Following the somewhat inconclusive elections of last June, Turkey’s electorate came into its own last Sunday and gave the ruling Justice and Development Party (or AKP) a whopping majority in a veritable November surprise.
And now, Recep Tayyip Erdogan (aka the Prez) and the wily PM Ahmed Davutoglu (aka Wily) can begin their serious work of leading the nation further down the post-Kemalist path into a full-blooded Islamo-Capitalist future (as a presumably leading actor in the Middle East and the wider world beyond).
Turkey has been run by means of a multi-party democracy ever since the end of the Second World War. In the aftermath of Hitler’s defeat and the formation of the NATO alliance, Turkey’s leadership switched to the Demokrat Parti (DP) under Prime Minister Adnan Menderes. The DP ran the country for a decade until the military coup of 1960 brought an end to its hesitant moves away from the example set by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and what used to be called Turkish Secularism (a shorthand for a lenient attitude towards restrictions imposed by the religion of Islam and a public life centred on the propagation of Turkish nationalism as an alternative to Muslim self-identification). The remaining decades of the 20th century then saw a reassertion of the cult of Atatürk (commonly known as Kemalism) and a concerted effort to play the political game as it had been established in the West. As a result, for much of its time the country was governed by coalition governments of varying degrees of efficiency and corruptibility.
In the last decade of the previous century, though, political Islam returned to Turkey’s public life with a vengeance. The Refah Partisi (or RP, commonly but erroneously translated as Welfare Party) led by the veteran Islamist politician Necmettin Erbakan swept the country, first on a local and subsequently on a national level. At the time, Erbakan had been promoting his take on political life and advocated the inauguration of what he termed a “Just Order” (or Adil Düzen, in Turkish). In conjunction, Erbakan had already built up an organisation known as Millî Görüş (or ‘National Outlook’) to mobilize the many Turks by then living in Western Europe — academics call this grouping, the “leading Turkish diaspora organizations in Europe”. Still, before the end of the century, the Turkish army, regarding itself as the “guardian of Turkey’s secularism” as expressed by the BBC, intervened, bringing an end to the RP and Necmettin Erbakan’s political life.
Subsequently, the Kemalist elite of the country assumed that things would return to normal, particularly in view of the spectacular capture of the PKK’s leader Abdullah Öcalan in 1999 and the concomitant return of veteran leftwing politician Bülent Ecevit, overseeing yet another unlikely and unwieldy coalition. But things did not turn out that way after all. In 2001, Erbakan’s successor Recep Tayyip Erdogan founded the AKP and Turkey has since never looked back. The following year the new party was swept into power and in subsequent elections all but increased its share of the vote. The somewhat inconclusive election outcome last June was the first serious dent in the party’s armour. At the time, I wrote that the “worst case scenario for Turkey would now undoubtedly be unsuccessful coalition negotiations that would end in early elections in 45 days’ time”. As it turned out, the AKP was unable to countenance a return to the good old days of unlikely and unwieldy coalition governments and forced a re-run of the electoral contest on the strategic date of 1 November (coinciding with the holiday period accompanying the annual celebrations of Republic Day on 29 October).
As it happens, 1 November also carries a special place in Turkey’s Kemalist mythology and historiography as Atatürk and the then-provisional Ankara government abolished the Ottoman Sultanate on that day in 1922. In fact, the main opposition newspaper Sözcü carried this item as the main headline on the day of this year’s election, reminding voters to keep Atatürk and his deeds in mind while casting ballots. Therefore, it seems unsurprising that many in Turkey were shocked by the election outcome. In contrast, one should not forget that the ruling AKP has made cunning use of the intervening not-quite five months. The Prez and Wily gave speech after speech admonishing voters to choose stability over insecurity. And, as if by happy coincidence, the terror threat posed by Kurdish nationalism and the PKK once again reared its ugly head forcing Turkey to take retaliatory military measures, inside the country as well as across the border on the grounds of the KRG in Northern Iraq. At the same time, next door’s not-so civil war in Syria managed to insert itself into Turkey’s frame as well, targeting the local Kurds and their political party the HDP. The terror attacks in Suruç (20 July 2015) and Ankara (10 October 2015) were quickly blamed on the Islamic State (IS) and led to a concerted government crackdown on sleeper cells in such diverse locations as Diyarbakır and Pendik.
Even though the country’s Kurds and the HDP had been the primary targets of the IS attacks on Turkish soil, the main beneficiary was nevertheless the AKP. Over and again, Tayyip Erdogan spoke publicly about the fact that the PKK and its Syrian ally the PYD were the same as the Caliph and his IS. The Prez convincingly equated ‘Kurdish terrorists’ with ‘Islamist freedom fighters’ in the minds of his many listeners at home as well as abroad so that they saw no option but to vote for stability over insecurity, thereby assuring a landslide return to power of the AKP. In the cold light of day on the morning after the night before, the election results are thus: the AKP, 49.47%, the CHP, 25.30%, and the HDP, 10.75%. The remaining opposition party, the nationalist MHP received 11.90% of the vote. This means that the main opposition, the CHP (or Atatürk’s Republican People’s Party) has remained stagnant, while the two other opposition groupings appear to have lost votes to the AKP. The MHP (or Nationalist Movement Party) made serious losses, and their supporters appear to have deflected en masse (losing about 6%). The Kurdish and leftist HDP (or Peoples’ Democratic Party), on the other hand, seem to have lost their share of conservative voters who opted for the AKP as the guarantor of future peace and prosperity in the region (c. 2%). In this context, it should also be pointed out that Turkish voters residing abroad have also come out in favour of Erdogan and the AKP (a tacit acknowledgement of the fact that Erbakan’s groundwork remains efficient to this day).
Many commentators as well as numerous politicians have touted these past elections as historic and significant, not just for Turkey but also on an international level. For one thing, Turkey’s ideological re-orientation away from the status quo of Kemalism and Turkish Secularism now seems to have been set in stone. The Turkish electorate have now given the Prez and Wily the mandate they needed to start building the New Turkey in earnest. Davutoglu has been steering Turkey’s foreign policy since 2009, and has cunningly reinserted Turkey into the Islamic world as a leading player and partner. Now that Turkey has convincingly chosen to stay the course, the future remains all but uncertain. Some AKP supporters (such as Islamist writer and journalist Abdurrahman Dilipak) have recently even voiced their hopes that President Erdogan would become the new Caliph and leader of the world of Islam . . . Whatever will happen, it will remain certain that Atatürk’s legacy was laid to rest on 1 November 2015.