Turkey’s 1 November 2015 Elections

Turkey’s Putin: The 1 November 2015 Elections

by

Howard Adelman

My main question is what the re-election of President: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP Party to a majority of seats in the special Nov. 1 election means for Israel. However, a quick summary of the Turkish election results that were widely considered to be an “earthquake” or a “tsunami” is necessary first.

Canada was not the only country that recently held an election that had entirely surprising and unexpected results that flummoxed all the pollsters. In the special election called by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for 1 November, the AKP ruling party, the party Erdoğan himself founded in 2001 and now led by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, received almost half the votes and a majority of 327 seats in the 550 seat Parliament, but not the supermajority he needed to change the constitution to give Erdoğan a very significant increase in power. This was up from 40.8% of the vote and only 258 seats in the election just five months previously, those seats down from the 311 seats it had held in the previous parliament. Further, in order to dampen fears of a move towards Erdoğan authoritarianism, unlike the June elections, the AKP played down Erdoğan’s quest for increased powers, and, to that end, his participation in the election was actually significantly reduced.

Unlike Canada, where there was a ready explanation for the election results – votes won at the expense of the NDP as the Liberals replaced the New Democratic Party as the catalyst for change in voters’ minds. In Turkey, there was widespread evidence that, to some degree, the vote had been rigged, but the indications are that most of the shift was a result of an electoral shift between June and November.

June 7     Nov. 1   Seats  Shift

(to AKP)

AKP Party founded by Erdoğan 2001                              40.8%  49.47%  +59=327  +8.67

HDP – the Kurdish-dominated social democratic party   13.1%  10.75%   -21=59    – 2.35

CHP – Turkish secularist party; founded in 1923             25%     25.8%      +3=135

MHP – right-wing nationalist party                                   16.3%  11.9%    -40=40      -4.5

Two small parties; did not compete in the June election

(the small Islamist Felicity Party and the Kurdish

Islamist Huda-Par party)                                                    2%                                      – 2

97.2%                                -8.85

If the significantly increased voter turnout is factored in, the source of the shift in votes is somewhat clear. Yet many claim the elections were rigged. The evidence for rigged elections include the following:

  • The polls suggested that the AKP would improve its vote total, but only by 1-2%
  • The YSK, the Turkish Electoral Commission, closed its website and became incommunicable immediately after the election
  • 10 minutes after the first constituencies reported, the government Anadolu News Agency declared that 70% of the votes had been counted and that the AKP received 50% of the vote
  • There were reports of spikes in the votes of around 10% in many places, that is, where for a short period during the counting, suddenly the AKP was receiving 100% of the votes and its totals suddenly went up by 10%
  • Widespread rumours that the AKP got Syrian refugees to vote (even after the outflow to Europe, there are still over 1.5 million Syrian refugees in the country)
  • The AKP, an anti-Kurdish party, significantly increased its vote results in predominantly Kurdish constituencies
  • There were power outages in Kurdish areas
  • There was a 1.5 hour power outage in one area of Istanbul, an active anti-AKP area
  • Some routes to polls had been cut off
  • There were rumours that the voting bags were switched
  • There were rumours that the computers counting ballots were preset by the AKP

The incidents that had preceded the election were already ominous:

  • Immediately after the 7 June election, a regime of intimidation began, beginning with the termination of the cease-fire with the PKK, the Kurdish rebel force, with clashes that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of members of the PKK and over 100 Turkish soldiers after the PKK had been accused of killing two police officers for assisting ISIS, but for which the PKK never claimed credit
  • There had been 30,000 deaths from the Turkish-PKK war over the past 30 years and the war was now resumed with the peace process dashed to pieces, especially following the killing of 12-year-old Helin Sen by a police sniper bullet and 9-year-old Elif Şimşek by a Turkish rocket
  • Between the June and November elections, 159 Turkish security officials were killed as well as hundreds of PKK fighters and 81 civilians
  • Kurdish activists, many allied with the HDP, the predominantly Kurdish party that broke through the 10% minimal vote requirement in the last election, were arrested in sweeps across the country
  • Turkish officials released a video showing a Kurdish protester, labelled a terrorist, being dragged behind a police vehicle by a rope tied around his neck ostensibly to check that the body was not booby-trapped, though the body was already riddled with 28 police bullets; the body, as it turned out, was that of a relative of Leyla Birlik, a HDP deputy from Şirnak, a 24-year-old actor, Haci Lokman Birlik, who had performed in an award-winning movie, Bark (Home), about the lives of Kurds in Kurdistan; the incident echoed the August video of the bullet-riddled body of female PKK fighter,Kevser Eltürk (Ekin Van) stripped naked
  • Erdoğan repeatedly broke protocol applied to a Turkish president – halfway between a political leader and a ceremonial head of state – and urged voters to cast their ballots for the AKP
  • The AKP was widely accused of being corrupt and many investigations had been launched since the inconclusive results of the 7 June election
  • The most serious incident had been the bombing of the Ankara Peace Walk on 10 October with over 100 dead supporters of the HDP, the Kurdish-dominated social democratic party that had led the rallies; Erdoğan blamed ISIS, Syrian intelligence and Kurdish militants (PKK) for the attacks (the suicide bomber unit of IS, Dokumacilar, was specifically blamed); ironically, subsequently Prime Minister Davutoğlu said the bombings were an attempt to influence the 1 November elections
  • Unlike the usual pattern, as I mentioned in previous blogs, security forces were suddenly noticeable by their absence
  • After the blast, the security forces took a surprisingly long time to show up
  • Further, after the blast, ambulances were allegedly prevented from reaching the victims immediately
  • ISIS was blamed for the explosion, but never claimed credit as per its usual custom
  • The intimidation of the media had grown – following a mob attack on 28 October, a mob made up of police officers and government bureaucrats, the editors-in-chief of the Bugün and Millet dailies, and Kanaltürk and Bugün TV channels were fired; Koza Ipek Holding, which owns Ipek Media, was placed under government trusteeship for supporting “terrorism,” though it only openly supported the Gülenists; at the same time, pressure on the media increased exponentially with a mob attack on Ahmet Hakan, Hürriyet’s popular columnist, who was severely beaten
  • Of the six men arrested for Hakan’s beating, four were released immediately
  • The violence between ISIS and Turkish security forces had heated up with 2 police and seven Islamic State militants killed, 5 police wounded and 12 ISIS militants arrested on 25 October following a raid and firefight in the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in southeast Turkey with rumours of many more IS safe houses equipped with automatic weapons already established across Turkey
  • Erdoğan insisted that Kurdish militants and ISIS, as well as Syrian intelligence, were linked
  • School teachers from Western Turkey employed in the Kurdish-dominated southeast refused to report to work
  • On 27 October, Turkey attacked the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) (supported by the U.S.) in Tal Abyad, Syria to raise the spectre of Kurdish independence spreading to Turkey
  • At the same time, two days after the Diyarbakir shoot-out, on 27 October, Turkish security forces rounded up 30 alleged IS militants in Konya and Kumar.

However, there were many signs that, in fact, the AKP was moving back towards a more historic pattern of results:

  • The Canadian election had been fought on the grounds of change versus continuity with the question being which party would be chosen as the party of change; the Turkish election had been fought on the basis of stability versus chaos, and if stability was favoured, so, ironically, was the AKP
  • Following on the earlier 20 July IS (alleged) suicide bombing that killed 32 Leftists in Suruç en route to crossing the border to cross into Kobani and fight in Syria, the spark that restarted the Turkish civil war, the explosion in Ankara on 10 October killing 102 peaceniks lent credence to the order versus chaos campaign of the AKP, allowing the party to win support at the expense of both the HDP and the MHP
  • In the face of the renewal of the war with the Kurds, the Kurdish traditional pattern of division between the secular democrats and militants (the Hizb ut-Tahrir) versus the conservative religious Kurds, once again came to the fore
  • In October, the renewed conflict between Ankara and the PKK disrupted the school system in the predominantly Kurdish southeast region because many teachers from western Turkey refused to report to work, inducing fear in parents concerned with their children’s schooling; in a report of the teachers’ union (Ekitim-Sen), 89% of the teachers expressed their belief that schools could not function properly with the conflict underway with 42% seeking reappointment to another province and 41% insisting they would not work in the region even though there was a long waiting list of teachers seeking jobs
  • The HDP lost most of its support in its heartland, south-eastern Anatolia – 24% decline in Muş and a 15% decline in Bingöl
  • The CHP failed to form an alternative government, even though the Kurdish-dominated HDP was offered the post of Prime Minister and even though the nationalist right-wing MHP was offered the prospect of suing Erdoğan and his followers for corruption if they agreed not to bring the new coalition down in a Parliamentary vote
  • At the same time, Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the MHP, rejected every offer of coalition with the AKP just as his hawkish stand against Kurdish nationalists was being usurped
  • Erdoğan’s persecution of the Gülen’s alleged network had increased, and legal proceedings were actually launched by the Turkish embassy in Washington to have a legal firm investigate the Gülen “netwok”
  • In Erdoğan’s attacks against the Assad government in Syria and the Islamic State at the same time, the actual main military attacks in late October were against Kurdish fighters in Syria
  • There were many rumours that if the AKP did not secure a majority in the 1 November snap election, another election would soon be scheduled, the fifth in two years, since Erdoğan could not be counted on to make a prudent rational choice
  • Turkish economic decline, that had so dominated the June election, was overshadowed by the increased focus on physical security in spite of the continuing decline of the lira in relation to the U.S. dollar and the poor results of Turkey’s balance of trade figures
  • Erdoğan was not only instigating polarization against his former Gülen allies and the Kurdish community (not just the PKK), but was fomenting both Sunni-Alevi and Muşlim-secular antagonism; the budget for the Directorate of Religious Affairs now was larger than that of 12 other ministries put together
  • As voters shifted to seeking security, they also looked more and more at strategic voting; the MHP, like the NDP in Canada, was left in an invidious position, for if the party contemplated a coalition with the AKP to ensure stability, the prospect of surviving as an independent party diminished, but if they insisted on remaining independent, then the voter base, which they shared with the AKP, would shift away from them to ensure an AKP majority – which is what took place, particularly since the AKP had adopted their hawkish position against any compromise with the PKK
  • The AKP had already stolen the MHP headliner, Tuğrul Türkeş, the son of Alparslan Türkeş, the founder of the MHP
  • The up-and-down, but overall down, decline in the Turkish currency reinforced the quest for security
  • Thus, in Canada, the external forces pushed for change, whereas in Turkey the demand for stability increased

Erdoğan had a powerful motive to rig the election – he was determined to get the country to switch from a parliamentary to a powerful centralized presidential system, but without the checks and balances of the U.S. and more akin to the Russian system. However,  he needed two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to change the constitution, highly unlikely under any scenario. But why were pollsters so wrong about the results for the Liberals in Canada and for the conservative AKP in Turkey, though it was more understandable in Turkey where the pollsters had to stop publishing polls ten days before ballots were cast? Why did pollsters in both countries fail to predict or even anticipate the real possibility of a majority for one party? In both countries, voters turned out in record numbers. Why did liberals win in one country and conservatives in the other, conservatives with an authoritarian bent?

A key factor is which party ran the best campaign. In Canada, that was an easy choice – the Liberal Party, even though all parties ran relatively solid campaigns. In Turkey, the issue was the opposite – which parties ran the worst campaigns? It is not simply that the HDP and the MHP ran very ambiguous and, therefore, unfocused and weak campaigns. The HDP was never clear enough about distinguishing itself from the PKK, though for the second time running, it still managed to come in above the 10% threshold. At the same time, the MHP was speechless as the AKP stole its thunder. Neither party was helped by the series of attacks on journalists and the free media, but that could not have been a major factor, in spite of how repulsive these attacks were, for they were aimed at Gülen supporters as well as the CHP that held onto and even slightly increased its support.

The biggest irony of the election was that the party that claimed victory, ran on a program of stability. Yet Erdoğan himself and his policies of polarization (a much more radical version of Harper’s) deepened Sunni-Alevi, Islamist-secular and Turkish-Kurdish polarization, with the enemies of the Islamic nationalists of the AKP all in the opposition seats. Voters who gave up their desire for political change bought into the promise of stability by voting for Erdoğan’s party, the almost singular source for the country’s continuing instability. If Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is true to his words in his victory speech, offering to end “polarization and tension,” I suspect he may be sending a direct challenge to his boss, Erdoğan, the mastermind of enhanced tension as the Machiavellian route to increased power.

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