Turkey’s latest election results are in, surprising few of us. President Erdogan won the presidential election in the first round, garnering over 52 percent of the vote despite the presence of a half dozen other presidential candidates. Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) with its far-Right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) likewise maintained its parliamentary majority.
Seemingly defying the laws of political physics, both the president and his party coalition maintained their majority even after 16 years of rule, despite a worsening economy, despite corruption, despite many polarizing policies, despite the creation of innumerable enemies along the way, despite charismatic opposition candidates, despite well-attended and electrifying opposition rallies, and despite opinion polls that predicted another result.
The MHP suffered from an uncharismatic leader hamstrung by the recent breakaway of a splinter party that joined the opposition coalition (the IyI Party), yet they suddenly surged in popularity way beyond what opinion polls showed (5-7 percent) to get 11 percent of the vote. This is the same MHP junior governing coalition partner that barely campaigned at all during this election. The MHP’s amazing showing combined with the AKP’s 42.5 percent of the vote allows the AKP-MHP coalition to form another majority government. Perhaps this looks better than results wherein the AKP gets another majority all on its own.
As this columnist wrote before, winning the presidency and a majority government are the only results that would have been acceptable to Mr. Erdogan. Anything less than this would have meant an opposition-led parliament and parliamentary-formed commissions of inquiry into Mr. Erdogan and his AKP’s alleged corruption and acts of malfeasance. As in the other Turkish elections and referendums of the past few years, allegations of ballot box shenanigans and an unfair election race abound in an election that nonetheless saw some 87 percent of Turks head to the polls.
Whatever the claims of electoral cheating, however, the silver lining to the June 24th election for Kurds is that their Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) made it over the 10 percent electoral threshold to gain seats in parliament (with some 11 percent of the vote). Many HDP supporters in Turkey and abroad are now celebrating this victory.
Unfortunately, the victory seems meaningless to this columnist. The AKP-MHP government has been using terrorism charges without evidence to put HDP deputies, including former leader Selahattin Demirtas and over 90 HDP mayors, into prison since 2015. The state-controlled media, which accounts for more than 90 percent of media in Turkey, does not allow the HDP voice to get heard. In this week’s election, Mr. Erdogan was given 181 hours of coverage during the campaign by the state broadcaster TRT, while Ince (the most popular opposition candidate) was accorded 15 hours and the HDP’s Demirtas was given just 32 minutes. Other opposition parties will not ally with the HDP either, no matter how ineffective their struggle against the AKP-MHP continues to be.
If I were someone fixing the election on behalf of the AKP-MHP, I would in fact prefer the current results to a situation wherein the HDP failed to make it over the 10-percent electoral threshold. That way I could claim Kurds have a voice, as Kurds, in Turkey and that opposition politics and dissent are alive and well. Under such circumstances, any resort to armed struggle has less appeal since democratic and peaceful avenues to pursue change supposedly exist.
In the meantime, we can expect the renewed AKP-MHP government to continue divisive and militant policies towards the Kurdish identity and group politics in Turkey and some neighboring Kurdish areas. The formula has been tried and true since long before the rise of either party, even if such policies prevent Turkey from enjoying much harmony at home. A new executive president will, among other things, have the power to appoint senior judges, unelected vice-presidents and the cabinet, will suffer almost no oversight from parliament, and enjoy the power to issue decrees with the force of law.
Without the need to compromise much or the ability to tolerate criticism (from constituents or advisors), an increasingly insulated and powerful Mr. Erdogan is likely to take Turkey further into uncharted, and ever more dangerous waters. Whatever problems arise from Turkey’s new direction will in turn be blamed on the usual suspects: foreign powers, minorities and other traitors.
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.