Turkey’s opposition not falling into antagonism trap
Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan has been using a very simple and efficient tactic in all elections since he won the first one in 2002 when his Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) took power.
It can be summarized in a few steps: Reduce the parameters to one, make a political target and construct your campaign in such a way as to show that if all opposition parties unite against you, escalate the antagonism and extend your zone of influence by using standard perception manipulation methods that will show you as the suffering victim despite being in power.
It is amazing to observe that it has worked so far. In the 2007 elections, that target was the military, and the military gave Erdoğan more than enough material through its outdated and hollow threats against the election of Abdullah Gül as president. Erdoğan’s close alliance with Fethullah Gülen, the Islamist ideologue living in the U.S. with an extensive network in the judicial, security and education bureaucracies, had started before that elections.
That alliance was strengthened in referendums in which people voted to elect the president in 2007 and to amend the constitution in 2010, as well as elections in 2011 when Gülen asked his followers to get up from their graves and cast their votes for the AK Parti. In the meantime, massive court cases were continuing against academics, journalists and military people on charges of undermining the government. The theme of the 2011 elections was again one: A potential coup threat around the corner.
The alliance between Erdoğan and Gülen started to shatter in 2012 and Erdoğan’s suspicions that Gülen had turned against him reached a peak with the opening of Turkey’s biggest corruption probes on Dec. 17 and 25, 2013. Erdoğan started a campaign denouncing Gülenists in the state apparatus as a “parallel structure;” those policemen, prosecutors and judges who were great help to Erdoğan in exposing the threat against him in 2007 and 2011 elections were now denounced as public enemies.
The opposition parties, mainly the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), repeated their mistakes of 2007 and 2011 in the local elections of March 2014 and the presidential elections in August 2014, playing into the hands of Erdoğan by building their election campaigns almost entirely on the wrongdoings of Erdoğan, instead of telling people about their programs and pledges. The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which is focused on the Kurdish problem, joined that picture in 2014 as well. That was exactly what Erdoğan wanted. He presented a virtual alliance of the foreign financial circles, Gülenists and the opposition parties as an evil front against the people’s will, represented by himself. And he won once again, being elected as president of the country.
It seems all three major opposition parties have understood what they have been doing wrong ahead of the June 7 elections. All of them are now focused on campaigning about what they want to do if they have a chance to come to power. The CHP and the HDP are in a race to increase their economic promises to blue- and white-collar employees, the unemployed and retired persons, while also promising subsidies on agriculture and praising the role of women. The moves have put Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in the position of having to explain to the people why they cannot give more money and social rights to them while the opposition is hitting hard on not-so-necessary expenses like a new palace for the presidency, expensive cars for government officials and the use of government resources in the election campaign of the AK Parti.
The MHP’s program is likely to focus on more economic and social rights as well. And it seems the opposition parties have remained focused on what they have to say, despite all the efforts by Erdoğan, Davutoğlu and government members to set traps so that they will attack the AK Parti to raise antagonism, which is expected to help Erdoğan again play the victim card to secure a strong presidency through a clear AK Parti victory.
This was not something that the AK Parti was expecting. And the attempts to scare voters with an impossible, three-party coalition does not seem to be working after statements by the opposition parties.
But with the unfair 10 percent hurdle against the HDP presence in parliament still being a question ahead of the elections, it is not clear yet whether it will be able to stop Erdoğan from becoming the super-president of Turkey.