Monday, May 30, 2011

Turkey's political topography ahead of the June 12 elections


This is how Turkey's political topography ahead of the June 12 elections looks. According to surveys, there are only three or four parties expected to be represented in the coming Parliament.
It would be a big surprise if the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan fails to win at least a majority of the contested 550 seats to continue to govern the country for a third consecutive term.

The AKP has been able to raise its share of the national vote from 34 percent in 2002 to 47 in 2007, and is according to surveys likely to perform nearly as well in 2011. It has the support of nearly half of the electorate, mainly because it has been able to achieve economic stability and growth, thereby nearly doubling the average per capita income. It also took measures, albeit modest, to improve the uneven distribution of income. Through a resolute struggle it managed to curb the tutelary powers of the civilian-military bureaucracy that are in conflict with democracy. The Kurdish problem has yet to be solved, but the official denial of the Kurds has come to an end. It has significantly enhanced Turkey's international prestige and soft power.

There are, however, increasing concerns about the AKP's performance in its third term in power. The list of candidates for the June 12 election handpicked by Erdoğan has created much disappointment even among the AKP's own constituency. The list seems to reflect Erdoğan's expectation of full obedience from the party's parliamentary group. His suggestions of introducing a presidential system on the French, and even Russian, model, is highly disturbing. That there is not a single spokesperson for the Alevis among AKP candidates greatly cripples the party's claim to be the party of the entire nation. It is increasingly worrying for many that with a mentality of economic growth at all costs, the AKP government has little consideration for the environment and seems determined to build nuclear power plants with little preparation for it, and despite the fact that two-thirds of the people are opposed.

Despite growing criticism, the AKP is posed to win a third term. Problems may arise, however, if it manages to win 330 or more seats in Parliament, thereby attaining the possibility of drawing up the promised new constitution entirely on its own initiative. A constitution drafted without consensus between parties is not likely to meet the requirements of democratic consolidation so badly needed. If, however, the AKP gets less than 330 seats, there is the danger that Erdoğan might shelve the idea of a new and democratic constitution.

For democracy to function properly, a strong opposition committed to democratic values is absolutely necessary. The initiative of its new leadership to commit the party to a liberal democracy rather than to the bureaucratic tutelage regime has raised hopes of the Republican People's Party (CHP) eventually being transformed into the credible alternative government party that the country has lacked during the last decade. Its list of candidates filled with suspects on trial in the case against the Ergenekon criminal network and right-wing figures and the incoherencies of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu's discourse during the campaign have dashed hopes. If Kılıçdaroğlu fails to score better in the polls as compared to the local elections in 2009, he risks a return of the old guard headed by former leader Deniz Baykal.

In order for Kurdish demands to be properly represented in the drawing up of the new constitution and for violence to come to an end, it is important that the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) form a larger group in this Parliament. The BDP's insistence, however, on being the sole representative of the Kurds, which does not at all correspond to Kurdish realities, is leading to divisive conflict among the Kurds. Its performance is perhaps best portrayed by the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan, who recently said that the BDP does not properly avail itself of opportunities provided by democratic politics.

If the CHP traditionally represents the authoritarian secularism of Kemalism, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) represents its Turkish nationalism. Under Kılıçdaroğlu's leadership the CHP, by abandoning the “secularism is in danger” litany and distancing itself from authoritarian secularism, is attempting to attract votes from among religious Sunnis. The MHP, on the other hand, is repositioning itself to fill the hard-line secularist space left by the CHP and thereby garnering the votes of part of the traditional CHP constituency. Surveys, however, indicate that the MHP may not be able to surpass the threshold, having offended part of its own religious constituency. The failure of the MHP to gain seats would not only cripple the representativeness of the coming Parliament but would increase the risk of radicalization among the MHP's rank and file.

For all the main reasons discussed above, the June 2011parliamentary election may be held under more normal conditions than the previous one, but it is likely to have a profound impact on Turkey's future course.

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