The Who, What, Where, When and Why of Turkey’s 2015 Elections
Turkish democracy is not the only thing facing a trial of the decade in this latest round of parliamentary elections this is the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) make or break chance to reassert or lose its supremacy over Turkey's political scene.
Against the backdrop of turmoil, concerns over stability, ethnic tensions and limits on core freedoms, Turkey's civil society remains a force to be reckoned with; civic participation is high and there are very few indications of electoral fatigue despite this election, essentially, being nothing more then a reaffirmation of June's surprise upset for the AKP. In that vote, the ruling party had the carpet pulled out from under its feet and Turkey's power balance was left in dangerous disarray. All this as Turkey faces multiple crises at home and in its region.
These elections will determine whether the AKP is able to secure majority rule without a coalition...but the outcome is already clear. The perception that the AKP could continue enjoying predominance is out of sync with the expectations of Turkish society. Signs of weariness across the population - vis-a-vis AKP’s rule - have been glaring and both the June and November polls are understood as being tacit referendums on the party's governance, and a reflection of a downward spiral of popularity. In June the AKP received slightly more than 40% of the vote, compared to 46% in 2007 and 49% in 2011.
In the run up to these elections, the AKP clearly demonstrated its commitment to rule unabridged as it did over the last 13 years and Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, repeatedly voiced his preference for “single-party government” citing stability. Prime minister - and party leader Ahmet Davutoğlu - askedAKP supporters during a rally in Istanbul 'not to make him obliged to meet opposition leader Devlet Bahçeli and Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu for coalition talks' by casting enough votes to allow an AKP-only mandate.
Turkish politics has, over the past years, been preoccupied with the status of the constitution and the leadership of president Erdoğan. The ruling party initiated a constitutional process to change the constitution which was adopted under military dictatorship in 1982. At the same time, the presidential system eyed by Erdoğan - as a natural step in Turkey's transformation - was not widely endorsed despite the fact that he was elected president in a popular vote and not appointed by the parliament.
Anti-government protests, which culminated in the Gezi Park protests (2013), coupled with the inability of key political parties to agree on the constitutional framing of Turkish identity, exposed conflicting metanarratives views between Erdoğan and others. The split with the moderate Islamist Gülen movement - which had widely supported the AKP in its policy reforms - is further intensifying domestic power struggles and disturbing delicate intra-state alignments, making the emergence of a single source of domestic polarity increasingly remote--stoking tensions and sowing the seeds of confusion and crisis.
The five months between the June and November elections has brought home just how dangerous Turkey's political scene can become. Whether referring to renewed clashes between Turkish security forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), terrorist attacks in Ankara, the use of force against demonstrations of all colors, coupled with economic decline, it is clear that something will have to give way or the entire state risks upheaval.
Within such an atmosphere it is easy to forget that the AKP was one of Turkey's most important engines of change and is, largely, responsible for its rise to regional stewardship in the early years of AKP rule? Expanded influence and rapid economic growth produced new national objectives which were projected beyond Turkey's borders; redirecting it from its more traditional foreign policy priorities. Inspiration is now found in Turkey's Ottoman past rather than Kemalist republicanism. The architect of this redirection is none other Ahmet Davutoğlu Turkey's current prime minister.
This foreign policy has not gone entirely to plan. Policies to bolster Ankara’s geopolitical posturing in the region turned produced a riptide backlash while, in its soft-power approach, the visa liberalisation scheme - which aimed to attract investments and promote business links and rendering Turkey an educational, cultural and political centre for the entire Islamic world - was paralleled with growing instability along Turkey's frontiers, with al, the anticipated spillover that entails.
Betting on the rapid collapse of the Assad government in Syria proved to be a grievous miscalculation which undermined the vision of Turkey playing leading role in the Middle East conflict resolution while unraveling the fragile peace process with Kurdish groups. Powerful initiatives, such as the normalisation of relations with Armenia, resulted in problems with allied Azerbaijan. Davutoğlu's policy of zero problems with neighbours never materialised. The rise of Russia, the fall of a friendly government in Georgia, China's projection into Central Asia has restricted Ankara’s freedom of movement and limited its regional attractiveness.
Is this the end of the AKP era? Not quite, AKP still came out with an unrivaled percentage of votes (56 percent for 16:30 CET)--evidence that it's conservative footing in society has taken root. Yet, the election provides evidence that large parts of Turkish society are dissatisfied with the party’s rule, leadership, and the overall direction Turkey is heading.