Turkey’s national elections

Sundayand’s parliamentary election will not be a and”make-or-breakand” point for a Turkey under the unrelenting authoritarian rule of its chief political Islamist, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but rather will determine how soon this new political cycle will end, with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) succumbing to its own fatal mistakes in the governance of the country.
The good old days during which a favorable external economic climate, the EU-oriented reform process, strong support from the US, friendly ties with partners and allies in its neighborhood and endorsements from the main power bases in Turkish politics — nationalists, Kurds and conservatives — helped the AKP survive the worst are already over. The amazingly corrupt Erdogan and his band of thieves have robbed the AKP of its main appeal as a progressive party and have destroyed the inclusive political philosophy that brought it to power in the first place. What is left instead is a simple patronage system financed by kickbacks and favoritism and political cannibalism, which has significantly weakened the ruling party.
Therefore, the foregone conclusion is that Erdoganand’s futile battle for one-man rule is over because Turkey will never be able to descend to the point of absolute monarchy ruled by an Erdogan dynasty. Those who wish to govern a 78 million, diverse nation with an iron grip on absolute power must have realized by now that they face more challenges and stronger resistance as pressure intensifies on the Turkish people. The election results will determine only the duration of the expiration date for the political Islamist project that is already in tatters, while the Islamist rulers continue to fight in a survival game.
As for the alternative scenarios in the post-election era, there are only two options, with neither of them looking favorable for Erdogan. Most expect that the ruling party will continue to bleed further and lose more support, following the similar pattern in the last two elections in 2014. In other words, the AKP will lose strength and Erdogan will become isolated and grow more frustrated. The outcome will likely be inconclusive for a judgment on definite victory and defeat, prompting an interim period of uncertainty before the AKP takes its place in the graveyard of popular parties that lost touch with people in the mainstream. Whether we have a coalition, minority or even a weakened single AKP government, snap elections look to be inevitable.
The second option amounts to the worst-case scenario. In the unlikely event that Erdogan gets his wish by pushing the pro-Kurdish Peoplesand’ Democratic Party (HDP) out of Parliament and thereby stealing some 50 to 60 seats that were voted for this party, the authoritarian regime will continue bulldozing what is left of the political space for the opposition and dismantle the democratic regime altogether. Erdogan has made it clear that he is intent on stamping on all voices of dissent, including by shutting down or redesigning major opposition parties through the blatant abuse of the criminal and administrative justice system.
Should the ruling AKP retain its majority in Parliament, Turkey will see more legislative attempts in the rubberstamping Parliament to amend laws on elections, political parties, media, unions, civil society groups, business, finance and banking in order to stifle possible alternative voices. That will go hand-in-hand with mass arrests and detentions of opponents, critics and dissidents with brute police force and politically motivated judicial investigations and sham trials.
That will inevitably trigger a major backlash in Turkey from diverse religious, ethnic and social groups, who will mount more resistance to the government crackdown, possibly prompting violent clashes with law enforcement officials. The ensuing chaos will pit the people against the already demoralized police and military, both of whom are unwilling to do the political biding of the authoritarian government by risking confrontation with the people at the expense of making Turkey more fragile and weaker. Eventually, Erdogan and his associates will be rendered ineffective rulers when the governance crisis deepens, leading to the loss of their ability to control the social explosions.
Although the first option is certainly the preferable one, in either scenario, the painful experiment under the authoritarian regime will have positive results. For the first time in Turkey, all opposition parties have come together in fiercely resisting the downward slippery path Erdogan and his partners in crime have been forcing the country to take. From the pro-Kurdish HDP to the pro-Turkish Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), from social democratic left parties like the Republican Peopleand’s Party (CHP) and the Democratic Left Party (DSP) to religious and conservative parties like the Felicity Party (SP) and the Grand Unity Party (BBP), all are opposed to Erdogan.
This is a unique coalition of forces that are determined to take on the ruling party but unfortunately have so far been thwarted by being forced to compete in an uneven electoral field, where the AKP abuses all state resources to gain an unfair aantage, from communicating messages to constituencies to populist spending. In contrast to the past, the opposition is faring better in mobilizing volunteers and raising funds in this election — thanks but no thanks to the immense pressure applied by the ruling AKP government on people across the board. The increased awareness of possible voter fraud and irregularities plotted by the AKP has rallied people to be vigilant toward the ballot box and vote counting processes.
Nevertheless, the impediments are huge and there are big challenges to overcome. Institutional checks and balances have effectively stopped reining in the excesses of Erdogan, who has campaigned on behalf of the ruling AKP, albeit unconstitutionally. The election watchdog, the Supreme Election Board (YSK), has been powerless to curb campaign violations by Erdogan and the governing party, from media abuse to tapping state resources, from financing to manipulating judges and limiting or preventing the opposition from campaigning.
That means external factors will come into play in leveling the playing field for the opposition, at least to some degree. The world economic outlook does not look so gloomy for Turkey anymore. Its foreign policy is in shambles and domestic woes on rights and freedoms have started to scare foreign investors. The troubling signs are already there, from a major devaluation of the currency to a sharp decline in exports, rising inflation and unemployment, especially among the youth, filling the sails in the opposition camp.
On another note, Turks will also draw valuable lessons from this whole saga because this will be an important litmus test on whether Turkeyand’s allies and partners are willing to help out our fledgling democracy and do what they preach. The democratic aspirations of the Turkish people have to be encouraged by Turkeyand’s allies as well as regional and international organizations that have a critical role and stake in preserving Turkish democracy from sliding back to a fully authoritarian regime or even dictatorship. The rigorous monitoring that was put in place this time around by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is certainly a worthy effort, but that will not be enough.
Turkeyand’s allies must be more forthcoming in making clear where they stand on issues such as the rule of law, transparency, accountability, free and fair elections, and fundamental rights. Playing to both sides of the aisle and trying to sell it as engagement is nothing but an appeasement to the current rulers of the country, which have practically nothing to lose. Knowing that they are involved in massive illegal and unconstitutional crimes, Erdogan and his associates realize that they will be tried and sentenced if ousted from power. Going into opposition and accepting an alternative government is no longer a viable option for them.
Therefore, European allies should stop cowering behind the European Union, which has rightly opted for a policy of engagement since the corruption scandals in 2013 swept Turkey into a sea of authoritarian governance. But so far, we have not seen that policy working out and producing a tangible result that will signal a correction for Turkeyand’s current path other than restricting the excesses of rights abuses to a limited degree. Similarly, the US administration seems to have taken cover behind the US Congress, which has been vocally outspoken over the rights violations in Turkey, from jailing journalists to the crackdown on civil society and businesses. With the exception of general passing references made by Department of State spokespeople about Turkey, the US government has been mostly silent on rights violations in Turkey.
US officials say they do not want to give ammunition to the AKP for domestic political exploitation and underline that they have been engaging with and”behind the scenes, quiet diplomacyand” and raising these issues in private discussions. But we have yet to see the impact of that approach. In fact, things have gotten worse in the last two years, indicating that the US engagement has yielded the opposite results. Rights violations have been expanded, political space for dissent has been further limited and the persecution of businesses, media and civic groups has been broadened. That means aancing the core US values of the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights has been abandoned in favor of a security-based approach. Frankly, that is not unique to Turkey Washington has adopted similar policies with regard to many authoritarian regimes around the world, even though that approach is a first for a NATO-member country since the dictatorship regimes of Greece and Portugal.
Turkeyand’s dictator-wannabe President Erdogan has made it crystal clear by now that he will not listen to concerns expressed by the EU or the US or heed commonsense calls by domestic political actors. He has passed way beyond that. He may talk about the right things and even offer pledges but he will not be able to follow through, as has been proved time and again in the EU reform process and rapprochement with Egypt or Israel. He wonand’t engage with Kurds, Alevis, liberals and moderate conservative groups like the Gandulen movement in any substantive way to address their democratic and legitimate demands. Erdogan will sink the AKP ship as he goes down with the legacy of a man who has lost everything.
The good thing is that this closing chapter in the countryand’s history will teach Turks, Kurds and others in this country the value of democracy, rights and freedoms while making clear the danger of exploiting religion for political purposes. I have no doubt in my mind that Turkey will bounce back from this decline as it has done many times in the past. The new era will herald a stronger, more resilient and agile Turkey that will be ready to take on challenges and shoulder responsibilities in its own region. I would say this election is not the final chapter in the book but rather a rollercoaster chapter along the democratic voyage Turkey has been undertaking for more than a century.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman