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Michael Jansen: Erdogan won’t cave in easily
June 18, 2018
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

On June 24th, Turks go to the polls to elect both president and parliament under a new system of governance which has granted the executive branch wide powers over the legislature and judiciary. Incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has ruled for 15 years, designed the new arrangement for himself but is under greater challenge than ever before by an opposition reinvigorated by repression and mismanagement.

Ergodan might not win 50 per cent plus of the vote in the first round and could be forced to stand in a run-off while his fundamentalist Justice and Development Party (AKP) could lose its majority in parliament. When he declared early elections in April, Erdogan did not expect to face serious competition.

According to a recent poll, Muharrem Ince — a former high school physics teacher who is the candidate of the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) — could win 31 per cent of the vote in the first round against Erdogan’s 48 per cent. Ince has condemned Erdgan’s economic and security policies and slammed him for investing vast sums on palaces. Ince has also charged Erdogan with staging the failed coup of July 2016 so he could crack down on all opposition.

Like Erdogan, Ince’s roots are in the devout working class but, unlike Erdogan, Ince seeks to return the country to the secular route, dictated by the founder of the modern Turkish state, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. During his years in power, Erdogan has steered Turkey towards conservative religiosity.

Unfortunately, in addition to Ince, there are another four candidates running against Erdogan, two of them from parties allied to the CHP for the parliamentary election: the nationalist Good Party and the fundamentalist Felicity Party. The CHP’s third ally is the Democrat Party.

If the CHP’s allies were serious they would have stood behind Ince and not fielded their own candidates. Their aim should be to give their votes to Ince so he could go into a second round with strong backing and, perhaps, even win. In previous assembly elections the CHP rarely won more than 25 per cent of the vote. In this existential election the CHP needs all the help it can get.

The other two candidates are the leftist Patriotic Party’s Dogu Perincek and the People’s Democratic Party’s (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas, who is running from his prison cell. He was arrested in November 2016 and detained on allegations that he supports insurectionist Kurds.

While he is not seen as a major contender for the presidency, if his party secures more than 10 per cent of the vote and enters parliament, the HDP could prevent Erdogan’s AKP from reaching a majority. This was the case in the June 2015 assembly election. In response, Erdogan held a snap election that November, enabling the AKP to regain lost seats.

In the parliamentary contest, the AKP has partnered with the small ultra-nationalist National Movement Party (MHP) and the Great Unity Party while three parties, including the pro-Kurdish HDP, are standing on their own.

The assembly has 550 seats. The AKP currently holds a solid 316 majority, followed by the CHP with 131 seats. Erdogan’s greatest fear is that a substantial number of defected supporters could stay home on voting day.

Last month, Erdogan said in a speech to parliament that “if one day our nation says ‘enough,’ then we [he and his party] will step aside.” This remark prompted a storm of posts on social media stating, “Tamam,” “Enough.” Within hours of his statement two million Turks responded, “Tamam, and “Tamam” became the slogan of the opposition.

Some commentators have expressed doubts that he and the AKP would, ultimately, “step aside” if they lose the presidential and parliamentary elections. They would, instead, manipulate the result or cancel the election – as happened in 2015 and in the 2017 referendum on constitutional changes when his victory was narrow and probably result of tampering.

Under Erdogan, Turkey has experienced sustained economic growth but has also been gradually transformed from a strongly secular to a faith-based state. Turkey has suffered corruption, violence, a renewal of the military campaign against restive Kurds, and two massive crackdowns on dissent. During 2013-14, Erdogan ordered a wave of arrests after his entourage was found to be exploiting rules for financial gain and from 2016 following the failed military coup. Erdogan has held US-based Fathullah Gulen, a former ally and head of a moderate religious movement, responsible for repression.

During the first purge, thousands of policemen, prosecutors, and judges were sacked and Erdogan imposed his control on the judicial branch of the government. During the second and ongoing purge, tens of thousands of soldiers, civil servants, activists, teachers, professors, and journalists have been arrested and imprisoned. More than 100,000 civil servants, educators, and others have been dismissed from their jobs, their bank accounts have been frozen, and they have been prevented from taking up alternative employment or leaving the country.

On the regional front, Erdogan has alienated all Turkey’s neighbours and by waging war on Syria, contributed to the rise of Daesh and al-Qaeda in the Levant. He has traded barbs with Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians.

He has also angered Turkey’s Western Nato allies by cosying up to Russia and angered Russia and Iran by continuing to pursue his objective of ousting Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. His internal repression has compelled the European Union to suspend Turkey’s bid to join the bloc.

Nevertheless, Erdogan’s actions do not seem to have alienated his conservative, religious constituency. During the election campaign he has continued to address huge crowds and enjoy the adulation of masses of Turks, particularly from provincial towns and cities and working class neighbourhoods in the country’s main urban centres.

The campaign has been stage-managed to favour Erdogan and the AKP over all challengers. The elections are being conducted under a state of emergency, undermining their credibility. Rivals do not receive coverage in the media accorded Erdogan, who has closed down the opposition press and television and prevented some parties from fielding candidates. If Erdogan wins, it could be by a narrow margin, if he loses he could cancel the result.


The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East
affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict

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