Last night’s vote was the biggest success for the left in 35 yearsby David Barchard / June 8, 2015 / Leave a comment
The first thing to say about yesterday’s Turkish election has to be that Turks count votes much more quickly than Britons or Americans. “This seems to be the only thing that happens quickly in Turkey,” a Turkish-American friend joked. In less than five hours, 47m votes, a turn out of over 80 per cent, were counted in a mountainous country nearly 1,100 miles long, something which is surely remarkable.
A second feature worth noting is that, everyone I spoke to in a small, conservative central Anatolian town said they had voted against the ruling AK Party, even if their choice of party differed. The tide of public opinion seemed clear and overwhelming, just as it did for Turgut Özal in 1983. And yet this is not quite the picture that actually emerged from the count here.
The AKP won 40.9 per cent of the vote, or 258 seats. This was in the median range of the poll predictions, but represented a drop of nearly 9 per cent in its support since 2011. Thanks to Turkey’s system of proportional representation, the AKP got a lower proportion of seats in parliament than had generally been expected—about 46 per cent of the seats for two fifths of the vote. In theory it ought to be able to form a temporary minority government if one or more opposition parties abstained. But as yet this looks rather unlikely.
The CHP (the centre-left Republican People’s Party) took 25.1 per cent of the votes and 131 seats in parliament. This is more or less exactly what it achieved in Turkey’s last general elections in 2011. This time its vote dropped sharply in Istanbul, where it lost support to the HDP among Kurds and intellectuals. Turkey’s second party has waited six decades for a breakthrough, which looks as far away as ever. It continues to command intense loyalty in the secularly-minded of provinces of western Turkey, but lacks a correspondingly strong national appeal. Lagging 16 per cent behind the AKP, as it did, would normally count as a electoral rout.
The MHP (National Action Party) gained 16 per cent of the vote and 80 seats. It was the dark horse of the election. Its (unstated) strategy was to provide a religious conservative alternative to the AKP and in this it performed rather well, though again it did not make a breakthrough.
HDP (the Kurdish-rooted Peoples’ Democracy Party) won 13.1 per cent of the votes and 80 seats. It is a resounding triumph for its courageous leader Selahattin Demirtaş, who dared to try and turn 6 per cent into 10 per cent and succeeded, despite attacks on his followers. His speech this evening was shrewd and gracious—he described the result as a success for “all of Turkey,” but it is clear he can only go further by wooing CHP voters, and that so far CHP voters, particularly lower income ones, are not wooed and remain loyal to the old party.
Will Demirtaş’s new contingent of 80 parliamentarians prove to be “nation-wide” or “Kurdish”? The future success of the party depends on them both retaining their Kurdish constituency (which grew handsomely in the south-east) and also winning left of centre voters in western Turkey. It is not yet clear that Demirtaş and the HDP can do this. Nevertheless, he is the hero of this election and his party is now a genuine force in national politics
This is the biggest success for the left in Turkish politics since 1980—a combined vote of 33 per cent for the CHP and HDP, though it is still below what Bülent Ecevit—the left-winger who served as Prime Minister of Turkey four times between 1973 and 2002—polled at his high point in the 1970s
For 13 years the AKP has identified itself with the nation and even its opponents seemed to assume that it would never fall from power.
Unstable coalitions made the 1990s a troubled decade in Turkey. At first sight there now seems to be little alternative. But the AKP, given its 17-point lead, may assume that it can fend one off; if a government cannot be formed in 45 days the president has the power to call an early election. There would then be an almighty battle for the AKP to regain its majority and restore “pious government.” On Sunday evening, as Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu made his concession speech, the crowd chanted “Allahu ekber” [“God is the Greatest” in Arabic] at him.
In theory, the CHP, MHP and DHP will enjoy a combined working majority of 291 votes in the Assembly. But would this president appoint a prime minister from one of them, conceivably enabling them to take action against him?
Delaying tactics designed to gain time for new elections thus look more likely, though senior AKP figure and deputy prime minister, Numan Kurtulmuş, has already spoken of the likelihood of a coalition.
It still remains a real puzzle that the AKP performed so strongly despite the relative lack of visible support for it among ordinary people. But for the next few months it will be fighting to survive and recover its ascendancy, and the agenda will be rather different from what was envisaged at the start of the campaign.
One hopes too that freedom of expression will recover. Looking at the front page of a leading newspaper on Saturday to see how it covered the bombing of the HDP Diyarbakir rally in which four people were killed and around 150 injured on Friday, it was puzzling to see that at first there seemed to be no coverage. Then, discreetly low down on the page, I noticed an inconspicuous report which was headlined “Call for Commonsense,” and mentioned in passing that two people (not four) had been killed in an explosion. This is the sort of oblique news coverage one gets in a one-party state and it is shameful to see it in a country which is still, despite everything, a Nato member and a candidate for membership of the EU. Perhaps that will change now.
Coming out from the airport, there was an immense and unsightly cloud of AKP election bunting, and no other party’s flags anywhere. The impression again was of a one-party state. Perhaps, even if they don’t stop altogether, the frequency of such displays will now be sharply reduced.
But the bedrock of the AKP, those faraway provinces where it seems to get 50 per cent of the votes despite everything, is still intact and the party must be preparing for a counter-attack. Nonetheless, the message I got from the people in the street today is that Turks do not want an authoritarian Islamist state. And the message from the ballot boxes seems to point in the same direction, even if it is not quite as resounding as one would wish.