by Ahmet Aslan (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 4, Sha'ban, 1436)
Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan has alienated many Turks by his extravagant lifestyle and massive corruption of his family and cronies. The June 7 election will prove an important test for his hold on power.
The Turkish public has currently diverted its attention from Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, focusing completely on the 7th of June general elections. This election will be a first for the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) because it will be participating in an election without its unchallenged leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. When, almost a year ago, Erdogan became the president and moved to his new extravagant palace, he appointed Ahmet Davutoglu (Davutoglu then received the support of the AKP members) as the new leader of the party and thus the prime minister of Turkey.
Since then Prime Minister Davutoglu has been gearing up for the forthcoming elections to prove to Erdogan that he is the right man for the job. Even though the current election may a cumbersome chore that has to be done, Turkey’s pre-election atmosphere indicates a landslide victory is the only outcome that could appease the power hungry Erdogan.
The Turkish public is mostly aloof to elitist politics and does not favour leaders who are from the upper echelon of the society. In this regard Davutoglu may not be the most desirable candidate to replace Erdogan. He compares little to Erdogan who comes from a poor background, was raised in the back streets of Istanbul, and would even sell lemonade to raise money for his school expenses.
Despite the fact that one may approve or disapprove of Erdogan’s performance and policies as then prime minister and current president, it is a fact that for 13 years most of the Turkish public found its soul in him. Erdogan, a political genius in contrast to other Turkish politicians, adeptly garnered the emotions of the public and with the help of a number of worthy achievements became the undisputed leader of Turkey.
On the other hand, Davutoglu represents Turkey’s upper class; unlike Erdogan he did not go to Islamic vocational Imam-Hatip high schools, which have been the preference of not-well-off religious Turks. Instead he was admitted to the most prestigious school in the country — Istanbul High School — and then went to Bogazici University, which is again the country’s most prestigious university. He graduated from Bogazici with the full suite of degrees — BA, MA, and PhD — and then seemlessly moved into academia and diplomacy.
In comparison to Erdogan his background is mostly out of touch with the wider and more modest Turkish public. But Davutoglu is lucky enough to lead a party that was once led by Erdogan, so he has abundant legacy and reputation at his disposal. Erdogan’s AKP has been ruling the country for 13 continuous years and in the last general elections the AKP scored a landslide victory by securing around 50% of the vote. In addition, he has the full support of Erdogan who has been relentlessly campaigning for Davutoglu’s victory. To be fair, so far during the election campaign he has showed steady performance and has not done anything to upset the supporters of the AKP.
However, if the opinion polls are accurate then the 7th of June general elections may be the beginning of the end of AKP domination of Turkish politics. According to KONDA’s most recent opinion poll the AKP votes shrunk to around 40%. KONDA has been one of the oldest independent opinion poll companies and has been the most reliable and accurate in terms of anticipating voters’ inclinations ahead of an election. What makes the finding most noteworthy is that in almost all the previous elections (2007, 2009, 2011, and 2014 local and general elections) KONDA’s opinion polls predicted a three-point higher vote in favour of the AKP. So it is quite possible that on the 7th of June, the AKP may barely receive 40% of the overall vote. This is still a significant number of votes but it may not be enough for the AKP to form a single party government.
Currently, in order to form a single party government, a political party needs to secure more than half the seats in the National Assembly (NA). There are 550 seats in the Turkish NA so the AKP needs to win 276 seats. During the previous elections winning 276 seats was not a problem for the AKP. Thanks to the 10% threshold rule — which was introduced after the 1980 military coup d’état in order to prevent the Kurds from entering into the NA — if the votes of a party remain under the 10% threshold, the party is disqualified from entering into the NA, with the result that its votes are distributed between the parties that secured more than 10% of the vote. Based on this unfair rule, in the 2002 general elections the AKP secured 34.5% of the votes but won 363 seats in the National Assembly, and consequently formed a single party government without any problem.
However, the situation seems to have changed drastically in this general election. The major Kurdish party, People’s Democratic Party (HDP), seems to have learned its lessons from the past and has committed to exceed the 10% threshold by attracting more Kurdish voters and perhaps some Turkish voters too. The party has close ties to the militant Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) and has been appealing to the secular Kurds. In terms of numbers the support for them remained marginal and amounted to around 6% of the votes. However, for the last few years the HDP has been trying to extend its reach by attracting religious Kurds/Turks who have been dissatisfied by the AKP’s 13 years performance. In this regard they have begun to recruit prominent religious figures such as Altan Tan and Huda Kaya.
Altan Tan is perhaps one of the most respected religious Kurdish figures who played a key role in Necmeddin Erbakan’s Refah Party in the 1990s. Huda Kaya has been a symbolic name in the struggle against Turkey’s headscarf ban. Huda Kaya and her three daughters were imprisoned for a considerable period and evaded capital punishment during the heyday of the 28 February 1997 coup d’état.
The HDP’s efforts seem to be paying off as the opinion polls in general show that their votes are between the margin of 9–11%. Further, according to KONDA’s most recent opinion poll, the HDP’s vote is around 11.5%. If the opinion polls are accurate and the HDP exceeds the 10% threshold, the 7th of June may not be a day of triumph and celebration for the AKP. In such a scenario the AKP’s gains might be barely around 276 or even less seats, which may then force the AKP to form a coalition with the nationalists.
Even if the AKP goes over 276 seats this will certainly not be considered a victory for the AKP given that its aim, as stated by Erdogan, has been to “win 400 seats.” Winning this number of seats will secure the super-majority needed to change the constitution in order to replace the semi-presidential system with a presidential system so that Erdogan can become the new sultan of Turkey.
However, it is almost certain this will not happen. Aside from the gains of the HDP, the problem has been Erdogan himself. For the past 13 years Erdogan has made his political gains mostly due to his background; his poor and religious background enabled a majority of Turkish public to associate themselves with Erdogan. Yet this perception has begun to change, leading potential voters to turn away from him, thanks to Erdogan’s lavish lifestyle, and reckless comments about the poor and oppressed public.
Erdogan’s lavish lifestyle has been a major issue for the public. For example, according to various news sources, each of the glasses that are being used in his palace (which has 1,150 rooms) are worth more than the monthly minimum wage of $365. The public is also dismayed that his sons have expanded their wealth portfolio significantly during the 13 years of AKP rule.
Despite the fact that the great majority of the Turkish public lives under the poverty line, Erdogan, his friends and associates as well as some supporters of the AKP have become extremely wealthy and Erdogan seems to have no problem with this. The most recent example of this is that he lambasted the public for criticising the Director of Religious Affairs (Diyanet Isleri), who was given a luxurious Mercedes automobile by the government. Due to the criticism he soon retuned the car. But Erdogan could not swallow the whole issue and announced that he would give, from his office, a more expensive armoured Mercedes to the Director of Religious Affairs.
The power-intoxicated Erdogan has lost his sympathy and empathy for the most needy of the nation and has turned a blind eye to the criticisms and needs of the public. Therefore, he will be solely responsible for any undesirable results in the elections.