Atatürk's Republic

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Posts Tagged ‘CHP

The Grand Finale

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Yesterday, President Erdogan treated us to a live broadcast of the grand finale of his win-back-a-parliamentary-majority-and-crush-his-opponents spectacular. Over the course of a 10-hour standoff, during which the television networks in question kept broadcasting from company headquarters until the last moment, Turkey witnessed the forcible take over of the 15th and 16th most popular news networks in the country, KanalTurk and Bugun. The shutdown of these networks came after the government declared last month that they were seizing the holdings of the Koza-Ipek business group, which has ties to the Gulen Movement, for improper financial dealings. In other words, the group was under suspicion of channeling funds to Gulen, who has been declared one of the most wanted terrorists in Turkey (though the government has no evidence to back up either claim- that Koza-Ipek was sending money to Gulen or that Gulen tried to overthrow the government). Bugun and KanalTurk are (were) part of the Koza-Ipek group.

Yesterday’s spectacle outside Koza-Ipek was jaw dropping and surreal even by Turkish standards- a celebrity chef showed up to cook and distribute food only to get into a scuffle with police and as soon as the Bugun feed was cut a part of a series on World War II was put on air- yet, predictably, none of the other major news networks covered the events.

There can be no doubt that yesterday’s seizure of one of the few critical media stations still remaining in Turkey (what ever you may think of their Gulenist origins) was the latest in a series of brazen attempts to swing the upcoming election toward an AKP majority. Since June 7th, among other un-democratic measures, the government has moved and consolidated ballot boxes in the predominantly Kurdish South-East, arrested opposition politicians and journalists and daily spread blatant lies about the nefarious deeds of Gulen, the connection of HDP politicians to terrorism and the supposed PKK-ISIS partnership.

However, if, despite what is clearly been a concerted effort, democracy somehow wins in Turkey and the election turns out as predicted (that is to say, not very different from the June results), then Erdogan may have succeeded at only further alienating all but the most hard-core of his supporters and driving together previously hostile components of the opposition. For example, the leader of the Kurdish HDP, Selahattin Demirtas, showed up at Koza-Ipek yesterday to show his support for the defiant organization. This is quite unusual as the Gulen movement is not known to be particularly friendly toward Kurds. Similarly, the CHP, the party most closely connected to Kemalism, which historically denied the existence of the Kurds as a unique ethnicity or culture, has shown remarkable solidarity with the Kurdish HDP in the face of the AKP’s campaign to associate the Kurdish party and its leaders with the PKK. Even the far right, nationalist MHP has denounced the AKP’s equivocation of the HDP and the PKK.

None of this may matter in the end if the AKP, and Erdogan by extension, regain their majority, and if there is one rule for Turkey analysts it is never to rule out Erdogan. Nonetheless it does demonstrate that while Erdogan has become an increasingly divisive figure in his own party, he has become a uniting figure for opposition members of all ideologies. It is also important to note, as Steven Cook pointed out, that all the anti-democratic maneuvers described above a sign of weakness, and desperation, not strength. And the longer this farce goes on, the smaller and smaller the chances are of Erdogan getting his executive presidency- an issue which we barely hear about anymore.

What Turkey needs right now is a coalition government, one that is willing to work with all parties, even those in the official opposition, to rebuild Turkey’s institutional independence, rule of law, and the trust of citizens in government. And polls show that, if democracy works, this is what Turkey should get. However, it won’t be clear until after the election if Erdogan’s anti-democratic campaign has worked, and even then, given Erdogan’s clear hostility to the idea, it is far from certain that a coalition can be formed. For Turks of all stripes, the next few days are going to be ones of anxiety and anticipation.

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Written by ataturksrepublic

October 29, 2015 at 4:12 am

Turkish Democracy: Still Alive, but Still Flawed

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The results of Sunday’s general election in Turkey are (almost) official.  With 40.8% of the vote, translating into 258 representatives, the AKP is still the largest party in parliament.  However, in contrast to the previous three general elections where it won a plurality of the vote, the AKP is 16 delegates shy of being able form a government. The party will likely have to partner with one of the three other parties sending representatives to parliament: the secularist CHP, which won 25% of the vote (132 representatives), the Nationalist MHP, which won 16.3% of the vote (80 representatives) and the Liberal Kurdish HDP, which broke the election threshold with room to spare and won 13.1% of the vote (80 representatives).  For a details on governmental rules and formalities governing the creation of coalition government in Turkey, see this BGN news explainer. For an indepth breakdown of all the possible and probable political scenarios, see Aaron Stein’s masterful piece for the Atlantic Council.

There are dozens of different aspects of these election results that are ripe for discussion, from the unprecedented number of women and minority representatives to the effect that the war in Syria (and seige of Kobane) had on the vote distribution.  The topic that has rightfully dominated the blog-o-sphere is what do these election results mean for both the immediate and long-term future of Turkish politics and democracy.

Despite the fact that the AKP is still the largest party by far, I do think it is fair to interpret these results as a reprimand to the party generally and to Erdogan’s leadership specifically.  Simply pointing out that the AKP is still won 15% more of the electorate than the next most population, or even spinning the results the opposite way and saying that 60% of Turks voted for another party, fails to take in to consideration the crucial context of both Turkish politics and this election.  First, Turkey still has a political opposition problem.  For millions of average Turks, there is still no party that better represents their interests than the AKP. The traditional opposition parties of the CHP and the MHP, despite some decent efforts during this campaign, still have not figured out how to put together a policy program that will convince voters that they can actually govern. The HDP succeeded in selling itself as not just a Kurdish party, but pluralist identity that represents a number of marginalized groups (Kurdish nationalists, LGBTQ, Christian, feminist and other minorities).  The politics of the HDP is arguably the politics of the next generation of Turks, a party that fulfills many of the ideals of the Gezi movement. Unlike its compatriots, the dynamic and (for Western liberals in particular) appealing HDP has a definite agenda and policy program. However, it is simply never going to draw enough votes from the current pool of average conservative, ethnic Turkish voters.  Until a new center-right alternative comes along (and barring any major crises such as a full out economic crash or invasion of Syria) a great number of Turks will continue to vote AKP.  There is no other party that better suits their beliefs and interests, and hence the AKP numbers will remain relatively high.  Even a dislike for the main plank in the the AKP platform, namely a constitutional change in order to create a strong presidential system, seems to have not been enough to drive many AKP voters into the arms of another party.

There is no doubt that both the AKP and Erdogan consider their party’s showing to be dismal and downright embarrassing.  The AKP’s share of the vote dropped 9% from the last parliamentary election in 2011, but more telling the party went from enjoying a near super-majority to not even being able to form a single-party government.  The party leadership looked like they were listening to a eulogy during PM Davutoglu’s post-election speech.  President Erdogan for his part has gone into hiding.  During the election campaign, Erdogan crisscrossed the country and dominated the airwaves asking, neigh demanding, that Turks grant the AKP a super-majority and, more importantly, allow him to be installed as the real (and not just de facto) executive authority in the country.  The election result was a firm rebuke of Erdogan’s authoritarian dreams and I suspect that, given the unpopularity of a presidential system among even those who were likely to vote AKP, that many AKP voters are quietly happy with the result.

Michael Koplow argued in Foreign Affairs that Erdogan is still quite dangerous given the defacto powers he has accumulated and the fact that many outgoing AKP MPs will be drawn into his circle of advisers.  I agree that Erdogan’s political career is far from over, but the fact that he has not been able to yet been able to find a way to spin these results in his favor, or even fall back on blaming one of his imaginary legion of enemies, speaks volumes. There is also no way he will be able to continue on acting with the unchecked impunity as he has for the past year as President.  There is a reason that Erdogan campaigned so hard to have his powers officially enshrined in the constitution.  Without a constitutional change to a powerful Presidency, the parliament and Prime Minister still officially have the real power in government.  Erdogan knows this and hence put everything he had into trying to legally secure his position.  Irony is that unpopularity of the proposed presidential system was very likely a main contributing factor to the AKP’s loss of support.  The opposition parties, particularly the MHP which is most likely to partner with the AKP in a coalition government, have jumped on this and made it clear that will not work with an AKP which is dominated by Erdogan.  There is no way the AKP can move forward, and form a government, without addressing, and restraining, the Presidential elephant in the room.

The good news is that the Turkish people have definitively voiced their rejection of a president for life and a single party state in what was, despite widespread fears of fraud, a free election.  The bad news is that democracy requires more than periodic elections, and Turkey is still burdened with a sycophantic media, weak civil society, corrupt oligarchs, and a majoritarian approach to rights.  The country’s institutional system, and political culture, are still set up to allow one party or individual to accumulate undemocratic levels of power.  Addressing and fixing so many ingrained problems would be a challenge for the most united, progressive government let alone a coalition government which will be lucky just to be able to hold itself together.  The party with the most reformist agenda, the HDP, is unlikely even to be part of the ruling coalition. A majority of Turks voted for change, and they are likely to get their wish in the form of a cowed President, but much needed institutional reform probably won’t even make it to the parliamentary floor.  I still truly believe that Turkey has a brighter, more liberal future ahead of it but the road leading there will be long and require a drastic overhaul of both the political parties and the institutions that govern Turkey.

Written by ataturksrepublic

June 9, 2015 at 8:24 pm

Questioning the Outcome of Turkey’s Presidential Race

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Prime Minister Erdogan’s recent announcement of his candidacy to be Turkey’s first popularly elected President was, despite the AKP’s best efforts, utterly unsurprising. Erdogan and his party had been all but discussing it as a done deal for months prior. Now that his candidacy is official, commentators across the spectrum have largely been assuming that Erdogan’s electoral success is all but inevitable. Though Erdogan’s chances of winning are undoubtedly high, the effect that his two challengers will have on the August election, as well as how he will use the powers of his office if and when he does win, make the results of this election more unpredictable than it may first appear.

Erdogan’s rivals in this election are Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the joint candidate of the CHP/MHP parties and Selahattin Demirtaş, the candidate of the Kurdish HDP party. Ihsanoglu’s nomination was as surprising as Erdogan’s was predictable. Ihsanoglu is not a politician per se, let alone a member of either the CHP or MHP. Instead, he is a career diplomat and intellectual who most recently was the Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. His endorsement by the two largest opposition parties, and three smaller ones, caught the Turkish political community and its followers off guard. As far as I know, he was not on any analyst’s list of probable candidates.

In certain respects Ihasnoglu is a solid choice for a Presidential candidate.  Both his academic and professional work have centered around Islam, giving him the potential to appeal to Turkey’s pious majority.  His diplomatic career, as well as his statements since beginning his campaign, indicate that Ihsanoglu would confine his role as president to the traditional, a-political figurehead role.  His short campaign has already had some ups and downs, one low point being the bizarre campaign slogan announced yesterday, but Ihsanoglu has made a good faith effort to reach out to a variety of underrepresented groups in Turkey, including Alevis and supporters of the Gezi movement.  Though Ihsanoglu is certainly no match for Erdogan, arguably there are no current CHP or MHP politician that would potentially make a better candidate or draw more votes.  Ihsanoglu has little chance of making a dent in the AKP base, but will likely collect the disaffected voters from the former AKP block- youth, liberals and possibly others.

The Kurdish candidate, Demirtas, was a bit of surprise as well.  There had been speculations that the Kurdish party would back Erdogan’s candidacy, in part because of Erdogan’s role in the ongoing Kurdish-Turkish peace process.  Demirtas will certainly take votes away from Erdogan in the first round of voting; Kurdish voters are unlikely to support any CHP or MHP candidate because of both parties’ historic (and present) nationalism.

This brings up the first major question: Will Erdogan win a majority in the first round of voting?

If no candidate wins a majority in the August 10 ballots, then a second round of voting will be scheduled.  Analysts agree that if Erdogan were to not receive a majority in the first round, but then presumably go on to win in the second round, his mandate would be diminished.

This leads to the related question: What percentage of the vote can each candidate expect to receive?

While Turkish polls are notoriously unreliable and often purposely biased, the recent local elections can provide us with a rough prediction.  The AKP received about 43% of the vote, the CHP and MHP a combined 43% of the vote and the Kurdish parties 6% of the vote.  This breakdown corresponds roughly with some poll results.  Other polls, notably trumpeted by the pro-government media, show Erdogan getting a majority in the first round (here, here and here) but these same polls are cited in the international media as well.

Erdogan may or may not win in the first round of voting, but barring some political disaster on his part (there are still Turkish diplomats being held for ransom by terrorists after all) it is safe to assume that one way or another Erdogan will get his wish to become president.  However, if voting goes to a second round, Erdogan’s mandate to rule may very well be diminished.

This leads to the next question: How will Erdogan use his power as President?

He has notoriously promised to use all his constitutionally given powers, something that current President Gul has refrained from doing, and generally continue to maintain his tight grip on Turkish politics.  However, it is still not clear if Erdogan will be able to gather power and centralize it as he clearly wishes to.  His efforts to change the constitution to create a strong, central and basically unchecked presidency have been thwarted in the past and, despite Erdogan’s change of office, there is no indication that the current political situation will allow Erdogan and the AKP to successfully relaunch their constitutional initiative.

Despite efforts to bring the judiciary under executive control, local courts and most notably the Constitutional Court have exhibited a remarkable level of independence and commitment to the rule of law.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the Constitutional Court challenges Erdogan if and probably when he tries to overstep the constitutionally constrained bounds of the Presidency.

Finally there is the wild card of the next Prime Minister.  Current President Gul had initially denied the desire to fill this position, but rumors have been circulating lately that he may have changed his mind.  If Gul does eventually become PM (he would have to run and be elected to parliament first) some believe he may actually use the powers of the office to keep President Erdogan in check.  This would be constitutionally possible, but given Gul’s track record I remain skeptical.  However the fact remains that the next Prime Minister, whoever he may be (and it will be a he) will be able to challenge Erogan’s power if he so desires.

I have previously waxed optimistic about Turkey’s political future, probably overly so.  However, the future remains too uncertain to declare the end of Turkish democracy and assume that this election marks the beginning of Erdogan’s term as President for Life.  The political opposition remains divided and disorganized, but also makes up at least 50% of the population.  There is enough political discontent to keep Erdogan on his toes and, if there is a will in Parliament and the courts, make him fight for every inch of power.

A Turkish Liberal Democrat?

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A true liberal democrat is a rare species in Turkish politics but it appears that they do in fact exist.  Last week I attended a talk by a Turkish MP from Bursa Aykan Erdemir.  Erdermir is an interesting figure: a young Harvard PhD and former professor who was elected as  a CHP MP from the AKP dominated district of Bursa in 2011.  His talk, titled “Prospects for Pluralist Democracy in post-Gezi Turkey” painted a clear-eyed picture of the causes of the Gezi protests and real problems Turkey faces if it is to become a truly liberal democracy.

Erdemir identified a number causes that worked in conjunction to create popular uprisings in Turkey this summer.  He believes demographic changes that Turkey has been undergoing for the last several decades are central to growing political discontent.  The shift from large, extended families to small, nuclear ones has changed a formerly heavily patriarchal society into what he dubbed a “child-archal” society.  Erdemir believes that the patriarchal state is out of sync with the changing family dynamic; a dynamic which has resulted in an more individualist world-view amongst the younger generations.  He also mentioned the population shift from rural to urban areas, the growing export based economy and the increasing educational attainments of the average Turk as factors that have resulted in a significant societal shift.  Erdemir emphasized the ubiquitous of technology in Turkish society, specifically the use of smart phones, which has created greater access to larger world and competing ideological view points.

Erdemir quite rightly observed that this trend toward greater engagement with the world and intellectual pluralism cannot be “undone.” However, he identified a number of challenges facing those who wish to promote greater liberalness in Turkish society.  The Turkish State has few checks and balances and is becoming more efficient and competent and the bureaucracy is expanding.  This is bad news for groups such as the Gezi protesters as the government has more coercive power without any internal mechanism to check it.  Erdemir also discussed the phenomenon of the increasing conflation of the State and the ruling party in the minds of both those in power and the Turkish masses in general.  The ruling party has also engaged in what he termed “state capitalism” or “clientalism” but could also be given the cruder moniker of crony capitalism.  Erdemir also criticized the government for its censorship of the media and the increasing surveillance of citizens.  He did not criticize capitalism itself however and made a connection between market freedom and political freedom.

Erdemir did not shy away from another problem with a more personal connection: the lack of a credible opposition to the AKP.  He was optimistic about some of the changes his own party has undergone since Kemal Kilicdaroglu became chairman in 2010 but said that the party was only about halfway to where it needed to be.  Erdemir does not think that there will be a massive shift in favor of the CHP next election and believes that Turks would prefer the AKP with new leadership in place.  Clearly this is a reference to the more moderate Gul potentially replacing Erdogan as Turkey’s premier (either in the form of Prime Minister or a more empowered President).

From his district of Bursa, Erdemir has been able to observe what the more conservative elements of society think about the Gezi tumult.  Growing out of an Islamist past, the AKP has been criticized in recent years by numerous observers (including myself) for failing to remember the state oppression they fought against for so long and co-opting the same repressive measures of the previous, strictly secular governments.  Erdemir reported that at least some of the ordinary conservatives in his district were sensitive to the fact that the oppressed seemed to have become the oppressors.  He found that those ordinary Turkish conservatives were disillusioned to a certain extent by the events of this summer and expressed that this is not what they wanted from the AKP.

Erdemir emphasized multiple times that the CHP was a “social democratic” party but mentioned nary a word about the party’s “eternal chief“.  The CHP is officially a socialist party, in that it is part of the Socialist International association of political parties.  Interestingly,  Erdogan’s newest yes-man Yigit Bulut recently made headlines in Turkey for asserting that Erdogan is a “true socialist.”  This seemingly out of the blue comment could have been an awkward attempt at undermining the appeal of the CHP (though it was quickly dismissed by the official party spokesman).

In regards to the difficult regional problems Turkey is coping with, Erdemir criticized the “adventurous” foreign policy that the Turkish government has pursued over the last few years. As Assad himself recently warned, Erdemir believes Turkey’s funding of Syrian militants and the increasingly sectarian nature of the Syrian conflict could come back to haunt Turkey.  However, He also believes that Turkey can not be a democratic “island” in the sea of increasing chaos in the region and there needs to be a promotion of democracy in the region.  To quote: “You can’t be a democracy with Al-Qaida as your neighbor.”

From this talk as well as in his other media appearances and commentary in English, one can conclude that Erdemir is a rare true liberal in Turkish politics.  However, my Turkish is not good enough for me to fully analyze how he presents himself to a domestic audience.  I of course want to believe that there are real democrats in the Turkish government, but remain skeptical until I can get a good report on Erdemir’s rhetoric and reputation in Turkey.  If you are someone who is thus informed, please let me know about the “Turkish” Erdemir in the comments!

Written by ataturksrepublic

October 4, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Happy is he who calls himself a Turk

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With the hangover of the election upon, it is easy to feel like America has become a hopelessly divided society.  Left and Right have become identity markers that at times can seem to trump all other factors pulling people together or driving them apart.  The divisions currently plaguing  America were recently put in perspective by the sharper, more violent divides plaguing Turkey.  Turkey’s independence  day, known as Republic Day, celebrations last Monday marked by stark displays of Turkish disunity.  At center stage was the long-standing rivalry between the Islamist ruling party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP in Turkish) and Turkish secularists, historically organized under Ataturk’s People’s Republican Party (CHP in Turkish).  Previous to the holiday, PM Erdoğan had announced that public celebrations in the capital would not be permitted due to vague threats of violence.  This ban unsurprisingly angered secular citizens, who hold state holidays in a quasi-sacred regard.  Erdoğan’s banning of independence day celebrations could be compared, over-dramatically but not inaccurately, to informing devote Christians that they would not be allowed to publicly celebrate Christmas.  The ensuing clashes between the police and protestors last Monday overshadowed the official ceremonies conducted by the Prime Minister, President and members of the military.  Simultaneous to the controversies surrounding the Independence Day celebrations, another protest with life or death consequences has been playing out in Turkey’s southeast.  For almost two months now, imprisoned ethnic Kurds have been engaging in a hunger strike.  Their demands for Kurdish language and cultural rights, namely Kurdish-language primary education and the right to use Kurdish when mounting their defense, seem ridiculously basic to an outsider, especially an American.

These two protests may seem to be completely unrelated, but they both highlight Turkey’s painful internal divisions.  The division between religious and secular as well as Turk and Kurd dates to the founding philosophy of the Republic.  Atatürk was a true believer in the ethnically homogeneous nation-state model.  After having lived through the violent shattering of the Ottoman Empire along ethno-religious lines, it is not surprising that Atatürk believed that a strong Turkey could only be built upon a base of national ethnic unity and modern sensibilities.  In theory, anyone could/can be Turk so long as they accepted boundaries defined by Atatürk, namely that a true Turkish citizen is someone who speaks the Turkish language, practices Turkish cultural norms and is nominally Muslim but secular in practice.  For decades pious Muslims, though undeniably “Turkish” in every other way, were considered an “outsider” group.  They were (are) members of the “unconverted” masses that were expected to eventually see the light of Kemalist secularism and join the ranks of their “modern” Turkish brethren.  Kurds were similarly expected to be converted into Turks.  In the early Republic, Kurds were denied to exist.   They were deemed to be “mountain Turks,” semi-savage Turks who had forgotten their heritage.  To help them “regain” their Turkishness, Kurdish cultural practices and the public use of the Kurdish language were outlawed.

Now that the AKP is in power, the oppressed are becoming the oppressors.  Though they rose from the ranks of the marginalized pious classes, the AKP is a product of Turkish emphasis on uniformity.  They have shown that they have only marginally more sympathy for other oppressed groups in Turkey than previous governments.  Less surprisingly, the AKP, like the secular governments of the early Republic, is attempting to make it’s version of Turkish history the dominate narrative.  The Republic Day incident is simply the latest in a long line of historic and cultural spin in Turkey, which has included the building of museums, mosques and a general emphasis on Ottoman (read: Turkish Muslim) history over other aspects of Turkey’s rich heritage.

Despite the recent exchange of choice words between Erdoğan and the leader of the CHP, I have hope that pious and secular Turks can work out their political difference because they are just that, political.  However, it seems almost too obvious to state that Turkey’s Kurdish minority will continue to undermine the stability of the Republic until Kurds are given the full rights they deserve.  The AKP and its leaders need to draw empathy from its own experience as political outsiders and give in to the demands of the Kurdish hungerstrikers.  The acceptance of Kurds as both a distinct minority and full Turkish citizens is the only way to defeat the PKK and ensure the future strength and stability of the Turkish state.  If Erdoğan could achieve this, and I believe that he has the power to do so, he could become the founder of era of e pluribus unum in Turkey.

Written by ataturksrepublic

November 8, 2012 at 9:44 pm