Turkey: The land of permanent elections

Turkey: The land of permanent elections

On Aug. 21, President Tayyip Erdoğan announced the news: On Nov. 1, Turkey will go to ballots again, for yet another general election that will form yet other set of deputies in the Turkish Parliament. 

This was, as word has it, something that Erdoğan was looking forward to since the previous election held on June 7. On that day, his party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), lost its parliamentary majority after 13 years. This meant, for many citizens, that the electorate had opted for a coalition government. But for Erdoğan and his team, the June results meant that the electorate had made a grave mistake, which had to be corrected soon.

This “mistake” was, of course, the significant decline in AKP votes — from 50 percent in 2011 to 41 percent this summer. As various commentators have argued in the pro-government media, this was in fact an “unintended” result. The electorate had wanted to “warn” the AKP for some its excesses, but it went a bit too far in this “warning.” The morning after the election, the same electorate felt sorry for what it had done, which caused the AKP to sadly lose its absolute power. As a result, the only way to correct this anomaly would be to hold “renewed elections.”
This view in the pro-Erdoğan camp, along with the rigidness of the second opposition party, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), is the main reason why Turkey could not form a coalition government over the 70 days that has passed since June 7. Word has it that Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and some other moderates in the AKP wanted to form a coalition with the main opposition, because of the bleak political and economic scene. But (again word has it) Erdoğan never allowed them to do so, because he was sure that the “mistake” on June 7 would be easily corrected if the nation goes to the ballots again.

Why are Erdoğan and the AKP hawks so confident that they will increase their votes in November? Well, one answer is their triumphalist political narrative, which they pump for propaganda but also believe in, at least to some extent. Accordingly, the AKP era marks not just an ordinary governmental shift, but a regime chance that will define the whole 21st century. They have declared goals for 2023, the centennial of the Republic, and even 2071, marking the millennial of the Turks’ conquest of Anatolia. How could such a grand (even “holy”) vision be allowed to stumble because of some “mistaken” voters?

On a more earthly level, Erdoğan probably calculates that the political uncertainty since June 7, and its negative effects on the economy, will make some voters seek “stability” again, and thus opt for the AKP. Another game changer could be the re-escalated war with the PKK, which may again make some voters opt for a “strong” (and heavy-handed) government. (Though this does not prove the war with PKK is an Erdoğan-hatched conspiracy. Even if it were, the PKK could undo it easily by simply declaring a ceasefire.)

But there is also a risk for Erdoğan: In November the voters may say, “enough with all this lust for power” and decide to further punish the AKP. The upcoming elections on Nov 1, in other words, might not be the “correction” that Erdoğan hopes to see. One wonders what would happen then. Would the AKP finally go for a coalition government with the CHP? Or would the president give us a new dictum: “Elections will be permanently renewed until the right results are achieved.” I have no idea. For, as I have learned over the years - and especially in the past two - anything can happen in this mind-boggling country.