Democracy and the peace process: Post-election in Turkey

Democracy and the peace process: Post-election in Turkey

Ali E. Erol - Doğa Ulaş Eralp*
For the first time since 2002, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, which has been leading Turkish politics for more than a decade, lost its majority and will not be able to form a government as a single party. Although the AKP still led the ballots in Sunday’s election, this is the first time they saw such a decline in its votes and many are considering this victory a defeat. 

This defeat, however, comes at a very crucial time. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had been asking for support for the AKP, hoping they would secure more than 330 of the 550 seats in parliament - the number required to force a referendum. The purpose was to scrap the parliament and establish a presidential system with President Erdoğan bidding to rule.

What changed President Erdoğan’s plans was the pro-democracy Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, which managed to capture the votes mainly from the Kurdish east and liberal urban voters in the west. The HDP managed to do away the non-democratic 10 percent election threshold with a record 13 percent of the vote, securing 80 seats in parliament. The election result was a grand step towards democracy, amid cries of increasing authoritarianism in Turkey. After a very long time, the Armenian and Roma minorities will be represented in parliament. Similarly, the number of women representatives increased to 98 in the 550-seat parliament. 

One of the most important outcomes of the election was its anticipated contribution to the peace process, which had been put on hold and saw some significant setbacks over the past couple months thanks to the recent polarizing discourse and politics of the AKP and President Erdoğan. The HDP increasing its votes in all 81 provinces in Turkey sends a clear message that the public wants the peace process to go on and does not want to see further bloodshed. The new government, in whatever shape or form, needs to take this message into consideration. 

Turkey’s Kurds, who form the largest minority in Turkey, have historically been suppressed. For the last 30 years, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, has been fighting against the Turkish state. Under the last three AKP governments, Kurds have seen some of their rights increase. Most significantly, after a brutal continuation of the civil war in the course of the past five years, the PKK and the state agreed on a cease-fire that is still in effect as of today. For that reason alone, strong representation of the Kurdish political movement along with progressives from the west is a critical sign that the Turkish public wants serious progress in the peace process. This is a message that all Turkish politicians should be taking seriously.

*Ali E. Erol and Doğa Ulaş Eralp are professorial lecturers at American University, Washington D.C.