In a column this April about the upcoming elections in Turkey (Boycotting Erdogan's Rigged Elections
), I offered Kurdish readers in Turkey the wrong advice:
"The truth of the matter is that one way or another, the AKP will get its majority in June. As Eissenstat perceptively puts it, 'Erdogan may not need to cheat to win the 2018 election — but if he needs to, he will.' In such circumstances, boycott and abstention may prove a better option for Turkey’s dissidents. Playing such a rigged game only legitimizes Mr. Erdogan’s electoral authoritarianism."
The fact of the matter is that political boycotts seldom achieve anything but making things easier for one’s enemies. When Sunni Arabs in Iraq boycotted the constitution drafting process, they lost their say in the matter. When Kurds disheartened by events following the September 25, 2017 referendum failed to vote in Iraq’s nationwide polls last month, fewer Kurdistani ministers were elected to represent them in Baghdad. Boycotting past elections in Turkey, during the 1990s in particular, accomplished nothing other than seeing more of the usual anti-Kurdish chauvinists forming governments in Ankara.
Only in some rare instances does a collective failure to vote make any sense, in fact. One such instance occurred following the Iranian revolution of 1979. When the new elites in Tehran called a referendum for March 31, 1979, they offered the Kurds of Rojhelat an unacceptable choice. The referendum question was “Age-old [monarchial] regime change to Islamic republic, the constitution of which will be approved by the nation — Yes or No?” The choice between two equally unacceptable alternatives, monarchy or Shiite theocracy, was not something the people of Iranian Kurdistan could accept. Although that was the intent of Ayatollah Khomeini and others who drafted the referendum question (for which 99.31% voted ‘yes’), the Kurds overwhelmingly boycotted the vote.
In Iraqi and Turkish elections, however, the situation remains different. In Iraq, a number of Kurdistani, secular and non-sectarian parties exist for voters to choose from. Although the Shiite majority in the new Iraq reliably chooses Shiite leaders (who are in some cases, such as Hashd al-Shaabi’s Fatah Alliance, extremely sectarian Shiite parties), the Kurds can still send their people to parliament as well.
A strong Kurdistani bloc, especially if Kurdistan’s parties unite on key questions of Kurdistani national security, can and has achieved a lot for the Region. In the May 2018 Iraqi elections, however, voter turnout was 55 percent in Duhok, 48 percent in Erbil, and 40 percent in Sulaimani. While this columnist can certainly understand Kurdish voters’ disillusionment, they stand to make more gains by voting.
In Turkey, the election remains unfair before voting even begins. Most of the ministers of the only pro-Kurdish party, the Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP), remain behind bars as election campaigning goes on. This includes the charismatic Selahattin Demirtas, who is also running for president.
With almost all of the country’s media under control of the ruling “Justice” and Development Party (AKP), opposition groups face an almost insurmountable challenge in having their voices heard. The seemingly never-ending state of emergency in Turkey means that the opposition and its people will keep being harassed by state security forces (acting with legal impunity) during the campaigning.
The actual election process may well end up fraudulent as well, as I wrote in April: “As per changes pushed through during previous balloting, when it looked like the AKP might not get what it wanted from voters, Turkey’s High Electoral Board will now accept unstamped/unverified ballots. Electoral commission staff drawn from AKP loyalists will supervise ballot counting, rather than representatives from all political parties [as was the case in the past].”
Even in such unfair circumstances, however, why should voters in Turkey make things easier for the ruling party? If opposition voters, including pro-Kurdish ones, boycott the vote then President Erdogan and his AKP will simply enjoy a larger electoral victory. What’s more, they may not even need to cheat in order to get their majority. Election boycotters would have scant consolation other than a potentially low voter turnout like in Iraq’s last election.
If pro-Kurdish and other opposition voters in Turkey truly want to make life difficult for Mr. Erdogan and his party, they should therefore vote in large numbers and force large-scale fraud to keep Mr. Erdogan and the AKP in power. The more the incumbent AKP has to cheat to maintain its electoral superiority, the more obvious the fraud will be. One need only remember Iran’s 2009 large scale electoral fraud, aimed at reelecting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for an example of this. This would be the best way to delegitimize the current electoral process in Turkey.
David Romano has been a Rudaw columnist since 2010. He holds the Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University and is the author of numerous publications on the Kurds and the Middle East.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.