliament. A vote for the party would bring back peace, while a vote for the opposition might mean continued deadlock and even a third general election to resolve it, the AKP said.

Others point to the curbs on the media over the summer. Just four days before the elections, Turkish courts ordered the takeover of an opposition newspaper and television station loyal to the exiled Sufi cleric Fethullah Gulen. Gulen, 74, lives in the United States and is wanted in Turkey on terrorism charges.

Gulen is generally regarded as having been behind an attempt to unseat Erdogan in December 2013 through making serious corruption charges. These were later quashed, and this week’s result means that no more may be heard of them.

But there are also more practical reasons behind the AKP victory. The party followed modern political campaign tactics, concentrating on marginal seats and trying to expand its following in areas that were already sympathetic to it. Gains were also made in its own heartland provinces.

By comparison, the two largest opposition parties ran feeble campaigns amounting to a few posters and some TV advertising. Canvassing, leafleting and the other hallmarks of an election campaign seem to be things they can’t do, despite massive annual government subsidies.

Because of the climate of violence in the country, the political parties also cut down on their traditional main activity of holding election rallies. They failed either to press their opposition to the AKP and its authoritarian style of rule or to show how they would run the country if elected, apart from rather obvious campaign ploys such as extravagant promises to subsidise the cost of fuel.

For the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the main centre-left opposition party, the result is not a complete catastrophe, however. It picked up a meagre 100,000 extra votes and about 0.4 per cent of the poll, but it will continue to enjoy the subsidy income ($56 million in 2015) that has given it a towering building in Ankara, used as its headquarters, that dwarfs Western European party HQs. It will also probably continue to be a party that looks inward and often seems to cold shoulder new blood.

Following the June elections, the rightist National Action Party (MHP), the main rival of the AKP in central Anatolia, stoutly refused either to go into coalition with the AKP or to join forces with the rest of the opposition. It has paid for its intransigence by losing two million votes, presumably mostly to the AKP. Its parliamentary representation has slumped to an expected 40 seats, compared to 80 in the short-lived last assembly.

Despite this, there seems to be little question of a change of MHP leadership. Its members are now likely to be wooed by the AKP, as the ruling party moves to find the extra votes it needs in the assembly to change the constitution and make Erdogan an executive, and not just a largely ceremonial, president, though in practice he is pretty much that already.

The worst battering was taken by the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). The number of votes it received slipped tantalisingly close to the 10 per cent barrier, eventually emerging just 0.4 per cent above it. Because of its concentrated geographical support base, however, it will have about 59 seats in the new parliament, putting it ahead of the MHP and making it Turkey’s third-largest party. It somehow lost 1.3 million voters, presumably Kurds who decided to return to the AKP.

The HDP could also now face approaches from the AKP to cut a deal over constitutional changes, something that the party’s co-chairman, Selahattin Demirtas, is vehemently opposed to. This idea collapsed last spring. The problem with reviving it is that the Kurds will expect some measure of real autonomy in return, something that the AKP is unlikely to concede.

As for the AKP’s priorities, it has already indicated that its first goal is to change the constitution. Erdogan also indicated before the elections that the drive against the Gulen Movement will continue. The AKP also has to carry on the fight against the PKK, whose militants may have had their hands strengthened by the poor showing of the HDP. Opposition media groups, including Zaman and the Dogan Media Group, are likely to come under even greater pressure.

Internationally, although Erdogan seems to have felt that the world’s media were against the AKP, the EU has reacted positively to the AKP victory, indicating that it will enable the EU to work more closely with Turkey. It has already signalled that it does not want to press further for improvements in Turkey’s human rights record, pragmatic recognition, perhaps, that the AKP is here to stay.

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