By now, it is widely known that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan “won the election” in his country on June 24. But the authoritarian leader’s support is waning.
Despite Erdoğan’s smiling face as he addressed his specially bussed-in crowds of adoring fans — and he is genuinely adored by a sizable minority, even if for most he is merely feared — he knows that for many he is a deeply controversial figure whose days are likely numbered.
This may sound surprising. If Erdoğan is so hated by most of the Turkish population and the opposition is allowed to run in elections, why was he not simply voted out?
After all, the progressive People’s Democratic Party (HDP) coalition is still allowed to run, in spite of mass arrests and purges, as well as the centrist opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). Clearly the silent majority of Turkish people must approve of Erdoğan?
But Turkey does not function like Australia on Election Day. To begin with, large sections of the voting population have their vote thrown out openly by highly undemocratic election laws, which place a threshold of winning 10% of the total vote in order to be counted.
Failure to meet this threshold means that all of those votes will be treated as if they were the “average” of the Turkish electorate — and are spread across those parties that broke the threshold, no matter where on the political spectrum these votes fell relative to the parties that ultimately received them.
Secondly, under Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), in contrast to the glacially slow results of Australian elections, votes are counted faster than anywhere in the world. The state news agency Anadolu Ajansı (AA) reports shockingly high majorities for the AKP. AA now appears little more than a weapon in the AKP's hands in the propaganda war against all opposition.
This is part of a trend that includes the AKP dismissing dissidents from all state posts. This includes the state universities, while private universities of dubious educational quality, but economically and ideologically tied to the AKP, spring up across the country.
Those of us who were in touch with people inside Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) watched in amazement as the AA reported over 90% of the vote counted, and a clear AKP victory, while the YSK had only counted between 40-50% of the vote.
Muharrem İnce, the CHP’s popular presidential candidate, initially protested these seemingly fake results, with the CHP insisting there would be a second round of elections. Then, silence.
The rumour is that in between Erdoğan ascending the balcony to claim his glorious victory, İnce and the CHP were threatened in some way. Personal threats, or possibly threat of civil war? It's difficult to say. But someone intervened to make the ordinarily defiant İnce emerge with a timid and prepared statement of defeat.
So this is the story reproduced by news sources the world over: that the opposition accepted their electoral defeat, and, therefore, Erdoğan “won”.
But now that we see how this occurred, our image of the events seems different: the elections are totally fraudulent. From a popular rightist to an unpopular dictator, our cartoon image of Erdoğan has been inverted.
But the truth of the matter lies in a different direction. It is not a question of how popular Erdoğan is or how much of a dictator he constitutes. Erdoğan is the head of the ruling clique, but the fraud lies at a much deeper level — and may in fact serve to overturn Erdoğan.
When the results were reviewed, several irregularities were noted. Not least of which was the showing of the HDP. The HDP represents an alliance between the Kurdish liberation movement, the Marxist left, and various other progressive sectors, such as the feminist, LGBTI and ecological movements. But the most powerful and largest element is without a doubt the Kurdish liberation movement — and the HDP’s stronghold is in Turkish Kurdistan.
Yet the results tell a different story: they tell the story of the HDP gaining power in the west of Turkey while losing power in Turkish Kurdistan. What’s more, it would seem the votes the HDP lost went not to the AKP, but to the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
The AKP inherits a tradition of Islamism. For the early years of AKP rule, it enjoyed considerable support among conservative Kurds who hoped that an “Islamic” identity might ease the political tensions around their national identity in a country that had for decades been ruled by fanatical Turkish nationalists.
The AKP promised a sort of liberal Islamism that appealed to many Kurds, who ended up turning to the HDP as the AKP's ended the peace process with the Kurdish liberation movement and resorted to military conflict at great cost to Kurdish lives.
Let us suppose that in this context, the Kurdish people felt that if they voted against the HDP, they would be given an unprincipled peace. Or let us suppose that a dictatorship whose primary character was that of Erdoğan’s personality stole HDP votes for their own gain.
In either case, we should expect a huge return of the AKP in HDP areas. But this is not what we witnessed.
Instead, we saw large numbers (as much as three quarters of votes cast in Urfa) of Kurdish votes going to the ultra-Turkish nationalist MHP. This group is a fascist Cold War relic that barely campaigned this election, and whose votes in Turkey had been split by Meral Akşener’s defection to form her own new rightist opposition party.
Why would the most anti-Kurdish party of the AKP coalition government gain Kurdish votes? Alternatively, why would Erdoğan hand votes to a coalition partner that is not under his control when he could hand them more believably to himself?
The answer is that Erdoğan did not perpetrate such a fraud. Erdoğans have come and gone in Turkish history, but a dictatorial fascist ruling clique always reconstitutes itself at the top, through coups, elections or, as now, through martial law — which Erdoğan promised to lift after the election, but which remains in place.
The Turkish capitalist class has never been strong enough to impose its rule through what we understand as liberal democracy. Holding on to the defeated core of what was the weakest imperialist power in World War I, the Turkish capitalist class has for decades struggled with challenges to its rule not just from the exploited masses in Turkey proper, but the national movement of the Kurdish people within and on the borders of the Turkish Republic.
With such an unstable economic basis for a modern capitalist state, it is unsurprising that repeated coups have taken place as various factions vie for economic power and political control.
We saw the deep factionalism of various elements within the state with the most recent coup attempt in 2016. Factions close to the Islamist Gülenist movement, which had been allied with the AKP, and elements of the military had hoped to oust Erdoğan (not in order to defend the democratic demands of the opposition in Turkey, of course, but to replace one ruling clique with another).
The coup plot was discovered ahead of time, and the coup plotters attempted to strike ahead of schedule, leading to chaos.
The bloody night of July 15, 2016 ended with Erdoğan restoring order through a kind of undeclared counter-coup in the form of martial law (praised in official media as a victory for Turkish democracy).
In the aftermath, Erdoğan's alliance with the MHP (an electoral front for the fascist death squads known as the Grey Wolves) rapidly deepened. By the most recent election, the MHP was part of the official ruling coalition. The closeness of the MHP to the AKP went against the wishes of many of the MHP faithful, causing the MHP to split, with the anti-AKP faction going on to become the İYİ Parti, which allied themselves with the CHP, and the Saadet Partisi of hardcore Islamists who share a heritage with the more moderate AKP.
All of these factions are fundamentally right-wing: except for İYİ Parti and the CHP, none emphasise secularism and have a history of violence against religious minorities — particularly the Alawites. All of them, including the CHP and especially the İYİ Parti, have a history of massacres against Kurdish people.
The chauvinism of Sunni Turkish identity against religious and national minorities in Turkey is the original sin of the Turkish state project. Opposition to it is only espoused by the HDP, and socialist and democratic elements behind or close to it.
Yet, none the less, these various factions are willing to fight to the point of bloodshed, as the July 15 coup attempt reveals, to gain a bigger share of the profits extracted out of the lives and labour of Turkey’s poor and oppressed.
When it came to the most recent election, the MHP and AKP lined up as the ruling camp against all opposition — despite disagreements among themselves on the degree of Sunnism and Turkism that should characterise the Turkish state.
Erdoğan, as the most popular politician among all of these pro-state parties, except perhaps the CHP’s İnce, certainly forms the outward face of this alliance. But clearly, the elements in the state that stand behind this alliance sense a change in the winds.
Fascist MHP emerges stronger
The fact that they are pivoting towards the MHP shows that they see enormous weakness in the AKP’s position. The fact that in İnce, a pro-state opposition politician of genuine popularity could emerge in opposition to Erdoğan frightens Erdoğan immensely, but also informs the calculations of the various sections of the Turkish bourgeoisie.
In this stolen election, we do not see Erdoğan’s personal dictatorship: we see the tense negotiations between the various sections of Turkish capital who have exploited the poor and the environment, and who have oppressed women, LGBTI people and other minorities, and above all the Kurdish people who have been downtrodden since the foundation of the Turkish Republic.
Erdoğan will lose power by one means or another. However, it is likely the day he leaves office will not be the day of a democratic or socialist revolution in Turkey.
The fascist core of the Turkish state was concealed for the early years of the AKP regime, with its famous “openings” designed to imply Turkey had become more democratic. But the underlying structure of society had not changed, and Erdoğan therefore had to fit the role this office was built for — that of a fascist dictator.
When Erdoğan leaves, if there is no large change in the social dynamics, a revolution if you will, his replacement will likewise declare themselves representatives of a new era in Turkish democracy, blaming Erdoğan for all the common crimes of the Turkish ruling class while continuing to perpetuate them.
For today, we see the MHP gaining more power against the AKP, and that the same rapacious Turkish ruling classes continue to rule, but are beginning to prepare for a transition to a post-Erdoğan order.
Will the MHP and İYİ Parti reunite? Will the CHP bring these three elements together, and backed by the army and the Gülenists, carry out a more successful coup or more concerted electoral campaign? Will the AKP's faithful timidly shore up their support behind the MHP, or will the two parties merge and throw Erdoğan out as their scapegoat?
The possibilities are many, but we should not be fooled: it is not this or that politician who steals elections, it is those who hold these elections who steal power from the masses themselves. It is only by organising themselves that the masses will be able to seize control of Turkish politics, their economic livelihoods, their environment, and their own lives.
[Muhsin Yorulmaz is a writer and translator with Abstrakt, a Marxist internet magazine from Turkey whose international page can be found here.]