June 2, 2015
Because fellow journalists recognize the peril in which many of their Turkish colleagues now find themselves, Sunday’s election in Turkey is getting the full attention of the European media. It is indeed a game-changer of an election, not for the faint-hearted. Its outcome will determine the apotheosis of Recep Tayyip Erdogan or his ruin. And we kind of know how the gentleman will respond to either eventuality.
If he wins a constitutional majority of 330 seats out of 550 in the Grand National Assembly, Erdogan will rule as an autocratic zealot until either hubris or the grim reaper come calling.
Lose his overall majority in parliament, and Erdogan will not survive for long. He is not cut out to be a coalition leader; he will neither share power nor forgive his opponents. In the face of an electoral defeat, the ruling AK Party will surely start to fracture. Several leading AKP figures will be feeling increasingly squeamish about Erdogan’s personal aggrandisement, the rank corruption and the abuse of the judiciary that have soured the party’s once bright future. Outside the party, Erdogan has no shortage of enemies: liberals, Kemalists, nationalists, Gulenists, Alevis and Kurds – to say nothing of the military – will not be mourners at the graveside of the AKP.
The battle of the threshold
So what will happen on 7 June? The key question is whether Selahattin Demirtas can pitch his Kurdish party, the HDP, over the 10% electoral threshold, which would deprive Erdogan of the extra 60 or so MPs he needs to install his authoritarian presidency. Pitching it right for the HDP is no simple achievement in a country where the conduct of the election, like much else besides, is heavily compromised by the machinations of the government. As a Turkish friend put it: ‘The AKP is not going to the elections as a party but as a state’.
While many liberals appear willing to help Demirtas into parliament, they remain anxious that his Kurdish party, which is still seen as the civilian voice of the outlawed PKK, should not do too well. Demirtas himself, an attractive modern politician in the mould of Renzi and Tsipras, is well aware of that risk, and emphasises the tight nature of the battle of the threshold.
President Erdogan, meanwhile, is increasingly desperate. Last week he led a kitschy neo-Ottoman cavalcade on the 562nd anniversary of the capture of Constantinople by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror. And Erdogan can now be seen at rallies clutching the Koran in Kurdish in an effort to woo religious Kurds away from the secular HDP. At the same time, in order to win nationalist votes from the MHP, Erdogan returns to the old Kemalist line, which he once had abandoned, that there is in fact ‘no Kurdish problem’ after all.
In Turkey’s illiberal democracy, the 10% is such a critical factor, and the campaign so fraught, that if the HDP is declared to have missed the threshold by only a small margin the result of the election will simply not be credible. The TGNA in Ankara will lack legitimacy. Turkey will brace itself for further outbreaks of rioting, terrorism and even civil war. Many opposition figures and journalists are in any case expecting to have to face retribution at the hands of a notably unmagnanimous victor.
Beset as it is by domestic worries about Brexit and Grexit, the European Union will shortly have to return to the classical Eastern Question of Turkey. An outright Erdogan victory would weaken the projection of Western values across the region. It would further destabilize the Middle East and be an unhelpful contribution to the resolution of the frozen Cyprus conflict.
In those circumstances, nobody should continue to treat Turkey like a normal member of NATO. And the European Union surely could not continue with the pretence that Turkey is a candidate for membership.Andrew Duff