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Last Chance For Erdoğan’s Authoritarianism

Turkey to vote on November 1st. For the first time the president feels the competition, but opposition parties are still divided. Fears over possible violence

Ballot boxes for parliamentary elections in Turkey open on Sunday, November 1st. For the government of the AKP (Justice and Development Party) it will be the last opportunity to regain an absolute majority in Parliament, lost in June for the first time since 2002. Analysts and observers predict an election lacking in transparency, some violence at polling stations and a further weakening of the AKP. There are growing tensions amongst the population, particularly after the massacre on October 10 in Ankara, where 97 people were killed and as many were injured while demonstrating against the reignition of the hostilities between the national army ant Kurdish forces.



"The elections will be a test of Turkish maturity," told us Marta Ottaviani, Istanbul correspondent for La Stampa, "because the choice of the electorate will be between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is burdened with, among other things, serious accusations of contributing to the climate of tension that led to the recent massacre in Ankara, and the leaders of other camps, who lack the ability to govern."



The Parties



According to Hamit Bozarslan, Professor of Turkish origins at the CETOBaC in Paris, the current political framework is ambiguous and highly polarized.



"A significant change after the elections is unlikely." On one side there is the AKP, which is willing to do anything to regain an advantage in Parliament and move towards a presidential system, which would see Erdoğan "assume all power to transform Turkey into an absolute regime". The issue of the presidential system has remained strategically in the background during the electoral campaign. There is no doubt, however, that the purpose of the president is to change the Constitution.



Emre Öktem, Professor of International Law, is very sceptical in this regard, and explains how a presidential system in Turkey is unachievable: "History teaches us that such a system is possible only in the United States, where it was born. There are no other successful presidential systems, in which the role of the president has not become a comedy. "The only possibility of change of perspective could come from within the AKP, where however there is no one strong enough to counter Erdoğan’s authoritarianism.



On the other hand, we have a divided opposition, said Ottaviani. Its objectives are conflicting and it is hard to predict that it will oust the current government, even though it might hinder it. In fact, in recent weeks, the Republican Party and the Kurdish CHP party held talks in an attempt to join forces against Erdoğan. They have the numbers, given the 130 Republican seats in Parliament and the 80 Kurdish ones, and yet reaching an agreement is a difficult task. Öktem too argues that a coalition will only be possible if the leaders of the opposition parties work together, contrary to what they have done in recent months. Otherwise, the situation could even get worse. And even if a coalition against Erdoğan were to take shape, it still may have an expiry date. Indeed, none of these parties is used to governing, much less together. The fiasco of the process of conciliation with the Kurdish population, which was introduced by the AKP in 2012 but which soon proved inconclusive, has also created a sense of isolation in the HDP, which today will be difficult to overcome.



The notable absence in the pre-election political scene is the one of religious movement Hizmet, led by Fethullah Gülen, who until 2013 was an important ally of Erdoğan, and now is his sworn enemy. Gülen's mistake, Bozarslan said, was wanting to play a political role by supporting the AKP and conquering some positions of power. "Once ousted from the political scene and from the party, however, the movement found itself without its own electoral base to draw from outside of the community itself.



The Voters’ Choice



The elections’ results are for the first time in years unpredictable. The AKP has always had heterogeneous support, including from the Kurds, until 2007. Since 2011, however, Erdoğan's reliability began to falter, partly because of his attitude towards the countries involved in the Arab Spring. Up until June 2015, when the party definitively lost absolute majority.



The pool of opposition votes, as well as the opposition itself, is divided. The CHP has a broader political capacity than the HDP, but there is the risk, as in the past, that the electorate cannot relate to the parties' policies and will fragment by supporting independent candidates thereby dispersing consent.



Internal and External Tensions Increase Fear



In this chaotic political landscape, in addition to the nearby war in Syria, the country is facing a tense situation. The lack of trust in politics is huge. The recent terrorist attacks, the increasingly suspected infiltration of the Islamic state in the country and the government's action against freedom of press and expression increase population’s worries. Bozarslan gives a picture of Turkey which is anything but glowing. "Erdoğan," he says, "belongs to the young AKP generation, which no longer has anything to do with the original ideals of the party, supported by the former president of the Republic Abdullah Gül. People are scared and civil war is around the corner. Many journalists have been arrested (link to Balci article) and expressing your opinion is more and more dangerous.” Whether or not the infiltration of the Islamic state in the Turkish political fabric is real or not is difficult to establish. "A part of the state has flirted with ISIS," says Bozarslan, "but at the moment for the government the main threat to stability are the Kurds, as they are the only players who can prevent the implementation of Erdogan's long term projects".



There are two main reasons for this. On the one hand, Ankara is afraid of Iraqi Kurdistan controlled by HDP on the South-eastern Turkish border, especially now that the US and Russia have understood the importance of the fight against ISIS and are funding it. On the other hand, the threat of the Kurds is also due to growing internal consensus.



"I can not say whether there will be a Kurdistan in the region in the future," admits Bozarslan, "there may be an Iraqi Kurdistan. However, there is already a Turkish one, which for the moment is on the ballot paper and plans to push for the democratization of Turkey."



[Twitter: @miglio_franca]