President Recep Tayip Erdogan’s decision to call a second election in as many months has been vindicated. The ruling AK Party (Justice and Development Party - AKP) has won a critical election, maintaining an outright majority to rule the Turkish republic without needing to defer to another party for coalition government.
Many Turks will be thankful that the AKP has failed to achieve the super-majority needed to transfer Turkey from a parliamentary democracy to a presidential system. It should be noted, however, that it only fell 14 seats short of the necessary super-majority. The Kurdish backed People’s Democratic Party (HDP) managed to once again defy the odds by receiving more than the required 10% of votes to take their seats in parliament. The certainty of the result lay in stark contrast to the political uncertainty following the previous election in June and has provided the ruling AKP with the authority to begin another crackdown on the media and provided the spark for yet more fighting between the Kurdish community and the Turkish government.
This election has been marred by violence and controversy. Erdogan had declared, somewhat bizarrely, that he wanted to be like the Queen of England, intending to style himself as a ‘father of the nation’ figure. Usurping the demagoguery surrounding the first Turkish president Ataturk (translated as Father of the Turks) – and to reign like a ceremonial figurehead in the presidential chair – remains his purported goal. However, if that really was Erdogan’s intention he could leave the predominantly ceremonial role of the president unchanged.
Erdogan’s intention was to deflect criticism of his government’s return to authoritarianism. He has been criticised for taking the reigns of Turkish foreign policy and of chairing a cabinet meeting – actions that the two former presidents never took. His actions render any changes that he wishes to make to the Turkish constitution mostly moot, given he is already acting with impunity. Regardless of what the constitution says, the Turkish nation knows that the real power lies in the presidency and not with the parliament.
The electoral violence is indicative of an increasingly tense situation in Turkey. If, as many believe, Erdogan had hoped his new war against the Kurdish militants might have crushed the HDP, he will be sorely disappointed. To compound his disappointment he has simultaneously ended a decade old peace process with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the left-wing armed Kurdish nationalist movement who have been fighting the Turkish government for decades. Several attacks on Turkish policemen and soldiers were reported during the election and on 2 August a tractor filled with explosives was driven into an army checkpoint in south-eastern Turkey. The PKK took responsibility.
All this hostility came to a head when a suicide bomber killed 97 people and injured over 200 during a peace rally in Ankara. It was the worst bomb attack in Turkey’s history. The most obvious perpetrators, ISIS, did not claim the attack, leading to conspiracy theories fingering the government as the perpetrator. ISIS was eventually blamed. However, Erdogan did his level-best to make the situation worse by blaming the Syrian secret service and the Kurds for the attack, stating that, for some unexplained and irrational reason, the Kurds had conspired with the Syrian intelligence service and ISIS.
Erdogan’s notorious intolerance of criticism and the free media, as well as his growing authoritarianism, remain a concern. The Turkish people were this time able to voice their opinion. However, there is concern that this may not be possible in five years time. Upon hearing the result, the Turkish Prime Minister tweeted “Elhamdulillah”, or “praise be to God”. However, Turkey’s next steps have very little to do with God. Yet another long and protracted battle over the direction of a deeply divided nation has begun.
Alexander Willox is the Commissioning Editor of Insights and an Analyst at Political Monitor. He tweets @frederickcon.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons (Wikipedia: Creative Commons (Cropped)).