Turkey Heads to the Polls… Again

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    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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Turkey goes to the polls this Sunday for the fourth time in two years. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has adopted a more aggressive and imperious stance since the June 2015 parliamentary elections, which saw his Justice and Development (AKP) Party lose its majority and resulted in a deadlock. Erdogan has been especially aggressive against the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which spoiled the AKP majority in the last election. Most predictions have the upcoming elections resulting in yet another deadlock. No matter the result, many consider this election a struggle over the soul of the country.

It is with such weighty concerns for his country’s future that Hurriyet Daily News’ Yusuf Kanli approaches his analysis of this Sunday’s elections: “Sunday’s vote appears to be an existentially important vote for whether the republic will continue as a multi-party parliamentary democracy or turn into a dictatorship, very much like those of the Middle Eastern political geography….In the June 7 vote many liberal and social democrat Turks casted strategically motivated votes for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) even though most of them had no sympathy at all for the pro-Kurdish party….Most of that ‘strategic vote’ probably will not go to the HDP this time but the pro-Kurdish party has defeated the psychological threshold impediment and might easily compensate the loss of strategic votes with votes it might attract from the conservative Kurds which would otherwise go to the AKP.”

Serkan Demirtaş echoes Kanli’s argument, fearing that further parliamentary deadlock might also lead to a deterioration of freedoms in the country: “Turkey will hold its fourth election in 20 months on Nov. 1. Unfortunately there is no certainty that this will be the last election in such a string, or that a government will be formed….the country will be voting in an environment in which the free press is in its death throes. Very soon there may be no need to list Turkey in the world media freedom index, because there will be no free press at all – unless Sunday’s polls do not promise a change of course….Not only freedom of press, but freedom of expression in general will also be voted on….To cut a long story short, Turkey, in its most chaotic election ever, will either vote for freedom or for further authoritarianism.”

Turkish observers seem to be split on whether Mr. Erdogan will prove to be his country’s savior or its biggest obstacle on the road to further development and security. For example, Today’s Zaman Murat Aksoy fears that the president’s red lines might make the creation of a coalition impossible: “Will Erdoğan permit a coalition government based on the outcome of the Nov. 1 vote?…Erdoğan has two red lines and he won’t backpedal from his position unless he obtains a guarantee for an ‘exit strategy’ regarding these red lines from the coalition government to be established. The first one is about the graft and bribery scandals that went public on Dec. 17, 2013. The second one is about any effort to restrict the way he uses the presidential position arbitrarily and in breach of the Constitution. These red lines will determine the future of any coalition. Given the fact that the opposition parties have their own red lines concerning the same matters, it wouldn’t be unrealistic to say that after Nov. 1, the country will go through a process similar to the post-June 7 election process.”

In an op-ed for the Daily Sabah, Othman Ali criticizes what he considers HDP’s justification of violence perpetrated by Kurdish fighters inside Turkey suggesting that “The HDP’s unwise decision to miss the opportunity to be an actor of the reconciliation process, which was started by the AK Party, by supporting PKK violence has disappointed Kurds who see the process as a way to build permanent peace in the region…The outcome of the snap general election on Nov. 1 will have a profound impact on future of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), Turkey, the Syrian crisis, and Turkey’s foreign policy in general. However, the election outcome will have the most visible and far-reaching impact on the future of Kurds. The polls in Turkey have so far given various scenarios for the way the election results will be. Based on that, we maintain that Kurdish interests will be best served if the AK Party wins a sufficient numbers of seats to form a majority government and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) manages to again pass through the 10 percent national election threshold. The second helpful scenario for Kurds will be an election result that enables the AK Party to form a comfortable coalition government with HDP.”

Merve Çalhan levels a similar charge against the HDP, while conceding that the upcoming elections will be a competition primarily between the governing AKP and the opposition HDP: “Contrary to its past agenda for the June 7 elections in which the party wanted to collect all leftist groups under its wing, the HDP, with its statements supportive of the PKK, is now turning to the Kurdish nationalist vote. The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) aimed to transform to a democratic mass party to reach out to more voters from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds such as women, workers, Alevis, Armenians and LGBTI people in its election campaigns for the June 7 elections. It was a rather radical start for a party that is in tune with the PKK’s goals and successor to the Pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which changed its name to the Democratic Regions Party (DBP) and was restructured in 2014…. In the upcoming days the HDP will polish its election manifesto, try to not lose the support of non-Kurdish voters from the middle and upper-middle classes and benefit religious Kurds who used to vote for the AK Party. In any case, the Nov. 1 election is projected to look like a battleground, specifically for the AK Party and HDP.”

Judging from recent events it is evident that Mr. Erdogan is not reluctant to use his considerable political power to sideline and threaten his opponents. In what may be considered the latest twist in a long-drawn drama, “Some 130 journalists and intellectuals condemned the recent police raid on companies owned by Koza İpek Holding, including media outlets, and said ‘enough is enough’ in a joint statement released on Thursday….Stressing that the purpose of the government is to ‘unplug’ all critical newspapers and TV stations in order to gloss over revelations of major corruption probes that broke out on Dec. 17 and 25, 2013, the group said if the government succeeds in increasing its electoral support in the Nov. 1 elections by making people believe that the Oct. 10 Ankara bombing was the work of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), not the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), it will be the turn of other opposition media groups to be targeted.”

According to a Good Morning Turkey news report, the raids came about the same time as the Turkish government released a list of Turkey’s most wanted, which included Mr. Erdogan’s erstwhile ally-turned-political enemy and a financial supporter of the shuttered newspapers and TV stations: “Turkey published a list of its most wanted terrorists on Oct. 28, including Islamic Scholar Fethullah Gülen, leaders of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)….The list carries the names and details of 728 people, ranking them in five color-coded categories from red (the most wanted) to blue, green, orange and grey. One “red” name is U.S.-based Gülen, who has been charged with “terrorism” for allegedly plotting to overthrow the Turkish government through activities of a so-called “parallel state.”…The Interior Ministry published the list the same day riot police stormed Koza İpek media group’s two television stations owned by a conglomerate linked to Gülen.”

In the dying hours of the campaign, Turkey’s president has also taken aim at the opposition HDP, insinuating that the People’s Democratic Party is being controlled and manipulated by U.S. “master minds”: “An ongoing tussle between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the co-chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has reached Washington after the former suggested that a company that once managed U.S. President Barack Obama’s presidential election campaign has now been hired by the Kurdish problem-focused party to run its campaign for the Nov. 1 snap elections….Accusing the HDP executive of constantly lying to people, particularly about their alleged link to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Erdoğan said, “The team that runs that campaign tells [the HDP] ‘Always use lies, always use insults because when a lie is constantly used, it eventually turns to truth.’ This is the campaigning mind, the master mind. We have all of this information. When you look, they are implementing this exactly’.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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