Turkey: Erdogan manoeuvres to retain power after election shock

July 12, 2015
HDP supporters rally. The left-wing party scored an impressive electoral breakthrough in June elections.

One month after Turkey’s June 7 parliamentary elections, the country still does not have a government. Ahmet Davutoglu of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) remains caretaker prime minister.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan remains the dominant figure in the AKP and is manoeuvring to retain his party’s leading position. The president is supposed to be an impartial figure above party politics but Erdogan pays scant regard to such constitutional niceties.

The elections were marked by two significant and related developments.

First, the left-wing People’s Democratic Party (HDP) smashed the undemocratic 10% threshold, achieving 13.1% (6.1 million votes) and 80 deputies in the 550-seat Grand National Assembly. While the HDP’s core support lies in the oppressed Kurdish community, the party reached out to all the oppressed and exploited across the country.

Second, the AKP dropped almost 9% from 2011 (4 million votes) and lost its parliamentary majority. A big factor in the AKP’s slide was the collapse of its vote in the Kurdish community. The two main elements here were Erdogan’s effective blockade of the Kurdish-majority northern Syrian town of Kobanê last year when it was besieged by the Islamic State (IS) gangs, and his failure to seriously commit to the peace negotiations with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Other factors were widespread opposition to Erdogan’s desire to set up a dictatorial presidential system and popular concern over the worsening economic situation. A report by Bahcesehir University’s Centre for Economic and Social Research said two-thirds of Turkish children live in extreme poverty, according to European Union standards, the April 23, 2014, Hürriyet Daily News said.

With 258 deputies, the AKP can now rule only in coalition with one of the other parties or with their support. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) has 132 deputies and the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has 80. So far a viable coalition has proved elusive.

According to the constitution, if no new government is formed within 45 days, fresh elections must be held.

A ‘restoration’ government?

In theory, the three opposition parties could come together and form a “restoration” government to repeal and undo the worst of the AKP’s anti-democratic laws and practices.

However, such a government is impossible due to the MHP’s extreme anti-Kurd stance. It refuses to even talk to the HDP, let alone be in coalition with it or in a coalition dependent on its support. The MHP is also vehemently opposed to peace talks with the PKK.

On July 1 a new parliamentary speaker was elected. Despite its minority position, the AKP got its candidate up due to the backhanded support of the MHP. In fact, the AKP is politically closest to the MHP and an AKP-MHP coalition might be possible. However, each party is scared of losing supporters to the other and there is an ideological divide between the secular nationalist MHP and the Islamist AKP.

A coalition between the AKP and the CHP is a more remote possibility. The HDP has consistently ruled out any coalition with the AKP.

Fresh elections?

Erdogan is doubtless also weighing the option of going quickly to fresh elections. But unless he can create a new situation — such as a security “crisis” involving the PKK or the Kurds over the border in northern Syria — a new election would be unlikely to deliver a majority for the AKP and might even make its position worse.

Furthermore, business wants stability. The June 29 Hurriyet Daily News said: “Turkish business circles want to see the end of post-election uncertainties and express their concerns to politicians. Many of them are under huge debt burdens. Their biggest concern is the possibility of the non-establishment of any coalition government and entering a snap election period, which will both increase political risks.”

Business groups also want the Kurdish peace process continued, the Hurriyet Daily News said.

Clearly, a resumption of the war between the PKK and the state would be an economic disaster for Turkey.

Erdogan desperate to keep power

Erdogan has been the dominant political figure in Turkey since 2003. He has been the driving force in establishing a very authoritarian, undemocratic and corrupt system. He has sought to bring all independent power centres under AKP control. A government not fully under the AKP’s control threatens all this.

A few examples illustrate the reality of AKP rule in Turkey:

• A corruption scandal erupted in December 2013 as police investigations became public. It involved cabinet ministers, family members, senior state officials and businesspeople.

Tapes of phone conversations made at this time were later leaked revealing then-prime minister Erdogan instructing his son Bilal to “zero” (dispose of) huge sums of money stashed in various relatives’ houses for fear of raids by prosecutors.

Erdogan’s response was to label the whole thing a conspiracy by his former allies in the Islamic Hizmet movement of Fethullah Gülen to topple the government.

He launched a crackdown on supposed Gülen supporters, targeting thousands of police, prosecutors and judges across the country. In January, the AKP-dominated parliament voted not to lift the immunity of four ex-ministers implicated in the scandal.

However, both the CHP and MHP have called for the graft probe to be reinstated and for Erdogan’s son to be investigated. This will be an issue in any coalition negotiations.

• In January 2014 gendarmerie officers stopped three trucks bound for Syria. The trucks were under the control of MIT (Turkish intelligence). Ostensibly carrying humanitarian supplies, they were found to be carrying weapons, presumably destined for Islamist forces. The government said the gendarmerie's action breached national security. Erdogan called the gendarmes “traitors”. This year, four prosecutors and a gendarmerie colonel were arrested over the incident.

• In June, Bülent Kenes, an editor of the English-language Today’s Zaman, was given a 21-month suspended sentence for a tweet implying that Erdogan’s late mother would have been ashamed of her son. Many others have been charged with insulting Erdogan.

• Previously, the nine-person board of the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), which oversees (censors) broadcast media, has been dominated by the AKP. Following the election it was expected that the AKP would lose its majority but it now wants to adopt a new method of filling the board positions which would allow it to retain control, the July 5 Today’s Zaman reported.

• Lately the media in Australia has been focusing on mafia links to the major political parties. Such things are not unique to Australia. Erdogan was photographed chatting with leading crime figure Sedat Peker on June 13. The occasion was the wedding of notorious anti-Kurd hate propagandist Taha Ün, who was marrying the personal secretary of Erdogan’s wife. Erdogan was an official witness at the wedding.

Preparing for war against the Kurds?

Initially many Kurds had high hopes for Erdogan and the AKP, but that is long gone. Erdogan has shelved the so-called settlement process with the PKK and the Kurds. He now denies there is a Kurdish issue.

For reasons of political survival, Erdogan appears to be stoking the fires of an anti-Kurd Turkish nationalism and trying to create a scare campaign around Kurdish gains in Rojava (the Kurdish-majority liberated zone in northern Syria).

There have even been reports that the army is giving military training to the Kurdish Hizbullah (Hüda-Par) organisation. This is an Islamist outfit that in the past has carried out armed attacks on the PKK. Is the state once more going to use Hizbullah to promote Kurd-on-Kurd violence? Recently a Hüda-Par leader in Dyarbakir was killed and then several HDP members were assassinated. These killings have all the hallmarks of an operation of the Turkish security forces.

The great June victory of the YPG/YPJ (Peoples Protection Forces/Women’s Protection Forces) and their Arab and Assyrian allies in liberating Gire Spi (Tel Abyad) and linking up Rojava’s Cezire and Kobanê cantons has deeply disturbed the Turkish regime. It has accused liberation forces of “ethnic cleansing” of Arabs and Turkmens and with promoting “demographic changes”.

These charges are baseless. While the YPG/YPJ is predominantly Kurdish it includes many non-Kurdish elements. The Rojava charter, to which the YPG/YPJ scrupulously adhere, is all about different ethnic and religious groups cooperating, controlling their own affairs and living amicably together. In the territories between the cantons, Kurds are in the minority. Progress against IS forces in these areas is only possible on the basis of alliances, especially with Arab groups.

Some people fled Gire Spi prior to its liberation to escape the fighting. Many refugees are now returning.

Threat of intervention in Syria

Following the liberation of Gire Spi, Erdogan tried to promote a Turkish intervention in northern Syria, along a line from Jarablus westwards towards Efrin canton. Ostensibly aimed at the Islamic State, it’s real aim would have been to stop further advances by the YPG/YPJ. However, he met with a lot of opposition and this project now appears to be off the immediate agenda.

Turkey’s military command was unenthusiastic, most likely fearing a potential clash with Washington, which has conducted air strikes supporting YPG/YPJ actions against the Islamic State forces.

Furthermore, a caretaker Turkish government has no authority to undertake such an intervention, especially on such a contrived basis. The CHP has denounced any increased involvement in Syria. The public would be largely against it. It would have risked igniting the Kurdish population within Turkey.

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