by Michael Jansen, The Jordan Times.
Jun 04,2015 –
When voters in Turkey’s 81 provinces cast their votes in 175,000 ballot boxes in 970 districts in the June 7 parliamentary election, they could decide the fate of democracy in their country.
If they give the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) a resounding mandate and up to 330 seats in the 550-member parliament, they could provide President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with the legislative backing to secure constitutional amendments that would transform Turkey’s system of governance from parliamentary to presidential.
This would formally confirm his assumption of the powers of prime minister, a job he filled for more than a decade.
Incumbent Ahmet Davutoglu is Erdogan’s all-too-willing collaborator in this project.
Although barred from partisan politics as president, Erdogan has been campaigning hard on behalf of AKP candidates.
In the 2011 election, the party won 49.9 per cent of the votes and 326 seats; polls currently predict the party’s take could fall to 40-42 per cent.
The AKP requires a simple majority of 276 to rule, but cannot change the constitution unless it can command 400 seats.
If it has a large enough representation, the AKP can gain the magic number by doing deals with independents.
The greater the gap the more difficult to achieve this objective.
The main campaign issues are security, economy and corruption.
Security has declined because, on the one hand, during 13 years of negotiations with Ankara, Kurdish demands for recognition as a separate ethnic group and for self-rule have not been met.
This failure has alienated many Kurds who expected a resolution of the 30-year conflict waged by the Kurdish Works’ Party (PKK) against the government, which has not yet been able to deal with the Kurds as a distinct ethnic minority deserving cultural and political autonomy.
On the other hand, the AKP government has been deeply involved in the conflict in Syria and Iraq, creating serious concern that the war could engulf Turkey.
Hundreds of fundamentalist Turks, marginalised at home, joined Daesh and many settled with their families in the Daesh-held Syrian city of Raqqa, where they live under an “Islamic caliphate”.
Erdogan and pro-Muslim Brotherhood politicians in the AKP have promoted fundamentalist insurgents in Syria and Iraq because they believe that Turkey, a country with a large Sunni majority and a glorious Ottoman past, could dominate the region, recreating an Ottoman sphere of influence if not the empire itself.
Turkish economic growth slumped to 2.9 per cent, investor confidence diminished and polls show that 57 per cent of voters think the economy is being mismanaged.
Interest rates were not reduced quickly enough when investors held back, prompting Erdogan to attack policy makers. This led to flight from the Turkish currency and its fall in value by 20 per cent, and boosted inflation to 7.9 per cent in April.
Foreign investment was cut by one-third during the first quarter of this year and some $2.24 billion in Turkish stocks and bonds was withdrawn.
Although a spurt of growth contributed to the party’s previous electoral victories in 2002, 2007 and 2011, this has diminished and unemployment is running at 11 per cent, leading voters to question seriously the AKP’s ability to manage the economy.
Furthermore. growth has been uneven, with the cities of the north and west gaining the most from government development programmes while those in the mainly Kurdish east and southeast have been neglected and have fallen behind.
The influx of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees has contributed to rising unemployment among Turks, particularly in the southeast, and created bitter anti-Syrian feelings among Turks who want the conflict to end and the refugees to go home.
Erdogan and Prime Minister Davutoglu have been the prime movers of Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian conflict which, last year, engulfed Iraq.
Without consideration of potential consequences for Turkey itself, they recently stepped up the flow of arms, money and foreign fighters to largely fundamentalist groups deployed in Syria and Iraq, notably in Daesh and Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat Al Nusra.
Recent revelations that Turkey’s intelligence agency has been funnelling arms to insurgents in Syria reminded voters of the risk of intervention and demonstrated that Turkey’s former “no problems with neighbours” policy has been transformed into “problems with neighbours” fighting existential wars.
While Turkey’s traditional secular parties continue to contest seats in parliament, this election has added a new challenger, the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which previously backed independents but is now fielding candidates as a party.
The Kurds, numbering 15 million, account for 20 per cent of the population. The HDP, with roots in the outlawed separatist Kurdish Workers’ Party, has rebranded itself as a national and nationalist party, and promoted itself as a liberal grouping by anointing male and female co-chiefs, fielding many women candidates, calling for rights for women, and focusing on green policies, attracting young voters who backed the 2013 demonstrations against the government’s plan to hand Istanbul’s popular Gezi Park, the only large green space in the city, to developers.
The “battle of Gezi Park” exposed the AKP’s role in corruption, leading to full-scale investigations of Erdogan’s son and closest associates who, in December of that year, were accused of accepting bribes and kickbacks, tarnishing the AKP image.
Polls show the HDP as taking 10-11 per cent of the votes, just enough to get deputies into parliament. But it needs to secure 12-13 per cent to ensure that the AKP, which dominates the administration, cannot use dirty tricks and election fraud to block the HDP from entering the assembly.
Fiddling one per cent of the votes is possible but not two or three per cent.
Unfortunately, the Kurds are not a unified community and cannot be expected to back the HDP en masse.
Conservative Kurds do not like the HDP’s liberal platform, while the party’s links with the leftist Kurdish Workers’ Party have alienated Kurdish tribesmen who allied themselves with the Turkish security forces during the struggle for autonomy/secession.
Fundamentalist Kurds voted for the AKP in previous elections. However, the HDP’s liberal line appeals to many non-Kurdish youngsters who do not support either the traditional secular parties or the AKP due to misrule and corruption, and who want to enjoy the “modern” 21st century style of life rather than live in accordance with old-fashioned conservative strictures.
In spite of the apparent erosion of popular support for the AKP, Erdogan remains the most popular politician in Turkey and expects to propel AKP candidates into parliament.
Therefore, it is not possible to predict with any certainty what will happen in these crucial Turkish elections.
Pollsters were wrong when they tried to gauge the results of the recent Israeli and British elections, which gave narrow victories to the right-wing Likud headed by Benjamin Netanyahu and the Conservatives led by David Cameron, in spite of polls showing that these contests were too close to call.