Turkey’s presidential transition, done the hard way

Ankara, Turkey (openDemocracy) – For many, Turkey advances towards a dark future at a fast pace. Having a rather noncommittal relationship with democracy, the Republic has muddled through with significant ups and downs. It still takes a lot of optimism to talk about political power becoming fully accountable to the public.

Politics, already a one-man-show, is becoming increasingly intolerant towards any form of criticism. It pushes dissidents off the stage. Turning the Parliament into a technical apparatus President Erdoğan is moving to lift the parliamentary immunity of deputies. Relying on a judicial apparatus that he formed when he was the prime minister, Erdoğan will target the deputies of the pro-Kurdish, left-leaning People’s Democracy Party (HDP). Following this pattern, he will further target HDP deputies and position them as public enemies in the fight against terrorism. The recent performance of the HDP gives little hope about their remaining fully inside the legitimate political sphere by distancing themselves completely from PKK terrorism. Since the last general election on November 1, Erdoğan seems to be succeeding with his political strategy of pushing the HDP further to the margins and the HDP seems to be taking the bait doubly pressed upon them by Erdoğan and the PKK.

Who benefits from such chaos?

The process of authoritarianism which became apparent in Erdoğan’s harsh and disproportionate response to the Gezi protests spiralled afresh during the corruption probe of 17/25 December 2013 which allegedly included prominent members of his party, AKP. Spinning the corruption accusations as an illegitimate attempt to dethrone him, Erdoğan broadened his recriminations against his critics. Whoever thought differently was accused of a questionable loyalty to the country, whoever articulated his criticism became a ‘potential terrorist’. Political opposition, civil society, media and academics were being silenced with different methods and the criticism of international society was fended off through the new-born patriotism of the AKP.

In foreign policy, one day, a Russian fighter jet was being downed, another day, American or European authorities were being accused of encroaching upon the sovereignty of Turkey. Turkey is busy constructing enemies. Moreover, a shameful bargain on Syrian refugees has been used to buy off any criticism from the EU, leaving both parties in disgrace. Meanwhile the unprecedented propaganda machinery of the AKP is selling stories of a successful Turkey on multiple fronts, its enemies within and without. These fabricated enemies, of course, are being utilized to justify authoritarianism.

However, security threats in Turkey are not limited to fabricated enemies; there are also very tangible issues at stake. In the last six months, three bombs hit Ankara, the political heart of the country and two blasted off in Istanbul, claiming hundreds of innocent lives. Erdoğan’s politically fuelled fight against terrorism in southeast Turkey exacerbates an already terrible situation in the predominantly Kurdish zone of the country. One has to ask — in a very low voice — who benefits from the double helix of violence and authoritarianism? Well, recent surveys show that violence (or the perception of it) increases the public demand for a tough leadership and in this territory Erdoğan has no rival. All that he is asking from the people that he protects is a regime change to a presidential system. And the Turkish public has proved to be more than generous when it comes to supporting Erdoğan.

Erdogan

Image Source: Global Panorama, Flickr, Creative Commons

Why the HDP? 

Without a doubt, the closest Turkey came to solving the Kurdish issue, the most burning problem for the country, was marked by the pro-Kurdish HDP’s entry into Parliament after passing the ten per cent election threshold. However, this proved a step on a knife edge for the HDP. The government party (AKP) and PKK terrorism both immediately expended a huge effort in keeping HDP on that knife edge and pushing it over if possible. HDP’s election success had profoundly disturbed Erdoğan and his AKP. More importantly, an established HDP in the Parliament questioned the monopoly of the PKK over the Kurdish question and rendered its terrorism rather meaningless. Failing to disconnect or even distance itself from the PKK, the HDP was bound to lose some of the legitimacy that it had built up among its non-Kurdish supporters. These were the very grounds Erdoğan wanted to prove, and he moved swiftly to lift the parliamentary immunity of deputies, a move which will most likely end in an early election. This time it will be extremely difficult for the HDP to pass the election threshold and Erdoğan’s AKP will get enough seats for a regime change through constitutional amendment.

Attacking the HDP, Erdoğan will hit two birds with one stone. His gradually increasing patriotism will help him steal support from the nationalist MHP which is barely scoring above the election threshold. If both parties (HDP and MHP) fail to pass the threshold, it will be the best of both worlds for Erdoğan, and he will practically be able to effect any change he pleases.

Will it be worth it?

An early election will most likely increase AKP’s votes enough to bring about the transition to regime change to a presidential system; a longtime dream for Erdoğan. In such a system Erdoğan will concentrate more power in himself and further silence his critics. The elections will become an empty facade. On the other side, Kurds, who were invited to back off from the mountains and participate in legitimate politics will be driven back into the merciless arms of the PKK and Turkey will go through another saga shaped by domestic terrorism. Turkey went through a similar crisis in the 1990s with an unbearable cost in terms of lives. This time round, the likelihood is that it will be even more violent.

The escalation of violence seems to serve Erdoğan well in pursuing his policies and yes, he may succeed in changing the regime in Turkey so that he himself is stronger and less accountable. The question is; who will gain from this?

 

This report prepared by AHMET ERDI OZTURK and FATIH CERAN  for openDemocracy.