Stockholm syndrome or a demand for stability?
How did the Justice and Development Party (AKP) secure an election victory on Sunday that even it was not expecting? How could a 13-year ruling party, which scored 40.8 percent in an election just five months ago, recuperate to reach almost 50 percent in repeat polls?
Did the Turkish nation become so masochistic as to vote for a political clan that has been systematically destroying the very foundations of the country’s secularist, pluralist democracy? Or has the nation fallen in love with a clan that has hijacked its democratic will in exchange for political and economic stability?
The answer to all and similar questions perhaps lies in the traumatic five months that Turkey has gone through since the June vote, which for the first time in 13 years saw an AKP without a parliamentary majority. On June 5, just two days before the last election, twin bombs did not only rattle the Diyarbakır rally ground of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). The wider impact of the blasts, which killed four people and left over 200 others in hospital, was to plunge the entire country into a chaotic, traumatic period.
The execution-type murders of security officers in their beds, in front of bank ATMs, or in markets while shopping with their wives, and the subsequent revival of separatist terrorist attacks on military posts, sending the body bags of loved ones every day to western Turkey, sent the country back into the “dark days.” It had almost forgotten about such days since the start in April 2013 of the “non-confrontation” period, as part of the “Kurdish opening.”
Although it could not win a sufficient majority to form a single-party government in June, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) did not want to form either a coalition or a minority government. Erdoğan designated Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to form the government almost a month after the vote, stretching time very liberally. Davutoğlu spent almost 10 days pondering what to do, later engaging in “exploratory talks” with the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) for 32 days, eventually declaring that a coalition with the CHP would not be possible just days before the end of the 45-day period after which the president could call for a repeat election. A last-minute meeting with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) did not produce results either, and Erdoğan did not feel the need to give the CHP leader or any other politician the mandate to try to form a new government, instead opting to take Turkey to a repeat election. The MHP’s rigid “no to anything that included the HDP” position ultimately also proved conducive to the AKP’s designs to force repeat elections.
So the Nov. 1 election was a “hand-made product” of the president and his handpicked prime minister.
The expectation of many through the campaign period was that the nation would punish Erdoğan’s “super-president obsession” by further decreasing the AKP votes. In the meantime, the Turkish Lira plunged to record lows, the economy went further astray, and panic took over amid fears that a coalition government could lead to serious economic consequences. Similarly, continued terrorism, particularly the Oct. 10 Ankara blasts that killed 102 people, served as a very strong alarm for the electorate, fearing that in the absence of a strong government there could be very serious security risks at the doorstep.
Cunning Erdoğan and Davutoğlu also played the “stability” card well, repeatedly underlining in their statements and public speeches that in the absence of political stability, neither economic stability can be sustained nor a determined anti-terrorism stance can be maintained.
Thus, on Nov. 1 the electorate voted to punish primarily the MHP, denying it four-percentage points of the 16 percent vote it received in June. Those votes went to the AKP. The AKP also received some votes from the Kurdish party, because of the failure of the HDP to distance itself from the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) gang. The search for stability helped the AKP recover some lost votes as well, which in the end managed to pull itself back to around 50 percent. The CHP remained where it was in June and the losers, besides Turkish democracy and freedoms, were the Kurdish and Turkish nationalist parties, the HDP and the MHP.
Was it Stockholm syndrome or the demand for stability that let the AKP come back so strong? Apparently it was both...