June 7 lessons for Turkey

The June 7 election was another victory for democracy in Turkey. The electorate showed that it will not tolerate corrupt, arbitrary and authoritarian rule, and it will not follow politicians who polarize society and spill out hate speech towards opponents. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and potential Erdogans should never forget this lesson.
The June 7 election has added to the lessons of Turkeyand’s at least 65-year-long history of multi-party politics. One of those is that if coalition governments are often incapable of reform, single-party governments in power for a long time are likely to turn towards authoritarianism, as indicated by the Democrat Party (DP) government in the 1950s and most recently by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government in its third term in power. In countries like Turkey where institutions that ensure checks and balances on the executive are lacking, and where politicians are not committed to the rule of law, coalition governments may indeed be a safeguard against an abuse of power.
Yet another lesson is that in Turkey a political culture among the electorate that is supportive of human rights, the rule of law and respect for diversity has grown stronger than ever. Problems relating to democratic governance emanate not from the electorate but from the lack of institutions and elite orientations that secure liberal democracy. The most important indicator of the consolidation of a political culture supportive of liberal democracy is the trends by which those parties who defend the basic rights and liberties of citizens gain ground among the electorate while those who fail to do so lose. The AKP is surely the most striking example of both. When the AKP led by Erdogan abandoned the Islamism of the former Welfare Party (RP) and embraced a policy in its first two terms in power of integrating Turkey with the EU, it increased its share of the national vote to nearly 50 percent. When it turned its back on rights and liberties, its share fell to about 40 percent, and it was no longer able to govern alone.
The doubling of the share of the Peoplesand’ Democratic Party (HDP) in the national vote from about 7 to 14 percent is surely due to its newly adopted policy of defending the rights and liberties of not just Kurds but all citizens who are subject to discrimination and oppression, and to its ability to convince a growing part of both Kurdish and Turkish voters that it has genuinely embraced peaceful and democratic politics. The HDP is highly likely to lose ground if in the future it strays from this inclusive policy. The fact that the Republican Peopleand’s Party (CHP) is stuck with just about 25 percent of the vote has largely to do with its adherence to Kemalist authoritarian secularism. The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which with 17 percent of the vote has been able display its best performance ever, is likely to remain marginal in Turkeyand’s politics if it continues to adhere to Kemalist uni-culturalism and oppose Kurdish democratic rights.
Ankara is now engaged in the work of producing a coalition government from among four parties with very different agendas. Erdogan, with the hope of making a comeback, is highly likely to try to subvert the process so as to be able to use his constitutional right to call early elections in the event no government is formed within 45 days. Erdogan and the like-minded should be aware, however, that the unfairness of the June 7 election will never be repeated and that no party in Turkey which has begun to decline has been able to turn back the trend.
With the MHP refusing to enter any kind of partnership with the HDP, three opposition parties joining to form a government to restore the rule of law is no longer an option. It now looks like the only options are either an AKP-MHP or an AKP-CHP coalition. Whichever the case, the AKP will have to give substantial concessions in order to sideline Erdogan and send AKP politicians accused of corruption to court. Whether that would be possible, weand’ll have to wait and see. Whatever the outcome of the coalition negotiations, however, the fact remains that Turkey cannot hope to achieve political stability without restoring the rule of law the Erdogan-dominated AKP government has so badly undermined.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman