Despite clashes and political violence have characterized his mandate over recent months, voters remain convinced that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan offers the best guarantee of stability for the future. Erdoğan’s Justice and Development party (AKP) regained its parliamentary majority in the elections held on Nov. 1, polling around 50 percent of the vote.
"People in Turkey have voted against the possibility of a coalition government," said Berkay Mandıracı, an analyst with the International Crisis Group. By granting the AKP an absolute majority in parliament, voters have opted for ‘stability’, the backbone of Erdoğan’s electoral campaign, at the expense of a more democratic Turkey, in which other parties would have had a voice.
"The party regained the majority," says Mandıracı, "by winning over voters from various rival factions", thanks to the opposition’s failure to put forward a political figure capable of offering a viable alternative. "Further analysis will be necessary before we have a clear idea of exactly where all the votes came from," he continues, "but it is safe to assume that AKP was able to mobilise many former AKP voters who did not go to the ballots in 7 June elections because they were disappointed by their party's previous performance."
Winners and Losers
The AKP victory is in stark contrast to the fortunes of the opposition parties. On the one hand, the Republican People’s party (CHP) substantially retained the 25 per cent share it achieved in the June elections. The inability of Erdoğan’s long-time opponents in the Republican party to develop their electoral program, and reorganize over recent months, led to their failure to attract new voters and expand their consensus. The sharp decline in the number of votes won in Izmir, a traditional Republican stronghold, was a significant blow for the CHP.
On the other hand, the pro-Kurdish HDP party suffered heavy losses in the majority Kurdish South-east region of the country, where it is historically very strong. However, given the adverse conditions under which they carried out their election campaign (the recent attacks and violence against the population), moderate Kurds were relatively successful, winning 59 seats in parliament, albeit down from the 80 they won in June.
"In order to become a party that gets support from different segments of society in Turkey," Mandıracı says, "the HDP cannot rely solely on votes from its heartland constituencies, but must embrace its role as mediator in the Kurdish community and distance itself permanently from the PKK."
According to the analyst, the biggest loser was the nationalist MHP party: many voters abandoned it for the AKP as a result of the increasingly nationalistic line adopted by Erdoğan’s Islamist party.
The End of Presidentialism?
The June parliamentary elections sent a clear message. "Erdoğan should have learned by now that the Turks do not appreciate his idea of a presidential Republic." Constitutional reform, which was a mainstay of his last electoral campaign, was the probable cause of his defeat this spring, so it was no surprise that presidentialism remained largely in the background this time around. For this reason, Mandıracı is convinced that this is no longer a priority for the party, and believes that the government will move, instead, towards inclusion of the opposition parties, opening up the possibility of increased democratization of the country. In his view, if the issue were to be put forward again it would not have the same scope as before. The debate is, however, still very much alive and opinion is highly divided on the matter. In fact, some believe that “Sultan” Erdoğan intends to exploit his newly obtained majority in order to centralize power even more.
Violence is on the Raise While Democracy Falters
The current situation is critical. The day after the vote, the Turkish magazine Nokta was withdrawn from sale for a headline on its Monday, November 2 issue: "The Beginning of Turkish Civil War." Following the decision taken by the 5th Criminal Court of Peace, the magazine’s editor-in-chief and executive editor were arrested. Freedom of the press in Turkey immediately began to feel the effects of Ankara’s authoritarianism.
The monolithic nature of the government reflects Erdoğan’s skills as a strategist: "The role of the opposition in the coming months will depend on the will of the AKP leader to include it in the country’s political decision process. If he decides to adopt a policy of exclusion," says Mandıracı, "the government is unlikely to be successful."
The clashes with the police, erupted after the publication of the results, particularly in regions with a Kurdish majority, have created a climate of widespread anxiety and violence throughout the country. During the election campaign, the government promised a crackdown on the PKK.
"Opening channels of communication with jailed leader of the Kurdish movement, Abdullah Öcalan, could bring a positive momentum to the peace negotiations."
Although the democratization of the country appears to be balanced on a knife edge, at the International Crisis Group they are still optimistic: "The AKP must retrace its steps and press ahead with democratic reforms. This will not only make for stable government, but also re-open the dossier on Turkish integration into the European Union. There will be numerous obstacles on the way, but it is important that the country does not "abandon all hope" of entry into Europe and of building a democratization process. According to Berkay Mandıracı, given that "the next elections will be held in four years, there is plenty of time for improvements in the relationship between the various factions in the country."