Sunday, October 25, 2015

An Election Primer: One Week to go until Turkey's Snap Elections (Turkey November 2015 election, part 2)

In just one week from today, Turkish citizens will return to the ballot box in a snap-election. In the previous election update blog post, I outlined the background of the election, and why the AKP opted to return the polls, in place of working to form a coalition government (after 13 years of single-party rule). Basically, as I stated before, the formation of an AKP led-coalition government seemed like an impossible feat, with the three other parties (CHP, MHP, and HDP) staunchly opposing its plan to transfer new powers to the nation's president (and its former party leader and prime minister), Recep Tayyip Erdogan, essentially creating a super-presidency for him.  

Unfortunately, on October 10, a little over a week after writing the election update, a massive twin suicide bombing attack went off in Ankara, killing 102 people, taking place at a peace rally, which was sponsored by labor unions, heavily attended by the mostly Kurdish left HDP party, and joined by a symbolic representation from the main opposition party, the CHP. The alleged perpetrators were ISIS sympathizers who were known by the state's internal security, highlighting its failure to prevent the attack.  

Just days later, I explained in an article for Haaretz, entitled Bombs, Bans, and the Ballot Box*, why the attack had not come as a surprise: 

Over the course of the last few months, the mostly Kurdish HDP has been the target of violent attacks, including a deadly bomb attack at their election rally just two days before the June 7 parliamentary elections, and an ISIS linked-suicide attack targeting a socialist youth group affiliated with the HDP on July 20, killing 33. These major security breaches made it clear to all that another attack was highly likely. Last month, HDP offices around Turkey were vandalized and burnt to the ground in racist attacks, with the police remaining largely indifferent.

and the following:

Sadly, the Ankara bombing victims make up just part of Turkey’s rampant death toll during the last few months. Since the June elections, over 600 Turkish citizens have been killed, whether in terrorist attacks, or Turkish security forces by the PKK, or in operations carried out by the Turkish army in the southeast of the country which is under partial military curfew, or PKK fighters (who are also Turkish citizens) killed by the army. Indeed, during the elections Erdogan insisted that only an absolute AKP majority would ensure Turkey’s “peaceful” transition to a new presidential system, leaving many to believe that he was actually threatening the electorate, and that things could get messy if it did not give the AKP a clear majority. Regardless of what he actually meant, his prediction seems to have been right on.

The bombings left Turkey in a state of shock, leaving the country more polarized than ever. 

So, now, what is in store for next week?

Since the summer, most polls have predicted more-or-less the same results as the June 7 elections, with it most likely leaving the AKP, and the other parties, in a similar dilemma. Nevertheless, here are my impressions of the election campaign and what we might learn from the last few months:

1. For the current election, despite still clearly in control of the party, Erdogan has learned that the electorate has become tired of his polarizing politics, and thus took a step back in attempt to look more "presidential." However, the problem is that without Erdogan, it seems Davutoglu is not the best candidate to energize the masses, and he seems to have better luck in his normal role as a professor in the classroom, or a politician working behind the scenes. In fact, in a recent poll, when asked which leader do you think is most successful, Davutoglu got a measly 4%, with Erdogan getting the highest, with his numbers showing a decline as well.

2. Lately, Davutoglu also seems to be taking the route of polarizing politics, which certainly will not bring new votes in-especially the Kurdish voters who flocked in masses to the HDP. First, he showed a great amount of insensitivity towards the victims and families of the Ankara bombing, stating just over a week after the bombings that the AKP had seen a surge in the polls following the attack. 

If this was not enough, Davutoglu also recently commented that if the AKP is unseated, the Southeastern Kurdish regions could see the return of "white Toros" brand cars back on the streets. This has been interpreted by many as a threat since that automobile model was notorious in the 1990s of being used by gangs believed to be undercover security forces, who caused havoc on the civilian population, while whisking away people, often never to be seen again. Whether a threat or not, just the mention of it brings back dark memories for many Kurds. 

3. For the reasons stated above, it seems hard to imagine that the AKP will gain votes, with common sense pointing to it actually losing support. However, if it does gain votes, this will be attributed to the fact that many Turkish people simply see that stability trumps the chaos experienced in the last few months, and will not be attributed to Davutoglu's campaign.

4. Over the last few violent months, the opposition CHP leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has emerged as an experienced politician, showing a great amount of leadership. With the mounting attacks and deaths of the Turkish security forces on the one hand, and the attacks on Turkey's Kurdish population on the other, Kilicdaroglu has served as an important stabilizing factor, trying his best to keep Turkey from going completely off the rails. This fact alone could bring new votes to the CHP, and has created a since of momentum, which could attract some young voters back who voted for HDP in the last round. However, the party still needs to take serious steps at implementing reforms if it wishes to become a party that is able one day to surpass 30% of the overall vote (having consolidated CHP support at around 25%). Of course, a young dynamic leader would be the way to start this. However, that is easier said than done.  

5. Due to the election process, despite getting 16.3% of the vote, the MHP ended up with the same number of seats in the parliament as the HDP, which recieved 13.1 % (following the defection of one of their candidates to the AKP). Therefore, it is clear that this elections could deal a fatal blow to the MHP, if its numbers drop and the HDP votes surge, which would make it the smallest party in the parliament. For now, its leader, Devlet Bahceli is holding the party's reins tight, even after having Tugrul Turkes (the son of the iconic party founder, Alparslan Turkes) defect to the AKP. However, if its numbers drop, it is hard to imagine that Bahceli will be able to hold on to the party much longer. In the meantime, any extra votes to the MHP will hit at the AKP chances of gaining new votes.

6. The million-dollar question in this election is if the HDP can maintain, or even increase its votes, in this election. It was this party's crossing the 10% threshold that shook the Turkish politics at its core. It seems safe to say it will cross the 10% threshold again (if it does not this will increase fears of election fraud). However, with violence and military curfews being enforced over many of the Kurdish regions, election observers need to be diligent in making sure the vote is transparent and voters are able without hindrance to cast their votes.

The HDP, under the numerous attacks, which in addition to the bombings included the looting and burning down of their offices throughout the country, obviously could not put on the dynamic campaign it did leading up to the June elections. However, its charismatic co-chairman Selahattin Demirtas has demonstrated his dedication to keep the party on track, and has proven his ability to be a major player in Turkish political system for a long time coming. If the party loses votes, this could be attributed to its lack of influence in getting the PKK to stop attacks against the Turkish military (regardless if this is a realistic claim or not). However, this could be offset by a new group of silent voters who have been influenced by the party's motivation to run a clean campaign that still offers a genuine voice to Turkey's minorities and its dedication to change the "old system" of Turkey once and for all. 

While a coalition government following the next elections seems likely, we will need to wait until then to discuss the possibilities! Let us hope that whatever the outcome, Turkey will see brighter days in the near future.  

*The article is also featured on my blog


  1. Nice, informative article. Thanks.

    Firstly, I want to say that the nature of the election system and the state of things leading to this Sunday's election is FAR FROM ideal. The 10 percent threshold thing is still in effect; and I have a bad feeling that it will continue to be in effect for quite some time. Yes, now, there is very little possibility of HDP not passing this threshold; but that's not the point. This threshold is a ridiculuosly high one, with no similar one to it in Europe. Also, if this threshold was reduced to, for example 4 or 5 percent, there would be SOME possibility of BBP/SP (two small conservative parties with nationalist and Islamist leanings, which joined forces in June) passing that threshold and gaining a few seats, possibly at the expense of AKP seats.

    Also, the state of things leading to the election is FAR FROM ideal. The mainstream media is again tilted towards Erdogan and AKP. HDP has a hard time getting air time in most TV channels.

    Also, in Kurdish regions, there is now heavy police presence, which could intimidate many voters and could also cause voting irregularities, at the expense of HDP and in favor of AKP of course.

    Secondly, I want to write about my guess regarding the election result. If there is little or no election fraud, similar results (to June election) will happen, I think. AKP will be somewhere in the range of 38-43 percent, and the other 3 main parties will get more or less similar percentage to what they got in June. The thing is, then, what will Erdogan want ? Yet another election in March or April, 2016 ? If so, he could play the same game as in summer; taking his time in some processes and moves, while telling Davutoglu what to do and not to do. I think sadly this is very likely. I think there is another realistic possibility: AKP-MHP coalition. I have a feeling Bahceli will this time agree to this coalition, if he gets some important ministries .

    As for AKP-CHP or AKP-HDP coalitions, I give these only very little possibility.

    As for CHP-MHP-HDP coalition (the only way AKP can be left out of government), I don't see this happening at all, due to Bahceli's extremely negative attitude towards HDP.

    There are also 'minority-government' scenarios, But I think they are unlikely.

    And, finally, there is of course the possibility of AKP getting at least 276 seats and forming a government on its own. If unexpected number of voters leave MHP for AKP, plus if some election fraud happens, this could occur. If this happens, I expect real dark days for Turkey ! Increasing polarisation, increasing security-personnel operations in Kurdish regions (meaning more deaths), increasing censorship and oppressive laws, increasing Islamisation, and deteriorating Turkey-West relations.



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