June 7 — an opportunity not to be missed

A week ago I was in Copenhagen, Denmark to attend a reception hosted by Zaman on the occasion of the opening of its new office. The reception was attended by an international audience including several ambassadors and diplomats, politicians, researchers and journalists. I addressed the guests with a talk on the significance of the June 7 parliamentary election in Turkey.

Questions I was asked to respond to focused mainly on the following: Despite all the corruption allegations against it and its violations of the rule of law, why does the Justice and Development Party (AKP) still attract a high percentage of the national vote, according to surveys? Aren’t opposition parties partly to blame for this? In the past, coalition governments have led to political and economic instability. Wouldn’t there be a return to the past if the AKP loses its majority in Parliament? Why did the AKP government change so unrecognizably following its first two terms in power? What has happened to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan?

These were briefly my responses: Factors that explain why the AKP is still expected to garner around 40 percent of the vote include: Yes, worries among the electorate that coalition governments may lead to political and economic instabilities, that social subsidies paid out by the government may come to an end and that armed clashes with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) may resume. It is also true that opposition parties are not able to be as inclusive as the AKP was in its first two terms of power.

A growing part of the electorate, however, has started to see that in the case of the continuation of AKP power, and particularly of the AKP winning at least 330 seats out of the 550 in Parliament — which would enable it to introduce a Turkish-style presidential system (meaning one without checks and balances) on its own — political and economic instability previously unseen in the history of the Turkish Republic may follow. If Turkey continues to be governed in line with President Erdogan’s mentality and all opponents are declared traitors and enemies of the nation, it may become unavoidable that popular protests will grow, domestic turmoil and a worsening of economic indicators may ensue and the military may once more assume a political role. The parliamentary election on June 7 is an opportunity not to be missed for Turkey to overcome the frighteningly acute current polarization and to begin to restore individual liberties and the rule of law.

A growing part of the electorate also has begun to see that the only way to avoid the growing instability is if the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) manages to overcome the 10 percent parliamentary threshold. This is not only highly important for the pro-Kurdish political movement to strongly commit itself to parliamentary politics but it may perhaps also help the AKP to come to its senses and stop blindly following Erdogan’s leadership. It may even prove beneficial to President Erdogan himself. He may then be obliged to leave aside his ambitions to become a president styled after Russian President Vladimir Putin and be content with enjoying his presidential palaces, yachts and planes at least for the remaining years of his term. Let us assume that the AKP fails to secure a majority in Parliament and is forced to seek a coalition with another party, or the opposition parties manage to form a coalition government between them. There is no doubt that this would be a far better prospect for Turkey than the one-man, one-party rule Erdogan aspires to consolidate.

Regarding the question as to the change in Erdogan, I often refer to the three main theories offered in explanation. According to hardline secularist Kemalists, Erdogan hasn’t changed a bit. When, in 2011, he garnered 50 percent of the vote and convinced himself that he had got the military under control, he at once put in practice his hidden Islamist agenda. According to liberal-minded people like myself, the dictum, “All power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” applies. According to psychologists and psychiatrists, there has been a change in Erdogan’s personality or character. All three theories may well apply at once.