To ensure his win, president Erdogan strategically dominates the media public and effectively eliminates large parts of the opposition through imprisonment. We asked Mirko Turunç, a political activist from Turkey to describe the current situation of the movements in Turkey, just days before the elections, along with some guesses about what the future entails.
Is there still a chance that Erdogan will not win the game? If so, who are his counterparts? What strategy do they pursue and what goals do they have?
Maybe to start, it is best to define what it means ‘to win the game’. If you are refering solely getting the most amount of votes, I guess Erdoğan will renew his winning streak. But to get a more concrete grasp of the reality, I think it is important to understand what we understand from ‘winning the game’.
Turkey will go through an election 4th time in the last 3 years (2 general elections and a referendum in the past, plus the new elections on 24th). The last general elections on 7th of June, 2015 was finalized with a massive victory of HDP, allowing them to elect 80 parliamantarians and forcing Erdoğan to lose the majority. Since then in my opinion, Erdoğan is in a losing streak. The only thing that Erdoğan clings onto now is to take every possible measure to have the election results, in the way that he wants it to be. From rigging the elections like in referendum, or refusing to form a coalition, which ended up with a re-election process on 1st of November, 2015, or even to end the ceasefire and peace process between PKK and the state and reinitiate war; he and his cabinet will try anything possible to change the direction of the elections.
What is important to underline here is that Erdoğan and AKP became officially incapable of governing the country. If this wasn’t the case, they wouldn’t have called for early elections this suddenly. And for some reason, each and everyday we see the implications that the Nation Coalition (AKP + MHP) is experiencing results that they didn’t expect. The whole idea behind the early elections is that as not only a governance crisis exists, also it will deepen soon with a possible economical crisis in Turkey. Do not interpret this ‘economic crisis’ as if it will happen in one night; we are talking about a deeper, more static crisis which will probably exist in Turkey for quite some time in the future. AKP saw that and before this to happen they wanted to reconsolidate their base and power through elections, hoping for better legitimacy in the harsher decision that they’ll have to make in the near future.
So as far as a counterpart, MHP goes without saying since its their coalition ally. Thus the coalition has a very deep nationalistic essence that they carry. Other than that, recently Erdoğan had several meetings with figures and politicians from the 90s ‘deep-state’. Which, in my opinion is the political collapse of AKP. In desperation, they’re trying to grasp anything possible, including the very state that they challenged as they get elected for the first time in 2002. Add that some micro-parties who declared that they’ll also support AKP; like BBP, who could be considered as easily more conservative and racist far-right party than MHP, or HÜDA-PAR, which is an Islamist Fundamentalist party mostly located in the Kurdish Region and almost an open enemy to the Kurdish Liberation Movement.
So other than consolidating its power for the ‘harsh days to come’, AKP has a very anti – Kurd policy in their agenda. This is of course due to the success that HDP have along with the oppositional movements that allies with it. If HDP will pass the elective threshold (which is %10 in Turkey), Erdoğan will lose the majority in the parliament. That is why it has built his whole campaign on making propostrous accusations to HDP in order to damage their popularity and legitimacy. So much so, on a press-free meeting that he had with regional ministers of the country, a leaked video shows him advising the council to openly rig the elections.
The major goal of the whole campaign for Erdoğan is to eliminate any form of resistance that is left in Turkey. He is aware if otherwise, there is no chance for his reign to survive this decline of popularity. That why he needs this populist power renewal is not only something that he wants, but also needs for him to keep governing with legitimacy.
The transition to the autocratic leadership gives Erdogan much more power. Where will he use this power and what consequences will this have for Turkish society?
It is fair to say that long before this regime change, Turkey was already going through a very autocratic process with AKP. For that matter, it is easier to state how Erdoğan used this power so far and its outcomes that are visible today.
First and foremost is the fact that the seperation of powers are not valid in Turkey anymore. Justice system not only works but directly gets its orders from the government and sometimes very spesifically from Erdoğan. This creates an wholistic idea that there is no form of justice in Turkey. This is not a matter that can be addressed as corruption, simply. We are talking about a situation where there is no legal authority to specify ‘what is corrupt’. The high committee of judges and prosecutors (highest judicial committe in Turkey) is now being directly elected by the government. This effects the society in such a way that surveys and polls are showing that more than %60 of the country is not believing that they live in a just and fair country. This creates a whole gap in the consoloditation of the masses since without justice, nobody sees a better future, a better life. This ‘no future’ feeling is also making AKP quite uncomfortable since they realize that they do not offer people any future, they do not have a future.
The second important aspect is that political islamism has totally collapsed with Erdoğan and AKP. Islamism articulated its political ideology as ‘a just system for everyone which will eliminate the elitists who oppress not only leftists but also islamists’. Their claim to ‘use the power for good’ has totally fallen and instead they became a repetition of ‘power corrupts…’. But beside their corruption and their derailed policies from just to corrupt, Islamism fundamentally collapsed aswell. Morality of Islam and the individual, has its utmost praise in political Islamism. Yet what people have seen is that even the ‘most moral’, have turned into corrupt leaders. This creates a hole in people who supported AKP because they believed them politically, and enrages them to be a lot more violent as in today. The seperated belief between AKP and Erdoğan (which that majority of the people express their lack of belief to AKP yet they show full support to Erdoğan) can also be linked to this. The absence of the Party’s moral and political values, or constant violation of such values has created this almost cult-like belief towards Erdoğan’s nationalist, patriarchic, dominant and ‘powerful’ figure, rather than his Party which represents now more of a coalition of profit.
All this adds up to a snowball effect in the society where polarization is at its highest, no social peace exists, ultimate corruption and absence of justice mechanism and, constant fear and lack of belief into a co-existing future. All of them have been promised by AKP when they’ll have the power; and all of them today has actually been lost due to them. People are not only able to see this now, but also live in it.
Due to Erdogan’s autocratic leadership, left-wing politics in Turkey are overshadowed by the constant danger of arrest and therefore more than difficult to practice. Can you describe the state of the (radical) Left and what they are aiming for?
There is a very hopeful and unified feeling among the left I would say. When it comes to radicality, well, it became quite relative in the current state of Turkey. To give you an excerpt, HDP’s program is essentially not much different than a typical social democrat party in Europe. Yet, to state even ‘equal citizenship against ethnical discrimination’ gets you labeled as the most extereme terrorist group nowadays in Turkey. That’s what makes HDP quite radical. So radical so that the whole country and political parties, including the nationalist ones, realized that without the support of Kurds, there is no political victory. Kurdish Liberation Movement really imposed itself in today’s Turkey from a time of denial of their identity to complete existance. Even CHP, the social democrat opposition party, who would not even like to be seen in the same picture with the Kurds, spesifically HDP, visited HDP’s jailed presidency candidate Selahattin Demirtaş and preaching today a variety of demands of the Kurds from education in mother language to antidiscrimination laws.
To note, important not to forget that HDP is a alliance of political parties and individuals. And the majority of the party member describes themselves as an ‘independent participants’.
I believe what is problematic in how people see Turkey today from outside is that Erdoğan became such a figure and Turkey became such a place that they both block our ability to see Turkey’s left/radical/syndical movements mobilization. Even under almost 3 years of state of emergency, – not allowing people to do strike, a demonstration and stripping them from their basic human rights, such as freedom of speech; the left, radical oppositional movements have an incredible ability to hope and they dare to dream still. Whatever the result of the election would be, this will keep people on their toes to fight, I believe. Part of fascism’s ability is to destroy people’s belief in an alternative by enclosuring their imagination, and I believe the left in Turkey has this inspiring capacity to continue believing and resisting. That’s the real power that will shape Turkey in the upcoming years to come. This narative of ‘hopeless people of Turkey, under the regime of Dictator’ fails to see the strength of resistance in Turkey to continue and to exist. From Gezi until today, left opposition (including communists to anarchists, to democrats; basically any form of oppositional groups) has never been this strong and young and hope-giving at the same time in the last 30 years probably.
The stakes in these elections are quite high, especially for opposition parties like HDP. Given the fact that for a party to enter the Turkish parliament it needs to break the 10& threshold, what would you say the chances for HDP are and moreover what would that mean for AKP and Erdogan?
Well, I guess this is a bad question for me to answer; since I wasn’t very optimistic about HDP passing the threshold of 10% on the last elections. Not only it passed it twice, but became the third biggest party in the parliament, even becoming bigger than the ultra-nationalists
What I can tell maybe is that majority of the polls and surveys are indicating that HDP passes this threshold. And from Erdoğan’s rethoric of building his whole campaing on an anti-HDP propaganda (even sometimes spesifically declaring that they shouldn’t be allowed to pass the threshold), gives me also an idea that the polls reflect the reality well. Erdoğan seems to be very threatened by HDP; which is quite accurate, he should be. From a technical point of view, like I said earlier, HDP’s existance in the parliament by passing the threshold will decide whether AKP becomes majority or will be forced to form a coalition. Of course over the course of last years, Erdoğan and his cabinet became so relentless, so violent and so unpredictable, we can speculate about the aftermath of the elections from another coup d’etat attempt to abolishing of the parliament. But for the sake of our argument, let’s stick with the current realities.
HDP has this attitude that gets personofied with Selahattin Demirtaş specially; ‘no matter what the result, we have work to do’. Which, I believe, generates this positive energy among the masses to not to undermine the politics into elections or into its results, but refers to a longer time horizon of political participation. This articulation is also quite new for Turkey’s political standarts.
There has already been an aggressive progress by the Turkish army towards Rojava with the occupation of Afrin (operation Olive Branch). Is it possible to witness a new army expedition towards other “outside enemies” after the elections?
They’re too impatient to wait after the elections already; Turkey is currently 20-30 km inside Iraq, commiting military operations on the outskirts of the Qandil mountains in Iraq past couple of months, where is considered to be the base of Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). So yes, maybe a provocation might take place not after but even before the elections on that matter. What ever the case would be, for Erdoğan there is no turning back now from his aggresion. He lost the belief of Kurds, all he can do now is to portray himself more nationalistic than ever to consolidate the right-wing. For that matter, I would expect anything from the state, spesifically to Kurds though. AKP is quite aware that the main challenge to its existance is the Kurdish Liberation Movement.
To say something very spesific for Rojava is harder. What will keep going on is probably the embargo that Turkey imposes over Rojava. From the 900 km long wall that it has built between the borders of Syria and Turkey, to force the Barzani’s KDP regime in North Iraq, South Kurdistan to keep its border closed and tight with Rojava; it would be naive to not to expect Turkey becoming more aggresive on these matters. On which terms of aggresion, only time will tell.
Turkey’s economy has been steadily dropping ever since they entered the war in Syria. With an economic inflation that has reached all time high percentages do you think that after the elections this is something that will continue or more accurately do you think it is possible for an economic shift if AKP wins?
The economy policies that AKP followed, spesifically in the last 10 years are paying its toll now. They brought down and executed a very wide, neo-liberal program of privatization, outsourcing, precariousness and cheap labor market policies, which some economists are considering this process as ‘Pakistanization of Turkey’. Couple of political events that shifted this equilibrium in the last years were Gezi Resistance, then Kobane’s Liberation the following year, and HDP’s election victory in 2015. ‘Distability’ that these events cause in Turkey also deepened this crackdown. I do not think AKP can shift now its policy on economy, because it became a union of capital stakeholders who sees and uses AKP as a tool to gather and share profit. This idea is also built upon a very deep polarized form of profit-sharing; AKP also wanted to create its own capital and to share the profit only with it. The capitalist giants of 15 years ago, before AKP’s reign, are not gone but considerably faded from the market scene and has been substituted with new faces from Islamist background, closer to AKP. So today, AKP’s capital won’t allow it to take step back for the sake stability. They are unable to handle such form of ‘loss’ currently. And like I said, Turkey is going through a more institutional economic crisis currently and will go through this for a while. What AKP hopes to achieve by winning the elections with a majority is to increase its economic oppresion on the people with full elective legitimacy, hoping to lure the capital back again by achieving not political stability but market control.
This is obviously not sustainable for the future so no matter what happens, I see no reason for Turkey’s economy to take a positive turn now, especially for the benefit of the people. Just like neo-liberalism itself, AKP’s promise of ‘profit for everyone’ is becoming more and more visibly contradictry. During the election process, not one single mention of the economy took place in Erdoğan’s speeches, instead he mostly pointed out the amount of prosperity that arrived to Turkey with from double-highways to massive bridges and housing projects. Moreover, Erdoğan also mentioned several times paid military service law will be held for a certain age interval after the elections, even though he refused this proposal couple of months ago by stating “The blood of our martyrs are still on the soil of Afrin, I will never dishonor their sacrifice with such an act.”. Which again, this only tells in my opinion that even AKP is not seeing a future in itself, only desperately trying to revive a ‘golden age’ of theirs.
Only exception would be I did not think what could happen not on the aftermath of the elections, but if the capital coalition that AKP formed will dissolve (which already have given some signals). If AKP will lose its capital backbone and they ‘run amok’, it is hard to guess in which direction things might evolve to.