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Proletarian issue 67 (August 2015)
Turkish election ends Erdogan's majority
Now that the AKP has lost its total control over the government, Prime Minister Erdogan’s usefulness to both the Turkish and imperialist ruling classes is being brought into question.
After 13 years of uninterrupted electoral successes, Turkey’s ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) was dealt a bitter blow in June’s elections.

National, local and even the most recent presidential elections have all gone the way of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP in recent years, buoyed by the growth of the Turkish economy since the turn of the millennium. But a strong vote for the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) – a progressive, Kurdish-led party founded in 2012 – and an overall 10-point swing away from the AKP, has left Turkey without a government since the election. The country now faces the strong probability that either the right-wing parties will lash up a coalition or that fresh elections will need to be held shortly.

Election results

Before analysing the electoral significance of the AKP losing its overall majority we must stress that the party is far from finished. The AKP remains by far the biggest winner in this election, with a total of 258 seats (41 percent) in the parliament. Once again, the AKP was followed by the Republican People’s Party (CHP – generally held to be a social-democratic and Kemalist [secular] political party) in second place with 132 (25 percent).

The really significant result of this election, however, was the 12 percent of the popular vote gained by the HDP. This strong vote meant that the party passed the 10 percent threshold necessary to enter parliament as a bloc, rather than as independents so that 80 seats are now under its control. Most crucially, the HDP took seats in Kurdish areas that had hitherto been won by the AKP (on the promise of various reforms).

The area of Sanliurfa in Turkey’s south (bordering Syria) is illustrative of this trend. In this election, seven of the region’s 12 seats were won by the AKP and five by HDP; in 2011, the AKP had taken 10.

It is also worth noting that the only other significant winner in the election was the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), a far-right Turkish chauvinist party, which has been campaigning for Turkey to establish ‘safe zones’ inside Syrian territory. The party increased its parliamentary strength from 51 to 80 MPs.

Background to the elections

The failure of the AKP government to secure a majority has led many to reflect on the last few turbulent years for Erdogan’s AKP, which has been locked in one political intrigue or dispute after another.

From the Ergenekon trials (in which 275 military officers, journalists, MPs and others were accused of plotting against the government), to the fight with his old ally Fethullah Gülen (a former imam who leads his own quasi-religious movement from self-exile in the USA), through battles with striking workers and the mass uprising that erupted centred on Gezi Park and Taksim Square in Istanbul in 2013, the AKP as a whole, and Mr Erdogan in particular, has been accused, including in the western press, of growing more and more out of touch with large sections of Turkish society – workers, women, vast sections of the liberal and petty-bourgeoisie, large numbers of intellectuals and secularists.

Of course, the western press cares little for the fate of working people, but the present difficulties for the AKP do expose the deep divisions that are clearly on show in Turkish society, and which erupt after every major strike, mine disaster, political appointment or bomb blast along Turkey’s beleaguered Syrian border.

Writing in the Guardian, Constanze Letsch and Ian Traynor analysed the result as follows:

“President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has said the country is entering an uncertain period of coalition government after his 13-year-old reign of solid majorities for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) was ended by a stunning voter backlash against his increasingly authoritarian rule.

‘Our nation’s opinion is above everything else,’ Erdogan said in his first public reaction to the parliamentary elections on Sunday that represented a watershed by shaving nearly 10 points from the governing party and putting a liberal pro-Kurdish party in parliament in Ankara for the first time.

Erdogan’s conciliatory tone contrasted sharply with the highly polarising language he used during the campaign.

He said no party had won a mandate to govern alone and urged all political parties to work towards preserving an environment of confidence and stability in the country.

Coalition talks will dominate the coming weeks in Turkey after voters snubbed the president’s plans to change the constitution and extend his grip on power, delivering the biggest blow to the AKP since it swept to power in 2002.

The election result wrecked Erdogan’s ambition of rewriting the constitution to establish himself as an all-powerful executive president, while the country’s large Kurdish minority has been granted its biggest voice ever in national politics.

‘I believe the results, which do not give the opportunity to any party to form a single-party government, will be assessed healthily and realistically by every party.’

The election breakthrough for the leftist HDP, a new party largely representing the Kurds but also encompassing liberals nationally, was greeted with wild celebrations in the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir in south-eastern Turkey. Cars paraded through the city with drivers honking and people hanging out from windows making ‘V’ signs as occasional gunshots were fired into the air.

The results will give the Kurds – who, with 20 percent of Turkey’s population, are the country’s biggest minority – true representation in parliament. The HDP surpassed the steep 10 percent threshold for entering parliament to take more than 12 percent of the vote and around 80 seats in the 550-strong chamber. The party’s result also denied Erdogan’s AKP its majority.

The 10 percent hurdle, dating from the military-authored constitution of 1980, had been intended in part to diminish Kurdish representation in the parliament.

Sunday’s vote was the first time in four general elections to see a fall in support for Erdogan. While the AKP comfortably managed to secure the biggest portion of the vote, its 41 percent share of seats represents a sharp drop from its performance the 2011 elections, when it won nearly half the national vote. For the first time since 2002, the AKP will need to form a coalition government or call new elections.” (‘Erdogan concedes no party has mandate after shock Turkish vote’, 8 June 2015)

How to marginalise half the population

The increasing attempts to marginalise women from Turkish society, including moves to make it easier for girls to be schooled at home or in religious institutions and the creation of a political climate where Erdogan regularly feels able to express his backward opinions regarding women in society, has alienated thousands of women from AKP social policies and contributed to the strong showing of female candidates in these elections by left and progressive forces.

Speaking in the run-up to the elections, Erdogan declared with characteristic nonchalance:

“You cannot make women work in the same jobs as men do, as in communist regimes. You cannot give them a shovel and tell them to do their work. This is against their delicate nature ...

“Our religion has defined a position for women: motherhood,” and,

“Their characters, habits and physiques are different ... You cannot place a mother breastfeeding her baby on an equal footing with men.” (‘Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “women not equal to men”’, guardian.co.uk, 24 November 2014)

In light of this, it is not surprising that many sections of the opposition in this recent election, ranging from liberal bourgeois to communist (but excluding the republican CHP), chose to field entire slates of women. One such was the Communist Party [Turkey], one wing of the Communist Party of Turkey [TKP] that divided and dissolved in 2014.

The CP(T) put forward an all-female slate, consisting of hundreds of women candidates, while the HDP has returned scores of women MPs, including prominent Kurdish women such as Dilek Öcalan (niece of the jailed Workers’ Party of Kurdistan [PKK] leader Abdullah Öcalan). In all, 96 women were elected to the parliament, representing a historic high of 17 percent. (See ‘Dilek Öcalan, niece of jailed Kurdish leader, enters Turkish parliament’, guardian.co.uk, 24 June 2015)

Erdogan himself may prove a barrier to the project for a ‘new Ottoman empire’

Despite his relatively recent presidential victory, some are now speculating that Erdogan may prove more of a hindrance to the interests of monopoly capitalism than a help. Erdogan’s own self-styled ‘hard-man’ image has done much to galvanise a significant section of the population against him, not only women.

His reactionary flourishes are so many it’s hard to choose an example for our readers to wince at, but perhaps his utterances after a 2010 mining disaster can serve to demonstrate the callous profiteering and anti-working-class credentials of this would-be Ottoman emperor.

The tragedy of the Zonguldak mine disaster in 2010 neatly illustrated his antipathy towards the plight of the working people who make up the wretched mass upon whose back so much of his own wealth (and that of his family members, cronies and class) has been created. When 30 miners lost their lives, Erdogan, then Prime Minister, stated that it was a mere “hazard of the profession”. He even went so far as to say that people in mining regions were used to such sorts of tragedy.

Of course, such profiteering jackals as Erdogan and the AKP care little for the cost in human life given that the industry they largely privatised in 2004 is now worth $2.4bn annually (employing 92,000 workers in terrible conditions). Turkish mining accounts for a reputed 10 percent of all workplace accidents in Turkey, and the Turkish Statistical Institute states that 13,000 workers were injured in the pits during 2013 alone. According to the Economic Research Foundation of Turkey, seven miners die in Turkey for every million tonnes of coal excavated – compared to China (another developing country), where the figure is one death for the same tonnage, according to the World Coal Association.

Constitutional wrangling and possible new elections

Whether it be as a result of his reaction to such tragedies as the one that befell the Zonguldak miners, or in the context of the recent terrorist bomb blasts in Suruc (which killed more than 30 young socialist activists who were preparing to help rebuild the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, recently liberated from the Islamic State) it seems that Erdogan and his domestic and international policies are continually drawing fire from local and international commentators, accompanied by the inevitable speculation that he may have lived out his usefulness.

In early July, the Turkish parliament elected Ismet Yilmaz (AKP) as speaker of the house, in a move that was considered by some commentators to be a sign of a possible coalition with the MHP rightists.

The Financial Times reported that “Turkey’s new parliament elected Ismet Yilmaz, a deputy of the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP), as its new speaker, raising the prospect of an alliance between the ruling party and the nationalists and paving the way for coalition talks to begin.

“Mr Yilmaz was elected after a nationalist party declined to endorse any candidate in the last round of voting.

Devlet Bahçeli, head of the Nationalist Movement party (MHP), had earlier pledged that his parliamentary group would not vote for any candidate backed by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic party (HDP).

Mr Yilmaz was then elected with a plurality of 258 votes, in the fourth and final round of a vote seen widely as a trial run ahead of coalition talks. Deniz Baykal, the candidate of the Republican People’s party (CHP), the main opposition group, received 182 votes. The MHP’s own candidate was eliminated in the third round.

The vote, along with Mr Bahçeli’s earlier remarks on Syria, was the strongest signal so far of a possible coalition agreement between the AKP and the nationalists. In a speech before his parliamentary group hours before the vote, Mr Bahçeli aligned himself with government plans to implement a safe zone in Syria and prevent the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militia, from expanding its presence on the country’s border with Turkey.

‘Turkey should not wait for permission from any government and do everything in its power to defend its homeland and its people with the rights given to it by international law,’ Mr Bahçeli said. ‘A safe zone should be established on the other side of our southern border without any delay.’

On Tuesday, a US official rebuffed Turkey’s safe zone plans, first floated by Ankara officials at the weekend. ‘There isn’t a need for it from a US military or coalition perspective and ... there are difficulties in trying to execute that kind of thing,’ state department spokesman John Kirby said during a press briefing.

While the MHP and AKP appear to be on the same page with regard to the situation in Syria, other hurdles exist before a coalition agreement is possible, analysts said. The biggest of these might yet be Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The MHP has insisted that a coalition with the AKP will only be viable when Mr Erdogan, elected president last August, stops inserting himself into political debates. ‘President Erdogan must definitely be held to his constitutional limits,’ Mr Bahçeli said on Wednesday. ‘His efforts to seize a political role for himself are an insult to the AKP and its chairman.’” (‘Election of Turkish speaker signals coalition progress’ by Piotr Zalewski, 1 July 2015)

The exact development of the political ramifications arising from the Turkish parliamentary elections will be played out over the next weeks. At the time of going to press, no significant or clear outcome with regards to what kind of a government will be formed has emerged and the possibility that fresh elections will be called is still very real.

What remains clear for socialists and communists is that the fight against the reactionary domestic and foreign policies of Turkey’s main bourgeois parties must be pursued and strengthened outside as much as inside the Turkish parliament.

In early 2014, Proletarian reproduced the following sections from a statement by the now, sadly defunct, TKP (see above). That statement and our article were attempting to analyse the root cause of the divisions between Fetullah Gülen’s Cemaat organisation and Erdogan’s AKP. Both remain relevant in explaining the underlying causes and significance of the ongoing crisis in the country.

The TKP statement summed up the situation as follows:

It has become clear that Turkey cannot be contained within the AKP regime. The AKP regime’s anti-people, religionist, pro-capital and collaborationist character has been rejected by all the dynamic sections of Turkish society.

The rejection of the AKP regime by our people, the failure of AKP’s Syria policies, which relied on the overthrowing of the Baath government by foreign intervention, have pushed the imperialist powers and the bourgeoisie of Turkey into a pursuit for an alternative to Erdogan, whom they had supported from early on.

The fight between Gülen’s movement and Erdogan is the result of that pursuit, and it is part of a much wider political crisis.

Led by the US, the imperialist countries and the capitalist class, while looking for an alternative to Erdogan, are also trying to find a formula that will guarantee the continuation of the main characteristics of the AKP regime, which have been beneficial for their interests.

The political future of Turkey will be determined by that quest of the international and local monopolies and the struggle between the main actors of the AKP regime on the one hand, and the position to be taken and the subsequent struggle to be waged by the popular and political forces against the AKP regime on the other ...

The collaboration of the AKP regime with imperialism, its religious reaction and market fascism is a totality which cannot be handled or struggled against piece by piece.” (See ‘Turkey: Erdogan’s AKP in deep trouble’, February 2014)

For our part, we continue to be inspired by the militant example set by Turkish workers in their resistance to capitalism and imperialism. We are confident that Turkey’s communists will ultimately be successful in their struggle against the reactionary policies of their governments, and in forging the fighting unity necessary to teach the Turkish masses that they have nothing to gain from Turkey’s criminal adventure in Syria and elsewhere in the region and that only socialism will bring about the peaceful development and cultural flourishing of the nation to which the working masses so desperately aspire.
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