Two different Turkeys in five months
The Nov. 1 polls results are clear: The Justice and Development Party (AKP) increased its votes by around nine points since the June polls and re-gained the government it lost. The three oppositional parties, different from the June elections, have lost large amounts of votes and therefore, the chance to share the government with the ruling party. The question here is what happened in the last five months that brought about such a dramatic reverse on the political landscape? Although the answer is more about sociology and the socio-economic state of the Turkish people, let’s try to frame a political explanation for this.
Multiple developments have happened between the two elections to the advantage of the ruling party.
However, before an assessment on these developments, it should be stressed how the Turkish people became annoyed with growing instability in the country in recent months, which prompted a change in their mind to vote for the ruling party. The political vacuum in the last five months recalled the bad memories of the 1990s during which Turkey had to be ruled by unsuccessful coalition governments. Therefore, the notion of stability prevailed on Sunday’s Nov. 1 elections.
One of the most important differences between the June and November polls is that the latter occurred amid much violence and terror attacks, which Turkey has not witnessed for a very long time. Turkey was rocked with two major terrorist attacks in these five months: one in Suruç in July and the other in Ankara in October, as suicide bombers of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) killed dozens of civilians in the most brutal way. It was in this period the government launched military attacks against the ISIL threat that terrorized the entire nation.
Like ISIL, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) resumption of its violent acts against the Turkish army and the police added additional disturbance to Turkish public opinion. The Turkish army’s heavy military engagement against the terrorists in the face of PKK attacks that killed hundreds of security personnel in this period has added additional support from the especially nationalist leaning citizens of Turkey.
Both President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s strongly worded accusations against the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have apparently received positive reactions from nationalist voters. Therefore, the AKP appeared as the sole political structure that could fight against terrorism and bring about comfort to the country.
MHP leader’s collapse
On the political level, one of the most important reasons why the AKP could boost its votes is the fact that the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli lost almost all his credit among his grassroots because of its never-ending negative political understanding. The MHP’s nationalist and conservative grassroots seemingly did not hesitate to vote for the AKP as they have cut their hopes of their leader.
Bahçeli’s failure in keeping his party intact as he could not stop one of his deputies, Tuğrul Türkeş, from departing to the AKP was one of the last blows dealt to his leadership.
HDP shaken as well
Only months after its historical victory of a 13 percent vote, the HDP, this time, only barely made the 10 percent threshold, although it has now become the third party in the parliament. For many, this decline is because conservative Kurds have taken back their support from the HDP for the AKP, due to their disturbance with PKK-led efforts to create cantons and self-autonomous regions in the southeastern Anatolia region.
The PKK’s increased terrorist activities also upset and angered these circles accompanied by local entrepreneurs and businessmen who have been suffering because of a growing instability in the region.
CHP frustrated by results
The social democrat main opposition party preserved its votes and even increased the number of its seats in the parliament but hardly anyone is content with the results. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) pursued a positive and constructive election campaign and even cancelled many of their rallies due to the tragic Ankara bombings. It seems the low-profile election campaign of the CHP did not work to the advantage of the party.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the CHP, is believed to be frustrated with the results and his leadership will be surely challenged at the upcoming party convention later this year.
Free and fair elections?
Although the June 7 elections were both free and equal, the conditions of Nov. 1 were much poorer than the previous one. In the last five months, the Turkish media was under growing pressure, with physically violent attacks on independent media outlets and journalists by the pro-government figures and newspapers.
Newspapers and television channels were seized by state institutions only days before the elections, while almost all public and private broadcasters only served the ruling party and the president. State means have also been heavily used by the government. It was under these conditions that the AKP could increase its votes to its 2011 level by garnering every other person’s vote.
In sum, it could also be said that two different Turkeys voted in the last five months, whose result would perhaps lead to what the government officials have been long willing for the “new Turkey.” We will all together see what this new Turkey will look like.