Turkey’s tortoise-speed democratic revolution

Turkey’s tortoise-speed democratic revolution

It was no joke for millions of Turks who queued in front of ballot boxes in the early hours of the day to cast their votes and determine the fate of their country, as well as the fate of the country’s absolute power-seeking president. Was President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the ballot? Was it a referendum on presidential powers?

Neither Erdoğan was on the ballot nor was it a referendum on constitutional amendments that might usher in an era of super-presidency. However, the election ultimately turned into a referendum on whether the nation supported Erdoğan’s demand to endow the presidency with unprecedented executive powers that might comprehensively change Turkey’s governance system, from a parliamentary system to a presidential one with almost no checks and balances.

Pre-election polls all predicted that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) would still be the first party and would most likely would come to power for a fourth straight term, but Turks were not at all enchanted with the idea of a super president and would deny the AKP the required majority to undertake the constitutional reforms demanded by Erdoğan. 

Vote counting was still continuing when this article was penned. However, it was already apparent that the obvious losers of the election were the ruling AKP and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), while the winners were the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Is Turkey tilting towards nationalism? Was it because of such a tilt that Turkish and Kurdish nationalist parties advanced while the AKP and the CHP retreated? That is too early to discuss.

Will the AKP be able to form the government alone for a fourth straight term? Many may say that “the master is gone” and the “Hodja [Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu] has failed.” Was it that simple? Unfortunately not. Davutoğlu was joined by a separate campaign from President Erdoğan, who tried to secure sufficient strength for “his party” to elevate himself to his much desired “super president” or “Turkey’s Putin” position.

So who failed, Davutoğlu or Erdoğan? Of course the answer is clear, Davutoğlu is the absolute loser of this election, but it was said well before the start of the election campaign that it was impossible for him to win anyway. Why? Had he won enough seats to elevate Erdoğan to the position of “super president,” Davuoğlu would become a lame duck; had he failed, Erdoğan would get rid of him and continue with someone else. Now, what will Erdoğan do other than asking Davutoğlu to form a coalition government and forget about his grandiose delusions?

The other bitter reality of this election was the fact that the HDP painted with its own colors a large area of Turkey’s map. Irrespective of how loud some people may scream “There is no Kurdish problem,” it has become clear that there will be a Kurdish reality in parliament with a very strong presence. If not listened to very carefully, the voice coming from the southeast is indeed an alarm bell for the integrity of Turkey if the Kurdish issue is not resolved in a manner that safeguards national and territorial integrity while satisfying the fundamental demands of the Kurdish people of this country.

Right, Erdoğan was not a candidate. The election was not a referendum on a super-presidency. But the Turkish people shouted strongly enough for everyone to hear: We do not want a presidential system. We do not want dictatorship. We want reconciliation. we want tolerance. 

What Turkey experienced on Sunday was a democratic revolution, though one moving at the speed of a tortoise.