Tuesday

17th Sep 2019

Analysis

Erdogan gambles and wins

  • The AKP shifted the emphasis in its campaign to the choice between stability and chaos (Photo: Travel Aficionado)

Nobody in Turkey expected the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to win that big in Sunday's parliamentary elections.

With 49 percent of the votes and a majority of seats in the parliament, the conservative AKP will again be able to rule single-handedly. Of the three opposition parties, the seculars stabilised, the nationalists lost a fourth of their voters and the Kurds barely managed to surpass the electoral threshold.

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It is a stunning victory that has left many wondering how Mr Erdogan and his party were able to change the political momentum that had seemingly turned against them only a few months ago.

In June, the party, officially led by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu but still, behind the scenes, controlled by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, lost its majority in parliament.

For the first time since 2002, the AKP was not able to form a single-party government.

The loss of almost 10 percent was seen as a clear signal of dissatisfied voters, fed up with Erdogan's growing authoritarianism and firmly opposed to his plan to change the constitution and install an all-powerful presidency.

Kurdish policy

In June, the AKP was also punished for its ambiguous Kurdish policy. Nationalist voters left the party because they were unhappy with the talks between the government and the outlawed PKK.

On the other hand, many conservative Kurds did not believe Erdogan anymore because he did not deliver on his promises. They voted for the Kurdish nationalist HDP that, for the first time and with the help of liberals and leftists, managed to get over the 10 percent electoral threshold.

Hopes were high that AKP, obliged to form a coalition government, would loosen its iron grip on Turkish politics and society, and that Erdogan would be forced to respect the constitutional limits to his position and would not be able to interfere in daily politics anymore.

With the HDP in parliament, there was the expectation that, finally, Turkey's Kurdish problem could be solved. It did not happen.

Instead, coalition talks went nowhere.

From the start, it was clear Mr Erdogan preferred new elections. Fights between the PKK and the Turkish security forces started again, putting the HDP in an awkward position, under attack from two sides.

Erdogan and the government accused them of close ties to the terrorists while the hardliners on the Kurdish side tried to push back the role of the elected politicians and reestablish their dominance.

Two devastating suicide bombings by Islamist State sympathisers in July and October that killed almost 150 people created an atmosphere of tension and fear in the country.

The growing instability sent the Turkish lira down, underlining the structural problems faced by the Turkish economy.

Stability or chaos

The AKP quickly learned the lesson from the June elections and shifted the emphasis in its campaign for the November 1 elections from the unpopular presidential system to the choice between stability and chaos.

Polls indicated that tactic would not work and most people expected the outcome of this elections to be the same as in June.

What happened, however, was that many of the voters that abandoned the AKP in June returned.

Nationalist voters appreciated the party's nationalist rhetoric and punished the nationalist party leader for his obstructionist behavior.

Conservative Kurds were fed up with the new round of PKK violence and blamed the HDP for it. Most floating voters opted for the stability offered by the AKP.

The result is a deeply divided and polarised country that will again be ruled by Erdogan and his party. Many doubt whether the AKP will be able to deliver on its promise of stability.

Erdogan will not get his presidential system - the AKP does not have enough seats to change the constitution on its own - but he will continue to act as the de facto dominating force that does not accept criticism or checks and balances on his power.

If Turkey keeps attacking both the PKK and IS, the violence will go on and the economy will continue to suffer.

Optimists hope that the urgent need to focus on the economy will force Erdogan and the AKP to soften their dividing tactics and look for a deal with the Kurds.

In the negotiations between the EU and Turkey about the Syrian refugees, Europe will be confronted with a confident partner who will only accept the first prize in return for more and better cooperation.

Joost Lagendijk is a former member of the European Parliament who lives in Turkey and is now a columnist for Turkish dailies Zaman and Today’s Zaman.

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