By Ömer Faruk Gençkaya (Marmara University)
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a landslide victory at the “renewed” elections of November 1st. This is a big surprise for the AKP itself. All scenarios predicted a coalition or minority government options. Therefore, the AKP announced that another election was also possible. However, shortly before the elections, only one poll forecasted that the AKP gets 47% the respondents. According to the initials results, the party managed over 49,5 % of the votes and 317 seats out of 550.
The main losers of the elections were pro-nationalist Nationalist Action Party (MHP, 11,9% and 40 seats) and pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP, 10,7% and 59 seat). The main opposition party, Republican People’s Party (RPP) almost preserved the votes (24,9% – 25,3%) and the seats (132 – 134) in comparison to the June 7 elections results.
Initial figures indicated that turnout is 85 (2 % more than June 7 elections) and about 700,000 votes (1,4 million on June 7) were regarded void.
What happened that the AKP increased its votes 8,6 % within 5 months?
First of all, this was an election under the guardianship of the President of the Republic. He emphasized that voters made a mistake on June 7, and they could correct this at the renewed elections. The President Erdogan rallied his emotional as well as material ties with his supporters through several tv interviews, meeting the neighborhood headmen, community leaders and others at his palace. It can be said that the AKP could not manage such a “return” without his campaign.
Secondly, the AKP remained in power either as “provisional government” or “election government” since June 7 until November 1st and used all state resources for its “objectives” without any control. Besides, the AKP successfully mobilized its supporters on the grounds that both domestic (opposition parties) and international mischief makers (international media and organizations) stood against the AKP and Turkey. Corruption allegations of the opposition parties are perceived as a matter of honor for the AKP supporters and these perceptions psychologically increased solidarity among them. One of the lessons that the AKP drew from the June 7 election results was anti-corruption and transparency. However, some argue that the November 1 election results may prove “they steal but at least they work” mentality.
Thirdly, this election was a “last” exit for many AKP circles: “either live or die” option. Without regard to their world view, several networks such as religious communities, businessmen, social aid recipients, students who are provided scholarships and/or accommodation tended to support status quo instead of change in government. The weak image of the opposition parties to form a government and increasing economic and political fluctuations following June 7, led the masses to vote for their fears and instincts. It is obvious that the religious communities and tariqats regained power during the AKP period and influence social and economic as well as political life including voting behavior. The AKP also promoted a partisan economic sector, mainly small and medium scale commercial entrepreneurs and big construction allies. These sectors mainly operate in a similar fashion to informal/unregistered sector. The pro-government construction sector has become the major financing source of the party and what is called “pool media”. Social aid recipients from the state, municipalities and social solidarity foundations were afraid of losing their benefits if the party leaves the government. Inspired from the main opposition party, the AKP also promised several economic incentives for people, which cost 22 billion liras. Simply many people did not want to lose a relative “comfort” provided by the AKP for more than a decade. Despite corruption allegations and “authoritarian tendencies” both material and immaterial links between the voters and the party were well developed as a blind love. It is interesting that such a majority is based on a new type of “ghetto” mentality which may be a social issue for future when the party or its derivatives loses power. Alternation in power may eliminate “hatred” and “polarization”.
Fourthly, and more specific to this election period, terrorist activities against the government forces and two major bombings in Suruc (Sanliurfa, a south-east province) and the capital city, Ankara, soon after June 7 elections as well as political instability in Syria, increased “security” and “stability” concerns of Turkish public, in general. These developments suppressed the masses and limited the campaign activities of the opposition parties, too. The PKK’s activities became counterproductive for the HDP votes, too.
Fifthly, although the three opposition parties gained a strong majority against the AKP in elections held on June 7, their leadership failed to translate the message of the electorate into a feasible alternative against the AKP. The opposition parties’ weak standing in establishing a clear coalition building strategy, on the one hand, and the AKP’s effective “anti-coalition” campaign, on the other affected the voters’ decisions. Most opinion surveys indicated that no coalition government would be possible without the AKP. Such perception management through media outlets and other means motivated many voters to support the AKP for single party government. There has been always a volatile electorate about 20 % since the 1999 elections. (A. Carkoglu, Turkey’s 2011 General Elections: Towards a Dominant Party System? Insight Turkey, 2011, 43-62). They basically shifted between the centre of the right parties in accordance with the political positioning of parties under certain circumstances.
Besides, the AKP insisted on its constant polarization strategy once again with a full “force” and emphasized on “either stability (with the AKP) or chaos” slogan in response to the opposition parties. According to the official information, the state radio and television reserved unfair and disproportionate air time for the President and the AKP compared the other parties and leaders. It is argued that regular social aid to poor people as well as indirect subsidies through discretionary funds, including the Presidential fund, were used excessively.
Furthermore, the MHP and the HDP promoted pro-nationalist and pro-Kurdish themes during the campaigns. Under these circumstances where security matters rise, voters tended to centripetal rather than centrifugal. Therefore, the AKP received votes from these parties as well as new voters who did not go to vote on June 7. It can be said that the AKP was more successful in mobilizing voters who did not go to vote on June 7. In this election, the center votes, including the CHP, increased up to 75%. A two party system has become a motto of some leaders; however, fragmentation has been another defining element of Turkish political party system. (E. Ozbudun, Party Politics and Social Cleavages in Turkey, Lynne Rienner Publishers 2013). Although the AKP seems to consolidate the center of the right votes once again, the need for a liberal center right party in Turkey shall be discussed in light of its governmental performance.
Finally many international circles heavily criticized the AKP’s recent practices in media freedom as well as judiciary, yet the political as well as business circles seemed to consider the AKP as a sine qua non for the prospects of regional affairs, including the Kurdish issue.
Turkey has been redesigned from tip to toe in the hands of the AKP more than a decade. It is obvious that the distribution of power has changed by means of democratic elections, yet Turkey still has to make a real progress in democracy as an “objective”. The AKP can govern alone yet needs the support of others in this end. Turkey cannot afford polarization dividend forever! All political parties need to develop innovative strategies for themselves and the future of Turkey. Peace, tolerance and democracy as well as political and economic stability are the major concerns but without liberalization, transparency and accountability these cannot be achieved easily.
Photo source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/01/turkish-election-akp-set-for-majority-with-90-of-vote-counted