With a total voter turnout of 86.7 percent, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) won 49.9 percent of all votes in Turkey’s parliamentary elections on June 12, securing 326 seats in the parliament. The Republican People’s Party (CHP), the founding party of Turkey, received 25.91 percent of the votes. In 31 cities, CHP was unable to secure the necessary votes to send representatives to the parliament. The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) remained the third most popular party with 12.99 percent of the votes and 53 seats.
The surprise was elsewhere, however. Despite all impediments and pressures, 36 independent candidates of the Labour, Democracy and Freedom Block, affiliated with the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), made it to the parliament. Leyla Zana’s reelection, in particular, is of historical importance for the Kurdish political movement as well as for Turkish history. Alongside Kurdish and Turkish candidates, the block nominated a Syriac candidate from Mardin, Erol Dora, who was also elected. Dora called his election a “revolutionary step.” Indeed, it was significant to have a representative in the parliament from an ethnic group that is legally not even recognized as a minority.
On the other hand, for the next elections, the 10 percent election threshold continues to threaten the representation of the BDP, which gathered 6.65 percent of the votes (I only mention BDP because the other parties could not even win 2 percent of the votes).
I was not in Turkey on June 12, so I followed the elections by zapping from one TV channel to the other. A prominent columnist, Nuray Mert, was interpreting the election results on IMC TV (a newly established opposition TV channel) by saying that the AKP has not only become the mainstream party in Turkey but has also become the establishment itself—and not a victim of the establishment as it claims to be.
The AKP needed 367 seats to change the constitution. Since they fell short, they will need the support of at least one of the other parties in the parliament to rewrite the constitution. Political scientist Prof. Büşra Ersanlı said the AKP will most likely continue to require smaller parties to approach it. Ersanlı noted how AKP kept marginalizing the independent candidates supported by the Peace and Democracy Party throughout its election campaign.
At this point I should perhaps comment on the election coverage of Turkish TV stations, and specifically of NTV. Unfortunately, watching election results on NTV—the leading news channel in Turkey, which has fundamentally improved news reporting in the country—was an excruciating task. NTV insisted on ignoring the rising number of successful independent candidates and kept reporting the results of the ruling party and the opposition parties. Eventually, viewers got to know the number of elected independent candidates from another TV channel. However, the censorship mechanism of NTV has been crystallized especially after the live TV show with prominent Turkish novelist, moviemaker, poet, and political activist Vedat Türkali on June 2. Türkali sent his greetings to the imprisoned leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, and said he was going to vote for the guerrilla fighters. A senior TV reporter, who was once an anchorwoman of NTV, Banu Güven, was immediately sent to vacation as of June 3, and the link to that program on the internet disappeared.
Yet, it was not over… While watching on IMC TV the enthusiastic celebrations in Diyarbekir on the occasion of the victory of the independent candidates, we realized that something had gone wrong: Within minutes, IMC was reporting that the police had attempted to put an end to the celebrations by using tear gas. At that moment, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan started his victory speech in Ankara, most probably so that no one would pay attention to Diyarbekir while he spoke. Once again, the people of Diyarbekir understood what the victory of the AKP had meant for them. The police’s violent crackdown on the celebrations in Diyarbekir was, quite predictably, reported in passing and without any footage by NTV, although they had a live broadcast team stationed in Diyarbekir.
The prime minister’s victory speech was the most “imperialist” speech he could have delivered. Almost imitating Suleiman the Magnificent, Erdoğan was “embracing” the whole world from one end to the other. He claimed that Turkey had achieved democratic freedom, setting an example for the region and the entire world. “Damascus won as much as Ankara did, Ramallah won as much as Diyarbekir did,” he said. “The Middle East, the Caucasus, the Balkans, and Europe won as much as Turkey did.” With these statements, he sounded like a 16th-century “Golden Age” Ottoman emperor.
Ever since the popular uprisings in neighboring Arab countries, Turkey has been marketing itself as an oasis of stability and development, the “one and only good example of a functioning democracy in the Middle East.” Yet, one has to keep in mind that this discourse is a consequence of rising imperialist desires on the one hand; on the other, it very easily sweeps the country’s 30-year war under the rug.
When the power holders in Turkey talk about the “brotherhood” of “Turks, Kurds, Circasians, Abkhazians, Georgians,” one should be reminded that this exact discourse was employed in the 19th-century Ottoman Empire, and it was maintained until its collapse, even while genocides were being committed and ethnic cleansing was taking place. I do not mean here that whoever uses the discourse of brotherhood—which I find problematic in the first place—has criminal intentions. What I am saying is that power holders should think twice before uttering such words. Moreover, is it not obvious how the Ottoman claims of “bringing civilization to the Arabs” and Erdoğan’s pretension of Turkey’s becoming a democratic, stable model for the Middle East constitute a similar discourse? Is it not stemming from the same imperial desires? Moreover, while the prime minister was saying that “Ramallah won as much as Diyarbekir did,” could it not be argued that he had forgotten what these cities mean for Palestinians and Kurds, respectively?
Mihail Vasiliadis, the editor-in-chief of the Greek daily Apoyevmatini, was among the guests of IMC TV on election day. Commenting on Erdoğan’s speech, he reminded viewers of the popular saying, “My Lord God is still above you.” He expressed his satisfaction with being invited to a TV show for the first time in his 52-year career, to talk about the elections. Vasiliadis said that in the past he was only invited to TV programs and panels if they were in some way related to the topic of Greeks in Turkey.
Last but not least, in Erdoğan’s speech, there was no direct or even indirect reference to ending the war. He asked for the blessing of those he might have hurt during his election campaign. These words were most probably addressed to the CHP and MHP, which means that the ruling party will first approach these two for the long-awaited constitution change. Police interference in the celebrations in Diyarbekir and the closing of the Kurdish newspaper Azadiya Welat for 15 days as of June 13 indicate that there is no change in the position of the AKP regarding the Kurds.
The election results revealed once again that voters are not organized on the basis of their class. In other words, the struggle, mainly led by Kurds, to get political, cultural, and social rights has way more power to organize people than class consciousness. One of the most important reasons for this is the evaporation of differences among the AKP, CHP, and MHP when it comes to nationalism, authoritarianism, and conservatism. Therefore, let us conclude that Turkish society continues to be by and large nationalist and conservative. Of course, this is no surprise. Yet, this poses the biggest challenge to the BDP since in the coming four years, it will be their mission to explain what it means to be a meaningful opposition and convince the broader segments of society of the need for such opposition. In order to find the most appropriate way, one has to first understand the reason impoverished people continue to vote for conservative parties. The BDP’s success will depend on its ability to create tangible alternatives as an opposition, meeting the needs of the Kurds and all other vulnerable groups.