Turkey’s dilemma, Erdoğan’s dilemma

Turkey’s dilemma, Erdoğan’s dilemma

When Donald Tusk, the president of the European Union Commission, met with Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan on Sept. 9 in Ankara, Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Ali Haydar Konca was not present.

Konca, also an MP for the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), was together with an HDP delegation trying to reach Cizre, a border town near Iraq, on foot because security forces did not allow a cabinet minister to drive in the town, which has been under a curfew since Sept. 4. Actually, two ministers, since Development Minister Müslüm Doğan, also an HDP member, were in the group led by HDP co-chairman Selahattin Demirtaş.

Yesterday, on Sept. 10, Interior Minister Selami Altınok said the curfew in Cizre enforced for a week now will continue and the police would not let the HDP get into the town. In another words, Turkey’s interior minister prevented the EU minister and development minister from entering a town in the country.

If that sounded absurd to you, please be patient enough to read more. As the two ministers in Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti)-led coalition government kept walking towards Cizre, President Erdoğan was denouncing them to Tusk in a joint press conference as assisting terrorists, meaning the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), asking them to make a choice between democracy and terrorism, otherwise they would be treated as terrorists.

The coalition government is not a coalition of willing parties; it is a constitutional must after Erdoğan declared a reelection on Nov. 1, to repeat the one on June 7. When the AK Parti, which had been single-handedly ruling the country for the last 13 years, lost its parliamentary majority on June 7, Erdoğan though it might risk his target to exercise extensive executive powers, de facto, if not de jure under an AK Parti government. The coalition talks failed, Erdoğan declared a reelection and a “temporary government” was to be formed with the participation of all parties in the government, plus technocrats. But the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) refused to give any members to this coalition of the unwilling.

In the joint press, Erdoğan condemned the attacks on the HDP buildings by right wing groups, but also made the HDP a target of his criticism.

Tusk as well condemned the PKK attacks, in which more than 100 military, police officers and civilians and an undisclosed number of militants were killed in the past 50 days, when the organization resumed its acts of terror after a pause of three years during a dialogue with the Erdoğan-Davutoğlu governments.

Tusk condemned the attacks on HDP buildings together with the attacks on the headquarters of daily Hürriyet newspaper as well. Erdoğan has not used any word against the Sept. 6 and 8 attacks on Hürriyet, the most influential mainstream paper in Turkey. 

Erdoğan did actually want a reelection, hoping that it could be a second chance for the AK Parti to regain power and his de facto presidential system. Thinking that it was the dialogue with the PKK which had caused the erosion of votes, he put pressure on Davutoğlu to pause the dialogue. The PKK, which thought that it was time for a hypothetical Kurdistan revolution -encouraged by their fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria together with the U.S.-led coalition -, resumed its attacks, triggering the government’s massive military retaliation campaign.

The tension is escalating as the country heads for an election on Nov. 1. Turkey’s dilemma is to have the election already and move on to better days. Erdoğan wants to have stronger executive powers with weaker checks-and-balances, but under the circumstances he is not likely to achieve the majority he wanted, according to recent polls. And Turkey still has fifty-plus days before the election.