It is the opposition that is the real problem

Vahap Coşkun


The Turkish original of this article was published as Asıl sorun muhalefette on 15th November 2015.

There are three major aspects to the 1st November elections.


1. Participation was very high. Fully 86 percent of the electorate rushed to vote. Extraordinary for Western democracies, this rate reflects the extent to which the people of Turkey are bent on maintaining control over their fate in their own hands. The people may appear not to take any great interest in politics, but they are saving their word for election day.


2. The election results have not been subjected to any accusations of general fraud or rigging, overall corruption, vote stealing, and so on and so forth. Of course, as with every election, there have been local objections here and there. It is up to the YSK [High Board of Elections] to review and decide them, and then to make the official results public. But overall, it has been an election largely free of mishaps or incidents, and there has been nothing to cause the legitimacy of the voting to be questioned. And indeed, no objections to the legality of the elections have been put forth by the opposition parties either.  


3. The elections have resulted in a one-party government. Four parties, on the other hand, have entered parliament. Thus the people have pointed to the Grand National Assembly as the venue for solving all questions. Indeed, what the voters have accomplished is virtually a miracle, for they have both put a single party in power for the sake of stability, and enabled all major movements to enter parliament for the sake of fairness and justice. The new parliament will be one where 98 out of every 100 voters are represented. If this parliament should aspire to taking radical steps on critical questions, it will receive the greatest help and support from this strong backing behind it.  


The voters in the middle


It is a great opportunity for the new era to be getting started through what has been a “good” election in terms of security, participation, and representation. In contrast, an election with low participation, unfair representation, and with doubts of dishonesty hanging over it would have caused enormous headaches for Turkey. Since everybody seems to agree that the elections were legitimate, the next step is to interprete the voters’ message correctly. Once more, three points can be noted.


1. Compared with 7th June, the AKP gained 4,802,522 and the CHP 590,662 votes. In contrast, the MHP lost 1,828,971 and the HDP 914,381. Such relatively large shifts reflect the existence of a flexible body of voters. All four parties have a core group that always stands behind them come what may. They regard backing this or that party as a matter of their own identity, hence ignoring whatever mistakes they might make. But at the same time, there is another group whose party-affinity is lower, and which changes its preferences from one election to the next on the basis of the actual policies pursued by various parties. And these are the voters that make a difference for this or that party, and ultimately decide the final outcome. Hence the success or failure of all parties depends on the extent to which they can persuade these middle-ground voters and attract them over to their side.  


2. On 7th November, parties on the relative extremities of the political spectrum had made a big jump. The MHP had gained 4 and the HDP 6 percentile points. But subsequently, neither party was able to perform as expected, and ended up losing most of the credit that the voters had extended them. Instead, on 1st November they moved over to the center parties. While the CP did not gain that much, it was the AKP that benefited the most. At the moment, these two parties represent more than 75 percent of society. If they can find any common ground on the new constitution or the Kurdish question, they should be able move relatively comfortably.


Regional parties


3. The 1st November elections have once more demonstrated the relative absence of political competition in Turkey. This is twofold.


One aspect is that there is no other candidate for power other than the AKP. Not even the leader of the main opposition party believes that he can find himself in government one day. The other side of the coin is that all parties other than the AKP are increasingly assuming the character of regional parties. Each of them has a particular region where it is relatively strong, and only there is it able to wage a tit-for-tat struggle with the AKP, but elsewhere, it can make no such claim whatsoever.  


Otherwise put, in virtually no region do the elections really involve a struggle between all four parties. And this confirms yet again that in Turkey, it is not the party in power but the opposition that is the real problem.