Early Elections in Turkey

There's something special about each election cycle, but the November 2015 race will be extraordinary.

For the first time in history, Turkey will hold a repeat election after failed coalition talks and a caretaker government composed of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and independents. There’s something special about each election cycle, but the November 2015 race will be extraordinary.

There is a Turkish proverb which experts recite quite frequently in dealing with the nation’s politics: “Human memory suffers from forgetfulness.” This time around, though, the situation seems quite different: We all remember the public debate leading up to the June 7 elections – which is why the parties won’t have the luxury of developing completely new campaign themes. There will be a lot of talk about the importance of political stability and absolutely no shortage of finger-pointing. The nation’s leaders will ask three questions to the people:

1- How were things before the June 7 elections?

2- What really happened after the elections?

3- Where do you want Turkey to be after the repeat election?

Needless to say, each political party will have a different set of answers and support their claims with various arguments. The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) will use the rising tide of violence to paint a grim picture and claim that “the AK Party and PKK have brought the country to the brink of civil war.” The party, in turn, will have to respond to accusations that it single-handedly made it possible for the HDP to claim cabinet seats by refusing to participate in any coalition government. The go-to answer, of course, will be to blame everything on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

One thing is clear: The Parliament’s failure to call for early elections has helped the HDP by giving them a chance to compensate for their losses due to terrorist attacks by participating in the caretaker government. Occupying several cabinet seats, the party will have the opportunity to maintain some degree of hypocrisy characterized by the simultaneous advocacy of war and peace. Whether or not the PKK will continue its terrorist attacks will have a significant influence on the HDP’s popularity.

At this point, the HDP conveniently exploits the counterterrorism operations by claiming that the authorities ended the cease-fire to punish the Kurdish people voting for a Kurdish party. The rising tide of violence in the southeast, however, works to the HDP’s disadvantage. Depending on where the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the MHP stand, the HDP will try to present itself as a pro-democracy movement.

With regard to the CHP: Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has already announced that his party will lead a positive campaign to push for democratic reforms to fight terrorism – which stands in stark contrast with the MHP position. Last week, the CHP leadership announced that the party wouldn’t partake in a caretaker government if the HDP is excluded. The next day, the HDP announced that it would join the caretaker government, but the Republicans changed their minds and refused to participate. The sudden change of heart ostensibly represented an effort to prevent the MHP from accusing the CHP of being soft on terrorism.

Another reason was the CHP’s eagerness to continue targeting the AK Party and the president on the campaign trail. CHP spokesperson Haluk Koç’s aggressive remarks about the president and the prime minister, among others things, indicate that the party leadership is thinking about the future.

The repeat election has the potential to strengthen Turkey’s democracy if the nation’s politicians opt to compete over democratization rather than target each other. The AK Party and the CHP, as center-right and center-left movements, could have a positive influence on the debate by endorsing additional national security measures and a comprehensive reform agenda to fight terrorism.

[Daily Sabah, August 24, 2015]

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