Erdogan stumbles

Political progress may still occur and healing may start between the people and their government.

Selahattin Demirtas, co-chairman of the Pro-Kurdish Peoples'' Democratic Party (HDP), cheers with his party''s members during a gathering to celebrate the party''s victory in Istanbul [REUTERS]
Selahattin Demirtas, HDP co-chairman, during a gathering to celebrate the party's victory in Istanbul [REUTERS]

Throughout the past five to six years, Turkey has been dominated by Recep Tayyip Erdogan whose power base has increasingly grown. Since the Gezi Park protests in the spring of 2013 and the corruption charges later that same year, the man and his future actually overtook the agenda of an entire country.

At Gezi Park, one of the last green spaces in an Istanbul otherwise entirely covered with concrete and asphalt, Erdogan’s insistence to build a kitsch replica of an Ottoman army barrack to host yet another shopping mall, resulted in failure. Despite his dogged insistence, the mall has yet to materialise.

One could say that this is when the president’s misfortunes began; when he felt most under pressure and insecure regarding his future.

What’s behind Turkey’s ruling AK party setback?

It is at this moment that he is believed to have endeavoured to redesign state institutions in a bid to take control and prevent them from interfering in his grand plans.

Erdogan’s influence

The academia, the diplomatic corps, the judiciary, the military, the public administration, and the treasury were all successfully reformed according to EU-inspired democratic principles from 2001 onwards. Since Erdogan’s ascent, each has been emptied out and de-institutionalised.

The bureaucracy has been transformed to exclude any significant consultation, check, balance, control, or regulatory process. This state of affairs has seriously damaged the rule of law and democracy in Turkey. One example is the auditing function of the court of accounts, which is now virtually worthless.

The election campaign, which was anything but free and fair due to structural limitations like the world-unique 10 percent threshold for political parties, was literally hijacked by the president. He was obligated to remain impartial as per the Turkish Constitution, but he has systematically violated the fundamental law by openly siding with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK party).

HDP has addressed a wide array of political and societal problems not only those pertaining to the Kurdish population, but for the Turkish population at large.


Possibility of change

In spite of his efforts, the elections yielded disappointing results for the president and his future. It appears he won’t be leading the country as he did before and will not realise his long-term ambitions.

A relatively small but significant part of the Turkish electorate, some 6 million voters out of 45 million, gathered around the “dark horse” of the campaign, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), to allow it to cross the 10 percent threshold.

Originally a Kurdish party, HDP successfully appealed to the entire country, becoming a sort of emissary for all those who feel excluded from, and ostracised by, mainstream politics as run by AK party, especially during the last five to six years.

HDP has addressed a wide array of political and societal problems not only those pertaining to the Kurdish population, but for the Turkish population at large. By doing so, the party has inspired fresh and lively political discourse, served up with a healthy dose of humour which stands in stark contrast to conventionally drab Turkish political language.

Although backed by a paramilitary force, the HDP did not react to countless provocations against its campaign facilities and meetings, like the one in Diyarbakir where two bombs claimed four lives and seriously injured hundreds of others.

Their peaceful response to violent provocations appeared to have paid off in the ballot boxes. Taking advantage of AK party’s shortcomings in peace-building with the Kurds, the HDP managed to snag votes from conservative Kurds who usually vote AK party. More importantly, HDP’s charismatic leaders offered a political platform to non-Kurdish liberals and urban voters to express themselves against Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan [AFP]
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan [AFP]

Although at the margins of national politics as “Kurds”, they not only reached the centre of the political sphere by forming a full-fledged group in parliament, but now also offer a political alternative for the entire country. In sum, they have become a viable, impassioned, and widely supported political entity. 

Turkey’s political future

However, change will not come easily to Turkey. The ruling AK party doesn’t have enough seats to form a government on its own as it runs the risk of losing a potential vote of confidence. Coalitions won’t be easy either under Erdogan’s omnipresence.

Despite his now-devastated dream to become an executive president, he arguably could be tempted to leave his mark on any upcoming political deal to save his future.

Moreover, the junior partner of any proposed coalition would have to explain to its voters the rationale behind its support of the same party which it recently had a hand in destabilising. Likewise, any successor government will inherit a huge mass of ruins that have piled up during these years of hegemonic AK party rule. A rule which never hesitated to change laws and regulations according to its and Erdogan’s interests.

Nevertheless, political progress may still occur and healing may start between the people and their government, but on one condition: the AK party’s internal split must be mended – in view of the electoral results – under the leadership and council of the former president Abdullah Gul. This would certainly help the formation of a new government immune from Erdogan and his influence.

In view of all these uncertainties, Turkish financial markets were shattered at opening on Monday but Turks, for the time being, are filled with hope and enjoying their success.

Cengiz Aktar is senior scholar at Istanbul Policy Center. A former director at the United Nations he is one of the leading advocates of Turkey’s integration into the EU.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.