A broad consensus is emerging among observers that the process and outcome of Turkey’s parliamentary elections on November 1 accurately reflected voter preferences. At least, that is the message that we are being given by individual election monitors at ballot boxes and independent monitoring bodies such as Oy ve Otesi (Vote and Beyond). Despite instances of impropriety, few will contest the outcome of the election, which has ensured a near 50% vote share for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and a commanding majority of seats in parliament (317/550).
But that is a far cry from saying that Turkey’s electoral process was ‘free and fair.’ Since the Gezi protests of 2013, it has become redundant to reiterate that freedom of expression and the competitive nature of politics are being stifled. These days, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that Turkey is sliding into regime change: away from competitive parliamentarianism, to autocratic presidentialism.
Since the promulgation of the corruption allegations in December 2013 that implicated President Erdogan, his immediate and extended family, as well as the highest echelons of the AKP, all resources of the Turkish state have been mobilized to protect and augment the power base of Erdogan and the AKP. The two recent elections are an integral part of this strategy. Erdogan, who did not like the result of the June 7 elections, mobilized the AKP to sabotage the coalition talks and subsequently instructed the Higher Electoral Council to call for the November 1 elections. Put simply, had the AKP not obtained a strong majority in parliament, any coalition scenario would have likely brought with it an unwanted government program: corruption investigations against the Erdogans, the AKP, and publication of government spending audits, which are currently suppressed.
The intended goal of this election was for the AKP to gain a minimum of 330 seats that are required to amend the constitution, which in turn would facilitate the consolidation of Erdogan’s presidential powers. The AKP failed to reach that threshold, yet the ruling party regained its parliamentary majority, which allows Erdogan to maintain his strong position to seek out and eliminate his enemies. By accumulating so much power, Erdogan will now be free to label any opponent as enemies of the state, or in AKP terminology, ‘enemies of the national will’.
This process is already under way. In the realm of private media outlets, the government has seized several opposition newspapers and TV channels, and delivered piecemeal rebukes of violent attacks against TV anchors by AKP officials. Such attacks against journalistic freedoms is likely to increase, with rumors suggesting that the increasingly critical Dogan media group, Cumhuriyet and Posta newspapers could be seized and/or closed down. Reason and rationality are giving way to a euphoria-induced processes of revenge and punishment against those who dare to question the illiberal practices of a popularly elected government. A near 50 % vote share is being interpreted by the AKP as a mandate to co-opt or pressure all dissidents and critics into accepting Erdogan’s right to rule with minimum adherence to transparency and accountability. Indeed, at present we have no conclusive evidence that there was any massive impropriety in the result of the election. But what if credible evidence were to emerge (see Erik Meyersson’s emerging electoral analyses)? Is there any government body in Turkey that would investigate such allegations?
Not likely: since the Gezi protests of 2013, AKP governments, under the tutelage of President Erdogan, have ensured the emergence of an AKP-compliant bureaucracy. We can now speak of a regime in Turkey that is fully committed to establishing a governance structure, where all agencies of the state are expected to serve the will of the president without question. From this we can expect no prosecutor to file a lawsuit questioning the validity of the election results, even in the face of good evidence which may come out in due course. We are also unlikely to witness any court which would accept to hear the case. Any such accusation questioning the outcome of the election would be branded as an unacceptable repudiation of the ‘national will’ that was delivered at the ballot box, and the persons pursuing the case severely punished.
When the AKP was established in the 2001, individuals who sought to be affiliated with the party were expected to demonstrate loyalty to the party and its ’cause’. In time, this requirement has mutated into demonstrating loyalty to one man and his cause: Tayyip Erdogan. Such requirements are now being mandated to hold government positions and fundamentally weakening the structural integrity of the Turkish state, its democratic traditions and institutional pluralism. If this process is to continue unrestricted and unchecked, holding elections will likely be an acclamatory formality to hail the pursuits of one man.
Turkey’s allies such as the United States and European Union should be gravely concerned. The question “what kind of an ally are we stuck with?” echoes in Washington and Brussels, but beyond simple platitudes of calling upon Erdogan and the AKP to uphold expressional freedoms, international actors are reluctant to apply further pressure on Turkey. Europe needs Turkey to help manage the Syrian refugee crisis and the U.S. requires Turkey’s cooperation and air bases to strike the Islamic State. Could it be the case that Erdogan has not only consolidated his domestic position, but also has the EU and U.S. over a barrel?
The above article was originally published on November 16, 2015 by The World Post.
Post written by: Dr. Sinan Ciddi, Executive Director of the Institute of Turkish Studies at Georgetown University
Dr. Ciddi will be presenting at a public Alaska World Affairs Council program on Friday, February 26th, noon at the Hilton Hotel Downtown. For biographical information and event registration, visit the event page here.