While the latest elections in Turkey certainly reflect the ‘march of democracy’, it also signifies, with equal force, virtually un-democratic processes which have been going on for last few years and that will only increase further as a result of the ‘confidence’ the Turks have shown in Erdogan’s party. As a matter of fact, certain developments preceding the election remarkably show that the opposition parties were completely denied important avenues of election campaign, including the media.
For instance, opposition voices on major television channels were more or less completely suppressed, while the government launched raids on an opposition TV station and newspaper, Bugün, just four days before the elections. Transmission of a live broadcast was interrupted. Staff who questioned the proceedings were fired summarily and their names taken. Next day, both paper and TV channel were working normally again – but this time as vociferous AKP supporters.
Due to Erdogan regime’s high-handed treatment of the media and the curbs it has placed over the years on freedom of expression, a petition was addressed to him only a day before elections by a group of internationally-known journalists including such figures as Dean Baquet of the New York Times, David Remnick of the New Yorker and Michele Leridon of the Agence France-Presse conveying their utter dismay over the Turkish government’s “concerted campaign to silence any opposition or criticism of the government in the run up to the election” and pointing finger at the rising “culture of impunity” in the country hindering journalists from doing their work” and urging Erdogan to “foster a culture where press freedom is fully respected”.
Can Dündar, editor of the left of center daily Cumhuriyet, compared the elections as getting someone to accept death by threatening them with malaria. The AKP was, Dündar said, “A totalitarian structure, out of touch with democratic values using religion for political purposes.”
Even the White House had to issue a retort against Turkish Government’s un-democratic methods of politics. Just weeks before President Barack Obama meets his counterpart Erdogan in Turkey, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the White House was “deeply concerned that media outlets and individual journalists critical of the government were subject to pressure and intimidation during the campaign.” “We continue to urge Turkish authorities to uphold universal democratic values,” he further said.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) charged in a damning report on Monday, a day after election, that Turkey’s election was marred by a media crackdown, violence and other security concerns. “While Turkish citizens could choose between genuine and strong political alternatives in this highly polarised election, the rapidly diminishing choice of media outlets, and restrictions on freedom of expression in general, impacted the process and remain serious concerns,” Ignacio Sanchez Amor, special coordinator and leader of the OSCE observer mission, said in a statement.
Notwithstanding Erdogan’s dictatorial methods of politics against opposition forces, his tactical moves on military-front also helped him clench victory. The fact that Erdogan actually started military campaign against Kurds and (supposedly) against ISIS when his party had initially failed to gain outright majority in June elections sheds some light on how this “external front of war” has helped him in manipulating domestic politics.
The actual reason for Erdogan’s victory cannot simply be located in the number of votes cast and the total seats won, his victory must be located and understood against the larger backdrop of conflict that he has started. By engaging the KKP in military conflict and forcing it to launch attacks inside Turkey, Erdogan was quite successful in re-directing some of the Kurdish voters who had previously voted for HDP in the June 7 elections. Due to KPP’s (forced) engagement in the conflict, the HDP was successfully put in a fix over drawing a clear line between its political stand and that of KKP, with which it does share a social base.
Failure to distinguish itself as typical political party has thus cost HDP a very significant chunk of votes. For instance, In the June polls, the AK party had secured 258 seats, losing many to the HDP, which achieved unprecedented success for a pro-Kurdish party by getting 80 seats. However, in the latest poll, HDP could manage to secure only 59 seats—a significant loss for HDP within the time span of mere five months.
Given the loss suffered by HDP and the victory secured by AKP, it seems that Erdogan has now a clear way to prevent the prospects of a Kurdish autonomous region coming into being in the wake of the on-going crisis in Syria and the way foreign powers, especially the U.S., continue to support Syrian Kurds as a proxy group, putting Erdogan in a conflicting position vis-à-vis the United States.
In fact, the very reason why Erdogan was able to secure an alliance with ultra-nationalists and Islmaists—another important pre-poll political reason of his victory— was his anti-KKP drive and the supposed battle against ISIS. Recent wave of bombing and massive killings in Turkey did, in fact, go a long way in “convincing” the people of the utmost necessity of rallying behind a party capable of “effectively” dealing with “terrorist” organizations such as KPP. It is, as such, no coincidence that a sudden turn of Turkey’s political Islamist leaders to a stridently anti-Western discourse with a special focus on anti-American narrative reflected by and large the growing alliance between them and President Erdogan.
In the polarizing environment of the conflict, shadowy ultra-nationalist figures had already started to feature more prominently in everyday public life before elections took place. A particularly controversial figure who has re-emerged as a die-hard supporter of President Erdoğan is the pan-Turkist mafia boss Sedat Peker. A convicted criminal who first rose to fame during the 90s, Peker initially received a 10-year prison sentence in the Ergenekon trial but walked free soon afterwards.
It was just a day before the Ankara bombing that Peker organized an “anti-terror” rally in Erdogan’s hometown of Rize, where he was reported to have threatened the enemies of the state with “rivers of blood” before praising Erdogan and asking the crowd to vote for the AKP in the upcoming election. The rally took place under full police protection, displaying a stark contrast with the demonstrations held by opposition parties, especially the HDP, where the police, if at all present, was more of an ominous sign—a semblance of insecurity than security.
As far as Erdogan’s own politics is concerned, policy of intimidation and manipulation, of fear and divided, has proven to be highly successful in terms of enabling him to re-capture the seat of power and thereby re-casting himself as the “savior” of Turkey. These elections have now made the way clear for him to push his agendas at both domestic and regional levels. Regionally, he is going to push ahead with an anti-Kurdish drive. Domestically he is expected to push forward his agenda of constitutional reform to establish a presidential form of government as a means to materialize what has satirically been called his ‘neo-Ottoman’ slant.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”