Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Turkey's Snap Election: One Month to go (Turkey November 2015 election, part 1)

Turkish Snap Elections 2015: An Intro

In exactly one month, on November 1, Turkish voters will return to a new round of elections, following the failure of the religious conservative AKP to form a coalition government with the secular-orientated CHP, the nationalist MHP, or the mostly-Kurdish leftist HDP. It seemed clear from the past that this was an impossible feat, with the three other parties staunchly opposing AKP’s 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.”

The fact that the AKP was not able to form a government was no surprise; in fact the only surprising part of the whole election was the party’s dwindling show at the ballot box, receiving just over 40% of the vote, down almost 9% from the 2011 vote. This of course was caused when the HDP crossed the 10% parliamentary threshold—a remnant of the 1980 Coup—and one that was kept in place by the AKP despite 13 years of single-party rule and promises to rid the country of the remnants of the coup.  

For my analysis of the June elections, please click link

Since the election however Turkey has seen some of its bleakest days in over a decade, once again locked in conflict with the PKK, with the Turkish security forces taking heavy blows. Let us remember that the peace process with the Kurds entitled the AKP and Erdogan continued support; however, as I stated recently in an article in Haaretz (related to the AKP’s Grand Congress):

“the days of hope have been buried with the widespread belief that Erdogan instigated the renewed violence in order to delegitimize the HDP and ensure the AKP’`s stability and electoral support. The question of whether the lives of soldiers, policemen and innocent civilians could have been spared by doing its utmost to keep the peace process on track will forever loom over the AKP.”

Therefore, placing aside whether Erdogan bears some responsiblity for the violence, the quick unravelling of the peace process, the growing number of dead (from among civilians and security forces), and the subjecting of large parts of the population to military curfews, is ample proof that the AKP’s peace process was wrongly mapped out from the start, and despite the best of intentions of many involved, it has turned into a massive failure. 

Nevertheless, even if a failure, on the flip side, the AKP can be credited with placing the process on the daily agenda and thus paving the way for a possible future deal.  

Now to the elections….

So the question is how do you hold elections in this terrible state of violence and turbulent times? Well, the answer is, the show must go on. And, based on most polls, the Turkish electorate is not about to change their vote, with almost all showing a similar outcome to the previous June 7 elections with Turkey most likely witnessing the fact that the days of AKP’s sole rule is over.

Over the next month, I will be covering different aspects of the election, recapping major points leading up to the vote, and highlighting each points related to each party and its leadership, so stay tuned!

Erdogan’s Political Gamble: From Peace to War?*

With each passing day, Turkey is falling deeper into a chasm of violence. Pictures showing funerals of Turkish security forces are splashed across the news, together with reports of Turkish airstrikes hitting at strongholds of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), located deep in the mountainous regions of southeast Turkey and northern Iraq. With this news, it is easy to forget that Turkey has been steadily working toward a peace agreement with the PKK since 2012. It has become one of the most prized policies of the former prime minister, and now president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

This sharp turn in events occurred just days after an Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) sympathizer led a suicide attack on the youth wing of the Socialist Party of the Oppressed (ESP), which is affiliated with the mostly Kurdish leftist bloc, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). The attack occurred on July 20 in the southern town of Suruc, taking the lives of 32 people. The victims were mostly university students, on their way to deliver goods to the Kurdish-Syrian border town of Kobane, whose People’s Protection Units (YPG) had resisted a massive Islamic State onslaught just last fall. It is important to note that the YPG has numerous leftist Turkish citizens fighting among its ranks, much to the dismay of the government and radical Islamist groups in Turkey.

Once news broke that the suicide bombing in Suruc was the work of an ISIS sympathizer, the interim Turkish government, led by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, opened a military front against the organization, arresting members in Turkey and conducting airstrikes against it in Syria. This move was welcomed by the United States, which was becoming impatient with what appeared to be Turkey’s “hands-off stance” – or even, at times, preferring Islamic State over the Kurds in Syria. In June, after ISIS lost control of the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad to the Kurds, Sabah – a staunchly pro-Erdogan newspaper – went so far as to run a headline stating the Kurds posed a greater danger to Turkey than ISIS.

The problem, however, went up a notch when Turkey didn’t just suffice with hitting Islamic State, but also used the opportunity to embark on a bombing campaign against what now appears to have been its real target, the PKK. This came after the PKK assassinated two Turkish police officers, claiming they had collaborated with ISIS in the Suruc attack. While Turkey certainly has the right to retaliate, its response was disproportionate, leading one to ask why it has taken a path that is clearly working on collapsing the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) much-cherished peace process.

Unfortunately, the answer boils down to Erdogan himself, who is still running the show and maintaining a strong hold over Turkey’s prime minister, Davutoglu, who took the AKP reins when Erdogan became president last summer. Even before the June election – when the AKP failed, for the first time in 13 years, to secure a parliamentary majority – Erdogan made clear time and again that if peace was to be made with the Kurds, it would be done on his terms and his terms alone. He even softly threatened the Turkish electorate that it needed to give the AKP an overwhelming majority if they wished to change the system “peacefully.” The AKP didn’t get a majority, and Turkey is now farther than ever from peace.

Unsurprisingly, the AKP’s war of words against the PKK has swiftly turned into a delegitimization campaign against the HDP, amid claims by Erdogan that it has “links to terrorist organizations,” and that its members’ parliamentary immunity should be lifted, with prosecutors opening investigations within days. One can only marvel at the irony that the very people who were acting as intermediaries between Erdogan and jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan just months ago could now be placed on trial. And if found guilty they will be sent straight from parliament to a jail cell, essentially barring them from any potential snap election.

Even more worrying is the fact that all this is happening as the AKP is serving as an interim government. In other words, the military offensive against ISIS (which has repercussions not discussed in this article) and the PKK come without a mandate, and make you question who Davutoglu is actually referring to when he declares, “We are ready to sacrifice our sons.” In the meantime, the muscle-flexing PKK has shown in the last two weeks it is still able to hit hard at Turkey, with daily attacks on the Turkish army and police. It has pushed Davutoglu into a corner, leading him to react in similar fashion to previous leaders who also believed military power could silence the Kurdish question.

With optimism at a low, one can only hope the HDP’s charismatic coleader Selahattin Demirtas can convince the PKK to adhere to a cease-fire – since, like Turkey, it has little to gain from the current escalation. It is important also to commend the main opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu (Republican People’s Party – CHP), for not getting dragged into the wild nationalist rhetoric used by Erdogan, Davutoglu and, most recently, Devlet Bahceli, the nationalist MHP (National Action Party) leader. The CHP has opted to take a high road and, by not undermining the HDP’s role in Turkish politics, is proving to be an important stabilizing factor.

Let us hope Turkey is able to overcome this sudden turn toward violence. However, this is unlikely to happen until the AKP accepts the outcome of the June election, which can be interpreted as an overwhelming vote for a continuation of the peace process together with a resounding “no” to Erdogan’s plans for a presidential system. Until Davutoglu and other AKP members take this fact to heart, and recognize that the peace process belongs to the people and they don’t have a monopoly over it, it seems Turkey could be on its way to much darker days.

*This article appeared in Haaretz on 8 August 2015, please click here for original

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Turkey's Ruling Party Has Exhausted Its Own Existence*

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party, the AKP, will convene its fifth Grand Congress this Saturday, where members will elect its leader and the party will launch its campaign for the upcoming snap elections on November 1.

In the past, these congresses were upbeat and optimistic, a sign of the party’s continued success at the polls; the last Grand Congress was in 2012, a year after the 2011 elections when Turkey’s charismatic prime minister, now the nation’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, garnered almost 50 percent of the vote, ushering in a “New Turkey.”

However, in the elections last June, under its new party leader and prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, the AKP was dealt a major blow: after a 13-year run as the sole party in power, it lost its parliamentary majority, shattering a psychological barrier of invincibility.

Now there is little to celebrate. The party is planning to launch its campaign for the upcoming elections after Davutoglu failed to form a coalition government with any of the three parties in parliament. They staunchly opposed Erdogan’s demands for extended presidential powers. In fact, even if Davutoglu is, as is likely, re-elected as the AKP’s leader this weekend, the party faces an uphill battle, with much of the electorate tired of the AKP forfeiting all of its values for one man, Erdogan.  

Just as detrimental to the party’s image is the breakdown of the peace process between the Turkish state and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK. For years, despite the Gezi Park protests and wide-scale corruption, the AKP could always fall back on the fact that it was taking serious steps to end the decades-old conflict that has taken the lives of tens of thousands of Turkish citizens.

But with the renewal of violence in July, at least 100 soldiers and policemen have been killed, including 16 soldiers who were slain this past Sunday in the deadliest PKK attack in years. The chaos has extended to civilians, with AKP supporters attacking the offices of major newspaper Hurriyet with sticks and stones, accusing it of misquoting the president and implying that he was trying to gain political capital from Sunday’s attack. 

Even worse, over the past few days, numerous Kurds have been randomly attacked by Turkish nationalists, headquarters of the mostly Kurdish leftist Peoples’ Democratic Party, the HDP, have been vandalized, some even burned to the ground, and military curfews are becoming the norm in some of the southeastern cities. In addition, there are casualties among Kurdish civilians.

The days of hope have been buried with the widespread belief that Erdogan instigated the renewed violence in order to delegitimize the HDP and ensure the AKP’s stability and electoral support. The question of whether the lives of soldiers, policemen and innocent civilians could have been spared by doing its utmost to keep the peace process on track will forever loom over the AKP.

If things were not bad enough, Turkey is facing an increasingly sluggish economy, with the Turkish lira in decline, hitting a new low of three liras to the dollar. While AKP pundits might try to put a positive spin on the weak lira, the truth is that this was not a calculated move on behalf of Turkey’s Central Bank, or the Finance Ministry, but rather a reflection of the current state of political instability.  

For these reasons there will be little room for optimism at the upcoming AKP congress. While it is still too early to throw the AKP in the dustbin of history, clearly the once dynamic party has for all intents and purposes exhausted its own existence. 

As moderate voices in the party have been replaced by blind supporters of Erdogan, and internal criticism subjected to unjust attacks in the pro-Erdogan press, it is apparent that the AKP party of yesterday resembles nothing of what exists today.

With Erdogan stating last month that the constitution needs to be changed to suit his new de facto powers, which in his words, exist “whether one accepts it or not,” it seems that no one can predict where Turkey is headed.

However, even if we set aside claims of Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism, the AKP should be judged on its performance. Unfortunately for the party, the last few years have shown that, on many levels, it has failed the test of good governance, and it seems unlikely that the upcoming congress will persuade anyone outside of its diehard supporters that it will be able to put Turkey back onto a true path of prosperity.

In fact, for many, the opposite perception holds true: if the current situation continues, the AKP runs the risk of bringing the whole country down with it.

*This article appeared in Haaretz on 10 September 2015, please click here for original.