Friday, March 28, 2014

A Short take on the BDP/HDP: From Turkey's Southeastern Kurdish Regions to Istanbul (Turkish Local Election Coverage 2014, 6)

Just months before the election campaign began, the Kurdish Peace and Democratic Party (BDP), who has 26 seats in the Turkish parliament, split, with three of its members, Sirri Sureyya Onder, Sebahat Tuncel, and Ertugrul Kurkcu, establishing the Peoples Democratic Party (HDP), which is as an umbrella group for leftist parties and minority-group activist; in essence, serving as the BDP’s western counterpart. 

In the 2009 local elections, the then DTP swept in eight municipalities in Turkey’s Kurdish Southeastern Regions; following the closure of this party, the BDP was established, and in the 2011 national elections, running as independents (not able to pass the ten-percent parliamentary threshold), increased their influence even more in the region. Since then, they have officially been the main intermediaries/representatives in the peace talks between the Turkish government and the jailed PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, with calls among many of their party members for autonomy, following the elections.

The former DTP, now BDP, took 8 municpalities in 2009, with
expected gains in the upcoming local elections (seen in purple).
The role in the peace process has strengthened the BDP, making Erdogan’s strategy of mustering up support in the Southeast counter-productive; in fact, the BDP could even take two out of the three municipalities the AKP currently holds: Bitlis and Mardin; however, it seems unlikely they can take Sanliurfa. There is no doubt however that the BDP also understands that their future is tied to the AKP, due to the ongoing peace process that could fall victim to any substantial decline in AKP support.

As for the HDP, while its leftist/liberal agenda has an appeal to many fringe groups, their strategy of running Sirri Sureyya Onder as a mayoral candidate has been criticized by many; first, while Onder was a central figure in the Gezi Park Protests, his candidacy seemed doomed from the start and some argue that it will take votes away from CHP’s mayoral candidate Mustafa Sarigul, securing the win of the AKP’s incumbent, Kadir Topbas. However, Onder rightly claims that he is also is taking votes from the AKP. The truth be told however that the final results will most likely show a low performance by Onder, which will demonstrate a tactical mistake on the party to run him as a candidate in the first place, and revealing other weaknesses in the party.           

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Tweet Tweet: Erdogan's Failed Attempt at banning Twitter (Turkish Local Election Coverage 2014, 5)

Turkey is waking up today to a new day. And, what makes this day different than all other days? As of late last night, courts throughout Turkey issued orders for the social media Twitter to be blocked. In other words, twitter is now banned in Turkey! While this certainly has sent out shock waves in Turkey, and the world, it is not a great surprise considering the recent passage of the internet law

"Don't tire yourself out for nothing Tayyip, we are still here"; a protest
forum group's "Diren Kadikoy-Yogurtcu Park" shared picture
Last year, following the outbreak of the Gezi Park protests, Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, declared that twitter was a “headache.” However, following the December 17th corruption probe, twitter became much more than this, with wire-tapped recordings shared, connecting him and top government officials to massive corruption. Further, they also exposed Erdogan’s direct intervention in the media, among numerous other public and state institutions. While Erdogan is accusing this as a type of "coup" against him by a "parallel state", few doubt the authenticity of the recordings. 

The truth is the move to ban Twitter seems to come out of weakness and not strength. With the local elections just 10 days away, it seems Erdogan, with some polls showing his party could lose Ankara’s municipality, not to mention Istanbul’s, is trying to keep a tight hold over the spreading of new recordings. Further, he could believe that blocking twitter could prevent the immense amount of networking that will occur during the elections via social media.

The problem is that as people logged onto twitter and received the notice that the website was blocked due to a court-order, the twitter waves took ablaze, with Turkish twitter users quickly finding ways to break the ban; within hours hundreds of thousands of tweets had come from Turkey!

A few hours after the Twitter ban took effect, the AKP mayor of Ankara
tweets a smile face ot the world.
If this was not enough, along side of these “rebels,” pro-government newspapers and supporters started to appear. I even took note that Ankara’s incumbent mayor, Melih Gocek, an AKP/Erdogan loyalist, and a known Twitter “addict,” could not resist breaking the ban; he tweeted to the world a smiley face! In short, while most of Turkey was fast asleep, twitter turned into a circus, with most of tweets mocking Erdogan. 

Even if it is clear that his plan has backfired, all eyes will be on Turkey to see how this plays out. There is no doubt that the banning of the internet is just another slap in the face of Turkey’s democracy, which has suffered major blows since the Gezi Park protests. However, the ban on the internet could give the opposition party the push they need.

Caught on a late-night live interview, the opposition CHP Istanbul candidate for mayor, Mustafa Sarigul, lost his cool, and was steaming mad, saying this was an anti-democratic move. Further, he called on Turkey's youth not to take to the streets since this was a clear provocation. 

The next ten days, until the March 30 local elections, will be tense, with no one knowing what is in store; further, there also could be a few surprises awaiting us on election night. Certainly, only time will tell. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Other Contenders: A Look at the MHP (Turkey Local Election coverage 2014, 4)

In my last election update, the Major Contenders, The AKP andthe CHP, I explained how despite the ongoing corruption scandals linking Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to a billion-dollar corruption scandal, that this might not radically change the outcome of the local elections; nevertheless, some voices in the AKP have started to lower expectations. Days ago, Huseyin Celik, deputy leader and party spokesman, stated that even if the party supports remains at 38.8% of the total vote, they will see this as a success (considerably less than what the %49.9 the party received in the 2011 national elections).

Just after I submitted my update last week, new tapes were released, with one revealing that Erdogan had called his son Bilal the morning of the December 17, ordering him to “hide” all the (illegal) money he had in his house. Erdogan has remained adamant that the recording was subjected to “montage,” and that it is a fake (something I think that even a good number of his supporters find hard to believe).  For Erdogan’s opponents, the tape confirms that he is at the top of the corruption pyramid. 
While there is no doubt that the CHP will be able to increase their votes by a few percent due to corruption scandal if national elections were held (see former article), the party that could gain the most from possible disgruntled AKP voters is the far-right MHP (the Nationalist Action Party), currently under the leadership of Devlet Bahceli, since 1997.
Similar to the CHP, the MHP has steadily rebuilt itself since the initial shock of the AKP’s 2002 victory; let us not forget that in 1999, the party raked in 18% of the vote, coming in as the second largest in the parliament. However, even if it was voted out of parliament in 2002, it retained a base of over 8%, not like its two former coalition partners (DSP, ANAP) who were made irrelevant ever since. Since 2005, the MHP has kept a steady stream of support of at least 13% of the vote, making it the third largest party.
As for the local elections, in 2009, it fared relatively well, receiving nine municipalities. However, making gains on the local election front will be difficult and if they are able to retaint he number of municipalities they control now  (or lose only one-or-two) , that in itself will be a sufficient to keep them relevant for a gain in the 2015 national elections.

The MHP 2009 Local elections brought them 9 municipalities (in blue)
The reason the MHP has the chance of increasing its power base in national elections is due to its right-wing, semi-conservative agenda, which is much more appealing to some AKP voters than the leaning left CHP. For example, while AKP supporters are giving their support to Erdogan’s attempts to reach a peace agreement with the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, it seems safe to say that some of Erdogan’s supporters are skeptical about this process to say the least. 
Furthermore, as Erdogan continues to “reshuffle” the police force (thousands of police have been stripped of their positions in the wake of the December 17 probe), the likely choice of these policemen will be to return to the MHP, a party once identified as having a large police constituency. The ripple effect of lost votes from the police could spread far and wide; we are not just speaking of the policemen who were “reassigned” positions, but their families, extended families, and fellow co-workers, for example.
In fact, it is no secret that the MHP has something to gain from the AKP’s difficult days. Increasingly, Erdogan is attacking Bahceli, and even has gone so far as to try to humiliate him emphasizing that Bahceli has never married and does not have children (a big no-no for Erdogan, who continuously preaches to his followers to have at least three children, if not four!)
The fact that Erdogan sees Bahceli as a threat was also made known recently in leaked tapes between the Prime Minister and an executive at Haberturk television. In one conversation, just as the Gezi Protests took over Turkey, Erdogan requested Bahceli’s critical statements be removed from the TV channel’s ticker feed, and in another, he ordered that station manipulate a poll by taking points from the MHP and adding them to the Kurdish party, in order to show greater support for his attempts to make peace.

My next blog will be on the mostly Kurdish BDP/HDP and what might be in store for them in the local elections.....

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