The Turkish Elections and its Consequences

In regard to the loss votes for the AKP one must be fair: considering that the Turkish economy is stagnating, unemployment is rising, the region is in terrible turmoil – both politically and economically – and the appeal of the AKP’s version of conservativism is waning, the party did reasonably well gaining more than 18 million, or 40.7% of the votes1. For most parts this is due to president Erdoğan’s political skills, the governing parties almost monopoly on printed and televised information and the simple fact that the last decade and half was the politically most stable and economically most prosperous one in Turkey since the proclamation of the republic. Still, the party has the least seats in the National Assembly since coming to power in 2002 (arguably for arithmetical reasons the share has been shrinking ever since then from 363 to now 256 seats). Thus the elections constitutes a huge loss for the ruling party, dwindling their powers and making Erdoğan’s plans for a presidential system practically impossible.

The reasons for the huge losses are most likely manifold, ranging from disappointment about the economic and labour market performance to Erdoğan’s increasing authoritarianism and therefore unwillingness to listen to constituents concerns to the massive Kurdish empowerment going on in the region since the start of the inner-Turkish solution process that got further heated up by the battle of Kobanê. Other issues like the secularism debate, increasing human rights abuses and the dispute over turkey’s stance on regional conflicts are probably less important issues though. What surely played a certain role too was the bottom-down leadership change that disempowered leading moderate voices within the AKP, like Abdullah Gül, and led to the emergence of new, uncharismatic (and arguably unsuccessful) figures like the now Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. In combination with Erdoğan’s (unconstitutional) almost day and night appearance in public to support Davutoğlu and his cabinet, this led to tiredness amongst traditional AKP supporters and strengthened the opposition.

This is particularly the case for the pro-Kurdish HDP which received a surprising 13% of the vote2 and can therefore be called the biggest winner in the elections. Many (again including me) doubted that the HDP would surpass the 10% threshold as they emerged from a rather far-left political tradition and has ties to the PKK. Furthermore the party has a very difficult legal background and was regularly shut down – before and after elections – for presumably having exactly the aforementioned ties with an underground terrorist organization. Also anything labelled “Kurdish” leaves a separatist aftertaste in Turkey and therefore is regarded illegitimate and to a certain extend a state-enemy. Yet the party cleared the hurdle and did so (contrary to many pundits arguments) because it scored massively in majority Kurdish areas, particularly the south-east. The HDP thus at the same time was able to capitalize on the AKP’s losses but more importantly was able to establish itself as a defender of particular Kurdish issues and representative of all Kurds. Stunning results in some Kurdish-majority provinces are a proof of just that – like the almost 90% in the province of Hakkari. Thanks to smart tactics, a charismatic leading figure (Salahattin Demirtaş) and the mentioned circumstances the HDP scored above expectations.

This cannot be said about the biggest opposition party, the Kemalists CHP, which has a smaller share of the vote and seats compared to the 2011 general elections. It would be an exaggeration to call the results a big defeat for the CHP though, as the party in my eyes still is in an ongoing opening process (as described in my latest blog entry) and cannot capitalize on leftist-liberal votes – something the HDP to a certain extend seems to be doing – and neither on liberal AKP voters. It is a defeat nonetheless, particularly since the other opposition parties seemed to have gained from the ruling parties losses. My answer to this is that the MHP profited from the nationalist votes the AKP lost, the HDP from the Kurdish vote and the CHP fishes in neither voting-pool. The basic constituency still sticks with the ruling party and in my eyes will do so as long as it is clear that Erdoğan himself wields the sceptre in the AKP. Personal networks and dependencies formed by him will – for now – stay as they are. The CHP though must engage with these constituents, try to represent a serious party of power with the appropriate economic knowledge.

The results are full of paradoxes indeed. For example the 10% threshold led to the very empowerment of the HDP (and disempowerment of the AKP) in the first place as conquest of that barrier provided the HDP with many legislative powers while at the same time costing the ruling party many seats. Thus the intended result of the high threshold which is strengthening larger parties led the exact opposition, namely the strengthening of the smallest faction in the assembly. Another paradox is that Erdoğan clearly emerged as the biggest loser in the elections but the results might strengthen his offices position, as he becomes the arbiter in possible future coalitions or early elections3. Also the new political powers of the Kurdish side of the solution process may have a weakening effect on them, as the other side (thus whomever forms the next government) might be less willing to compromise as the Kurds now constitute a real political competitor. This is particularly the case since the AKP has less political legitimization – or a smaller mandate – in the negotiations and the other two parties will most likely show less incentive to make compromises.

After all the election – as expected – will turn out as being the most decisive one in quite some time. And although most votes are already counted and the mandate distribution is more or less certain, who’s the winner and loser (and to which extend) is not so clear already. Until now it always proofed a mistake to underestimate the political skills and accumulated powers of president Erdoğan. At the same time his zenith has most likely already been passed and the constituents should start getting comfortable not only with a post-Erdoğan (at least in realpolitik terms) era but a less stable time in which coalitions have to be formed and compromises be found. So far that seems too difficult, not only for the political establishment but more so the international financial markets which reacted very sensitive to the elections results4.