Turkey: Explaining Erdogan’s Electoral Success Today
Giuseppe Didonna 4 November 2015

This is an enormous increase considering that on June 7th the Justice and Development Party had lost everything, winning only 40.8% of the votes and only 258 seats, the worst result in its brief history, which began in 2001.

The Republican People’s Party, with 25.38% improved its results slightly compared to the June election, winning 134 seats, 3 more compared to five months ago, confirming it is the main opposition party and the first in just six of Turkey’s 81 provinces, all situated on the coast of the Aegean Sea and once again appearing to be short of a programme and of leadership.

It was a bitter wakening for the National Movement Party, which fell from June’s 16.2% to 11.9%, with the ‘grey wolves’ almost extinct in parliament, now having 41 seats compared to the previous 80. Party secretary Devlet Bahceli has resigned.

The pro-Kurdish HDP, which in June managed for the first time pass the 10% threshold, winning 13% of the votes, has now fallen to 10.7%, and now has 59 MPs compared to the previous 80. The votes won in the south-east of the country, where there is a Kurdish majority, have allowed the party to gain more seats than the nationalists and become the third party in parliament.

As far as the debacle experienced by the nationalists of the MHP is concerned, it seems obvious that the AKP benefitted from this, gaining points thanks to the bombs dropped on the PKK’s Kurdish separatists during the past four months.

It is more complicated to understand the sharp fall experienced by the pro-Kurdish party. While in June the challenge faced by the party led by a young Selattin Demirtas was passing the very high 10% threshold, five months later all doubts on this subject had vanished and every one was totally convinced the party would pass the threshold and gain more votes. This happened, but supporters were shaken, since with almost 90% of the ballots counted, the HDP was between 10.1 and 10.2%. This is not enough to justify a loss of one million votes in five months due to a variety of reasons. The bomb attacks in Suruc on July 20th and in Ankara on October 10th, which respectively killed 33 and 102 activists close to the party, led Demirtas to cancel political meetings and rallies. The result was a toned-down electoral campaign that many saw as a symptom of weakness, especially in Kurdish regions where the HDP did, however, lose the votes of the more extremist voters. Furthermore, Kurdistan’s proclamations of independence, the PKK’s attacks, barricades built in areas under curfew and clashes in the region, resulted in the HDP losing the vote of many moderates in non-Kurdish regions who, only five months ago, had voted for the party.

Chaos or stability, a coalition or a one-party government

Following the June 7th elections, Turkey experienced one of the darkest chapters in its history. The resumption of clashes with the PKK’s separatists Kurds caused over 250 deaths between Turkish security forces and civilians, while the Turkish Air Force’s strikes supposedly killed over 2,000 PKK militiamen. Many provinces in the south-east were subjected to extremely harsh curfews. Tensions also rose at the Syrian border as well as with Russia and ISIS, which the Turks attacked after reaching an agreement with the United States to become part of the anti-caliphate coalition. What really shocked Turkey, however, were the attacks in Suruc and Ankara (the most serious in the country’s history), for which Turkish citizens linked to ISIS were blamed. To all these factors one must add the collapse of the Turkish lira, which fell to an all-time low against the dollar and the euro.

Istikrar” means stability and this was the key word used in the AKP’s electoral campaign. The solution for all the problems experienced during the past four months. Stability is the product the AKP sold to the country in presenting voters with two alternatives; a single party in power or a coalition. On the one hand, the AKP, which, in power since 2012, has brought wealth, economic and infrastructural development and above all stability and, on the other, the coalition and with it memories of years of crisis, a blocked parliament, inaction, weakness, but above all instability.

The Turkey that went to the polling stations was fresh from years of AKP government, placed on stand-by since June 6th, but was also coming from the bloodshed of the past four months. This period coincided with consultations to form a coalition that dragged on until failure made a snap election the only option, an election in which Turks were asked to choose between a country such as that of the AKP years or that of the last four months during which the AKP did not govern.

Erdogan and Prime Minister Davutoglu abandoned conservative Islamist rhetoric, always, in my opinion, excessively emphasised in Europe, and concentrated on the always lively nationalist and identity-linked sentiments of the Turks. This was the move that led to Erdogan’s great victory. On the one hand the usual pharaonic electoral campaign, which the media on the AKP side contributed to, but with the country at the centre of the current geopolitical chessboard, Erdogan put in motion the narrative of a Turkey in which Turks like to identify. The Turkey that imposed on Merkel conditions for the plan concerning refugees. The Turkey that does not hesitate to fight the PKK, guilty of wishing to divide the country. The Turkey that throws into prison on a daily basis dozens of people accused of being linked to ISIS. The Turkey that returns to play a central role in NATO, forming an alliance with the United States. The Turkey that raises its voice with Russia when its airspace is violated.

Erdogan, Putin and Ataturk

Erdogan hit the nail on the head with every move, but the Turkish president did more. He used the Kurdish issue as means for attacking the HDP; he closed down television stations and cracked down on newspapers;  he took to court and jailed journalists and authors and gave the police a free hand at protests and marches. All these events led many abroad to celebrate the end of the Turkish president’s ascent. Turkey has instead decided that he is the one capable of elevating the country’s destiny. “A president must be like a father and a father must be a bit of a dictator.” These words summarise the feelings of 50% of Turks, those who chose him. Forever lost in regretting Ataturk, coming from decades of swaying between coups d’état and economic crises, the country knows that the AKP has managed to provide Turkish politics with a continuity previously unknown. The need to emerge from the nightmare of the past four months coincides with the search for a father who, even using an iron fist, will solve all the problems. A father lacking just 14 seats in parliament to change the constitution and acquire absolute powers that will allow him to become another Putin to his opponents and another Ataturk to his supporters.

Translated by Francesca Simmons