Turkey elections: Elections, Rappers, Media, Micro-Party, Rigging, Iraq

The Turkish State’s War On Rap

The election campaign has not slowed down the Erdoğanist state in its efforts to punish anyone who deviates from Erdoğan’s ideal of obedient, socially conservative, and conformist citizens. One of the best known Turkish rappers, Ezhel, with very leftist and counter culture lyrics, has been arrested recently for ‘encouraging drug use’. A prosecutor ordered his detention, which was implemented after he voluntarily went to the police station to answer a ‘complaint’, with no warning about detention. Onur Dinç (known as Khontkar), and Young Bego have also been detained. They can all be found on Spotify and YouTube. Listening on Spotify generates a little income for people who deserve a bit of solidarity at the moment.

İnce’s Presidential Campaign

An interview on HaberTürk TV with the leading opposition candidate for President of Turkey, Muharrem İnce (from the secularist, centre-left Republican People’s Party), has gone down very well. The interviewers let İnce express his views and had a selfie with him afterwards. HaberTürk TV is a private channel but, like all commercial private channels, accepts (and has no real choice) the biases and silences imposed by the Erdoğanist-AKP regime.

It is normal for Erdoğan himself to phone media groups and complain about coverage, demanding firings of journalists, where the bias is not as complete as he requires. So how long are these journalists, and the responsible manager, going to survive? A manager on another private channel was fired (officially ‘left for personal reasons’, ha ha ha) after allowing a very brief segment on the second most popular opposition, and more right wing, candidate, Meral Akşener. Will these HaberTürk people survive until the election? Are they more willing to push the limits because the opposition is doing better than expected?

On recent polls (leaving aside companies who enjoy close relations with the Erdoğanists) only rigging (or some extreme situation) can now stop 1. the opposition winning a majority in the National Assembly (could be stopped on current polling by stealing/losing about 2/3% points from HDP, a Kurdish rights-leftist party which appears to be between 1 and 3% points above the 10% election threshold). The main left-right opposition list seems to be about 3 points behind the right wing government list 2. the presidential election going to a second round, i.e. Erdoğan cannot get 50%+ of the vote in a several-candidate field (except by rigging at least 7% points of votes cast) and might lose in the run off.

I can only presume the interviewers of İnce will be out of a job if Erdoğan and the AKP-dominated electoral list do win by some means, and HaberTürk will suffer other penalties. Yes, polls can be wrong and they don’t all show the same thing, but those most favourable to the government tend to be run by cronies and there is widespread suspicion that in the current atmosphere in Turkey, some voters would prefer not to tell a stranger they are voting for an opposition party, particularly HDP. This is confirmed by the relation between opinion polls and the final result in last year’s referendum on moving to a presidential system (in which the final result itself may have been affected by losing and faking ballots, and by the difficulty that many voters in the Kurdish southeast had with getting to polling stations, a tactic the regime is setting up for this time as well).

The AKP-Erdoğanist Media Strategy: Why Turkish Media promotes an ex-terrorist micro-party.

Presenting the Opposition

Following on from the above, though İnce gets a lot less coverage on all media, including state media which is legally required to provide balanced coverage, than Erdoğan for the Presidential campaign, he gets far more than the more nationalist-conservative opposition candidate Meral Akşener (who would be the first female President of the Republic). She is polling behind İnce, but mostly by a moderate margin. She receives almost no coverage, her campaign is in fact a completely banned subject in the Erdoğan-controlled media (that is all state media and all the major private media groups).

Clearly the Erdoğan strategy (and we can be sure that he dictates it, without any delegation of overall strategy to campaign organisers) is to promote İnce as the only opposition candidate, in the belief that Akşener is a more of a threat to conservative support for himself. I used to believe this, but as far as we can tell from polls, İnce is leading in the first round and would do as well as Akşener in a second round play-off, both going down to very narrow defeat. This strategy has a high chance of backfiring by enabling someone further from Erdoğan in politics to become President.

The media manipulations may not make much difference since people open to voting for the opposition are going to treat the Erdoğanist media with scepticism and seek other news sources, but it is at least worth noting what the strategy is. It might be that the main aim is to make electors forget that Akşener’s party İYİ (Good) exists, on a common list with İnce’s party, but voters for the list can choose between them. It is unlikely that many voters are unaware of Akşener, the İYİ party, and the common list, and those that are unaware must be hardcore Erdoğanists who will not switch support to anyone in this election for any reason.

Promoting a Micro-Party

The most bizarre aspect of Erdoğanist coverage of the elections is that Hür Dava Partisi receives a great deal more coverage than İYİ. Hür Dava Partisi means Free Cause Party and the Turkish name is usually contracted to Hürda Partisi or Hüda Par. It was founded by people who had supported the Kurdish religious terrorist group Hizbollah. This is nothing to do with Hizbollah in Lebanon, which is a Shi’a group. Hizbollah in Turkey is defunct and was Sunni Muslim, as is Hüda Par.

It advocates religious law in Turkey and operates only in southeastern provinces where ethnic Kurds are in a majority, and has no more than 5% support in any individual province, giving it overall less than 5% in the whole region and less than 1% in the whole country. For it to receive much election coverage is of course absurd. The reason this happens is in the hope that the more religious Kurdish voters who are dissatisfied with the AKP after voting for it in the past (AKP is the second party in the region) will vote for Hüda Par instead of the secular-leftist HDP, which is the leading party in the region. The aim is to keep the HDP vote below 10% nationally, the electoral threshold for the National Assembly.

I don’t think it is possible that Hüda Par can soak up those votes sufficiently, but from the Erdoğanist point of view, it is worth trying and might just keep HDP below 10% in conjunction with electoral trickery such as moving polling stations away from HDP areas to make it less easy for them to vote and the possibility of outright electoral fraud, particularly in those polling stations where opposition observers may not turn up, in remote very pro-AKP areas. Electoral law has been changed recently to make removal of ballot boxes by the police easier and to legalise the illegal decision of the Supreme Election Council to count unstamped ballot papers in last year’s referendum.

On current polling, the opposition electoral list is a few percentage points behind the Erdoğanist list, so keeping the HDP out of the National Assembly would give his list an overall majority. This is why a micro-party of extreme religious conservative Kurds gets a high level of coverage in the Turkish media compared with conservative nationalists in İYİ who oppose Erdoğan and have created the third largest party in Turkey in terms of opinion polling.

Resisting Electoral Fraud

The possibility of electoral fraud and the use of fraud to keep HDP out of the National Assembly to the advantage of the Erdoğanists has of course been noted by the opposition and they are co-operating to work against this. The electoral list which comprises the second, third, and fourth parties in Turkey (secular centre-left CHP, nationalist conservative İP, and religious conservative SP) is cooperating with the HDP in a platform to ensure a fair and accurate count of votes. That the more nationalist parts of the opposition list and the Kurdish autonomy leftist people are able to work together on this is itself a good sign. There are no guarantees that the platform can prevent decisive fraud, but at least it will make fraud more difficult and shows there is unity in a very diverse opposition against the AKP-Erdoğan abuse of power.

Iraq Surprise?

I’ve seen a report that Turkish army units in the Kurdistan Regional Government of Northern Iraq, which have been stationed in a mountainous border part of the region for some years by ‘invitation’ (or possibly in reality extreme pressure), are moving closer to the PKK (Kurdish separatist and extreme left terrorists of Turkey) base in Kandil. Kandil is in the mountains and provides obvious difficulties for an army aiming to destroy the PKK. It is inherently difficult to observe, fire on, occupy, and completely control a mountainous region. It is a certainty that the PKK has contingency plans to move its base through the mountain, dispersing it if necessary.

I cannot predict if the Turkish Armed Forces will attack the Kandil base soon, or if it can succeed in a mixture of eradication and control. The PKK is a dangerous terrorist organisation and should be eliminated, but whether it can be eliminated in practice, without lessening the reasons some Turkish Kurds want to fight for it (very misguided people in my view) is another matter.

What I can say at the moment is I won’t be surprised if there is an offensive against Kandil before the election on June 24th, particularly if polling shifts against Erdoğan and his electoral list, or if the Turkish lira resumes its decline against foreign currencies. The consequences, militarily and political, are not matters I can think through at present.

Coup and Counter Coup VI: Presidential Authoritarianism in Turkey

(Previous posts here, here, here, here and here). The state of emergency proclaimed by President Erdoğan in Turkey on 20th July last year, in response to the coup attempt of five days before, is not a situation that will come to an end in a return to normality. It is the model for the presidential system that Erdoğan has been pushing for since 2007, when he was still admired by many liberal minded people inside Turkey (though not me) and abroad. One of the key provisions of the state of emergency is that the President can issue decrees with the force of law. There are doubts about the constitutionality of this form of ‘law making’ but two members of the Constitutional Court were arrested after the coup attempt and the chances of the court starting up to executive power are now extremely remote. Judges and prosecutors have been demoted and even arrested after making the ‘wrong’ decision during the state of emergency and I do not think Erdoğan and his associates would have any scruples at all about further arrests of judges in the Constitutional Court.

The Presidential system, or one person rule system, which Turks will vote on, will retain the decrees as law powers of the Presidency. There are some limits on the decrees issued, but as the President will control the appointment of most of the senior judiciary there are serious questions about whether the Constitutional Court will put any effective break on these powers to legislate through decree. There is no sign of the state of emergency ending, though at least now everyone can see the deception in the original decision to declare a state of emergency for three months only instead of the six months maximum allowed in the Constitution. The state of emergency is renewed every three months with no debate and no indication of when it will come to an end. Does Erdoğan have any intention of ending the state of emergency before he becomes a President elected with the new powers? In principle these powers should only be implemented after the next presidential election in 2019, coinciding with elections to the National Assembly. Erdoğan may wish to bring these elections forward, particularly for the National Assembly if he loses the referendum. While it may seem outrageous for the Council of Ministers to keep prolonging the state of emergency until 2019, the AKP government has been doing more and more previously outrageous and even unimaginable things now for some years, particularly since the Gezi protests of 2013.

What the state of emergency also means is that suspects can be held without charge and access to lawyers if charged with ‘terrorism’, which is defined in absurdly broad ways to cover any kind of contact with the Gülenists or sympathy for the Kurdish autonomy movement. Torture has been making a return in Turkey after becoming relatively unusual since the PKK terror campaign began again in 2015. The state of emergency conditions have now normalised it completely and though the government denies torture charges, in the normal manner of authoritarian regimes, claiming the charges are terrorist propaganda, you have to wonder how seriously they expect anyone to take the denials. Photographs of the alleged coup plotters immediately after the coup attempt showed they had been badly beaten, though of course this is explained away as the result of ‘resisting arrest’, another time-honoured evasion. Consistent reports suggest prisoners are denied food, placed in stress positions for long periods of time, beaten and sexually assaulted. In the more moderate cases, the prison officials merely restrict prisoners to a diet of bread and bad quality tap water in conditions of psychological abuse. There is amongst everything else in Turkey a growing problem of mental and emotion health problems amongst the survivors of these ordeals, which are of course excluded from the mainstream media.

The rhetoric and abuse used by police ‘special teams’ invading the media and political offices of ‘terrorist’, that is Kurdish autonomy and other leftist groups, involve extreme nationalism and Ottomanism. Kurds are insulted as covert Armenians. Actual Armenians are told that the Ottomans destroyed the Armenians and that Turks are the masters of Armenian. A particularly disgusting reference to the massacre of 1 500 000 Armenians during World War One. These are not aberrations, this behaviour reflects the deep ideology of the AKP, mixing extreme nationalism and Ottomanism, of course ignoring the tensions between these positions. The torture and abuse is legitimated in the minds of perpetrators by a political rhetoric and government measures which present opponents as terrorist and part of international conspiracies against the ‘innocent’ Turks who are so good they are naive. This I am afraid is no exaggeration of the political discourse of the moment.

There is no reason to think the abuse and political extremism will end, though of course we should hope it does. If all Gülenists – real and imagined – and all sympathisers with Kurdish autonomy or the far left are targeted, then there are essentially endless opportunities for authoritarianism, polarising dehumanising rhetoric and abuse. I can only presume the current atmosphere will last indefinitely, as Erdoğan has found it a successful strategy for staying in power and increasing his power.

It is of course not just a question of his own political power. There is the question of how his family occupy places of privilege in large Muslims NGOs (at the same time as non-AKP oriented NGOs come under increasing pressure) with huge budgets and sit on the boards of major companies in Turkey. Erdoğan does not envisage any situation in which these activities are placed under mainstream media examination, and even less legal investigation. The issue of legal immunity is a huge one in Turkish politics. The amended constitution would allow the President to appoint anyone to two vice presidential positions and to the cabinet. Like the President all these people would have lifetime immunity from prosecution for activities undertaken while in office. Though the National Assembly would have the power to send the President to the Constitutional Court, this requires a very high threshold, clearly designed to protect Erdoğan even if the AKP loses a large part of its support.

As mentioned above, there is an expectation that Erdoğan will call an early National Assembly election if he loses the referendum. It seems likely on current polling that two out of the three opposition parties currently in the National Assembly would fail to meet the electoral thresh hold of 10%. This means the National Action Party, which has split over the referendum, and the Kurdish radicals who have lost some of their more moderate support since the revival of PKK violence. In such a National Assembly, the AKP could certainly put any constitutional proposal to referendum and very possibly could have enough votes to amend the constitution without referendum. So even if Erdoğan loses the election, he could get the same measures, or close enough, through other means.

(Last post in the current series, though I will post an appendix on Ottomanist and Atatürkist legacies in Turkey, along with comments on related political thought.)

Coup and Counter Coup V: Jacobins and Grey Wolves in Turkey

Previous posts here, here, here and here. The post coup atmosphere created the impression of an invincible block of the AKP and the MHP, backed by some parts of Kemalist (Jacobinism alla turca) opinion, which would provide a massive majority for the Presidential republic desired by Erdoğan. The MHP did provide the votes in the National Assembly, for the super majority necessary to trigger a constitutional referendum. This was a complete turn about from the MHP’s previous position.

The background to this turn is partly in the state-PKK polarisation, but also in an internal female challenge to the MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli from Meral Aksaner. She is very popular with the Grey Wolf community and would have probably won a leadership election if a special party congress had been called. This became an issue in the courts, which did not in the end force the MHP leadership to act in accordance with an interpretation of laws on political parties (which are very prescriptive in Turkey), which in turn would require a congress. That Bahçeli was so resistant to calling a special congress tells its own story. He lost support within the MHP after their votes went down in the second general election of 2015, presumably also reflecting some previous accumulating weariness with his leadership. The whole story has raised suspicion of AKP supporting judges who twist the law in order to promote a MHP-AKP partnership, but there is no proof of this.

It can at least be said that Bahçeli hopes for some kind of deal in which the AKP-dominated media (that is a very large majority of the media, though not necessarily reflecting the inner views of journalists) treats the MHP gently, the AKP does not campaign against it, and the MHP can continue to get the minimum ten percent of votes necessary for a party list to have deputies in the National Assembly. He may also be hoping that in the Presidential system which Turks are voting on in the 16th April referendum, he or one of his surrogates will get one of the two vice-presidential positions and that the MHP has cabinet seats (which will all be appointed by the President, like the Vice-Presidential positions, with no parliamentary vote or scrutiny).

Meanwhile there is less of a story to tell about the Kemalists, who anyway do not have a clear leader or party. The CHP is their natural home but may be perceived as not pure enough. The bizarre character Doğu Perinçek provides a point of reference, but used to be pro-PKK and is generally just too strange and marginal. In any case, Perinçek has now recently and very publicly withdrawn his support from Erdoğan in reaction to Turkish support for the missile attack on a Syrian air force base. In general, the hardcore Kemalists have drifted back to opposing Erdoğan and supporting the CHP’s ‘No’ campaign. In at least some cases, there may have been second thoughts about how far exactly the government has gone in persecuting Gülenists, real and imagined, along with Kurdish movement politicians and activists; and a feeling that defending the Republic might also mean defending proper legal standards. Perinçek is at a vanguardist extreme where this is not an issue, but for those more influenced by foreign centre left parties and the wish for robust international standard rule of law, there has been a reaction, and a recollection of earlier objections to Erdoğan and his ambitions.

The Kurdish autonomy movement, the Grey Wolves, and the Kemalists will not disappear in Turkey. Positive developments in rule of law, constitutional democracy, individual liberties, and tolerant political culture require evolution in these movements. No government can come to power in Turkey which does not appeal to the concerns of at least one of these groups, and probably two. Erdoğan has never managed to completely absorb or eliminate any of them, though he has to some degree succeeded in keeping some appeal to both nationalist Turks and identity-oriented Kurds, particularly religious and socially conservative Kurds who may regard both CHP and HDP with suspicion. When the MHP and the Kemalist hardcore seemed to be behind Erdoğan after the coup, it seemed he might get more than 60% in the referendum. The MHP has now split in practice, and may well formally split after the referendum. Aksaner is the most popular MHP politician in Turkey and is campaigning for now. The CHP, and those most motivated by the CHP’s Kemalist roots, is solidly behind ‘No’. Right now, though ‘Yes’ may well win, it seems highly unlikely it will win with 60% plus and most expect a very tight vote. (to be continued)