Turkish Elections: Some Hope

What with being rather exhausted by an accumulation of projects in recent months, I have been extremely absent from Notes On Liberty. Teaching is over for the summer and I hope to make up for lost ground across a few areas, but first I must address the current situation in Turkey.

There will be early elections on 24th June for the National Assembly and the Presidency. If no candidates win an overall majority for the presidency, there will be a run off between the two leading candidates on 8th July. The National Assembly is elected through proportional representation (d’Hondt system, if you’re interested in the details). The elections were scheduled for November next year, so they are very early. The reason offered by the government is the need to complete the transition to a strongly presidential system in view of supposed administrative uncertainty interfering with government until the last stage of the constitutional change, which is triggered by the next election after last year’s constitutional referendum, and the supposed need for ‘strong’ presidential government to deal with the present situation in Syria and Iraq.

However, anyone who is not a hopelessly naive follower of regime publicity knows that the real reasons are the decline in the economy and the rise of a right-wing party opposed to the current regime, which could erode the regime’s electoral base. I use the term ‘regime’ deliberately to refer to the fusion of the AKP (dominant political power), the personalised power of President Erdoğan and the state apparatus, including the judiciary. There is no state independent of a party power which itself has become subordinate to the will of one man. The police, judiciary, and prosecution service are quite obviously biased towards the government. Civil society has not escaped the hegemonising pressure. All the main media companies are controlled by cronies of Erdoğan and the AKP. Both state media and the main commercial media present a government point of view with little coverage of the opposition. Private media companies are of course entitled to push their own opinions, but these opinions are in reality dictated by Erdoğan, with the calculated intention of excluding opposition points of view except in highly parodic and manipulated terms. The construction industry is forced to support Erdoğan in order to obtain contracts for the endless pubic projects and projects officially or de facto guaranteed by the tax payer. This instrument of political control is enhanced through endless, often grandiose projects regardless of the state of public and private debt. In this politics, interest rates are artificially low with the consequence that inflation is rising and the currency is constantly devalued in international markets.

A lot of the above will be already understood by readers, but particularly after a long break in writing I think it is important to set the scene for the elections. Whatever the AKP says in public about economic performance, officials have admitted in private that they are worried about an economic crisis before the regular date for the elections. It is also clear that the AKP hoped to keep the new right-wing party IYI (Good) out of the elections because of the complex registration process to participate in elections, amongst other things requiring registration of a minimum number of provincial branches. IYI is a break away from the well established Nationalist Action Party (MHP), and is already larger in members with more opinion poll support, so its exclusion would be particularly absurd.

The IYI Party’s problems with registration were resolved in ways that are part of the hope that does exist in this election. The main opposition party (and oldest party in Turkey), the leadership of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), which has a left-wing and secularist identity, allowed (or maybe insisted) that enough of its deputies in the National Assembly join the small group of IYI defectors from the MHP to guarantee an automatic right to electoral participation.

President Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan was only able to change the constitution to make it a very strongly presidential system, rather than a parliamentary system as it had been, because the MHP changed its position after years of critcising Erdoğan. The pretext was ‘unity’ after the attempted coup of 2016, though it was clear the whole country was against it anyway. The real reason was that the MHP has been losing support under a leader who has become unpopular and the only hope of staying in the National Assembly, given a 10% threshold, was an electoral deal with the AKP (which stands for Justice and Development Party). The election law was changed so that parties can form joint electoral lists in which voters can choose between parties in the list when voting, and the party concerned can have deputies so long as the votes within the list allow at least one to get into the National Assembly. In effect, the percentage threshold to enter the National Assembly has been reduced to less than 1%. This seemed to the AKP to be a great achievement allowing them to compensate for declining support of both AKP and MHP by joining them in one list and bringing in another small nationalist party.

However, the opposition has moved to make more use of the new rules. The CHP and IYI have formed a joint list, which also include SP (Felicity Party), a religious conservative party which has common roots with the AKP and is the sixth party in Turkey in support (about 2.5 % in recent polls). A small centre right party has candidates on the IYI list within the joint list. The Liberal Democrat Party, which is classical liberal and libertarian in orientation, but is very small, has a candidate who used to be LDP leader on the CHP list within the list. This is a bit complicated, but the success of putting this complex alliance together shows there is hope of various forces opposed to the authoritarian slide for various reasons uniting around common goals of a more restrained state, rule of law, less personalisation of power and a more consensual institutionally constrained style of government.

The other important force is HDP (People’s Democratic party), itself an alliance of small leftist groups with a Kurdish identity and leftist party which has strong support in the southeast. The HDP promotes peace in the southeast through negotiation between the state and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ party) armed insurgent/terrorist group. There is no organic link I can see between the HDP and the PKK, but the overlapping aims of the PKK and HDP for Kurdish autonomy and political recognition of the PKK has always made it easy to label the HDP as terrorist. It is simply not possible in these circumstances to include it in a broad opposition list, particularly given the attempts of the regime to block the HDP from any political activity: labeling it “terrorist,” arresting its leaders and many mayors leading to central government take over of HDP municipalities in the southeast. However, the opposition on current poll ratings needs the HDP to get past the 10% threshold to deprive the AKP-MHP list of a majority in the National Assembly. The main list might do it on its own, but this is less than certain. There is a risk of electoral rigging influencing the result, particularly in the southeast which is under even more authoritarian security state conditions than the rest of the country. It is therefore important for the HDP to get clearly more than 10% and to get votes from people who might otherwise vote CHP, outside the southeast to get pass any dirty tricks.

This is already long so I will stop and return to the Turkish elections soon. I hope readers have got to the end of this and have a reasonable background now for future posts.

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