Erdoğan’s election gamble
If, as seems possible, the AKP is defeated, writes Esen Uslu, will the president go quietly?
The decision of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to call a snap election on June 24 - with the support of Devlet Bahçeli of the rightwingNationalist Movement Party (MHP), who is acting as his crutch in parliament - has thrown their respective parties into a spin.
Members of the alliance formed by Erdoğan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) and the MHP have clearly grovelled before the president and consequently lost any of their remaining credibility in the eyes of many people. More than two thirds of them have been told that they will be leaving parliament. They will not be candidates.
Inevitably such an upheaval in the ranks has created discord, and rival factions have started to sharpen their knives. Erdoğan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, minister for energy and natural resources, has been apparently groomed as his successor. His nemesis was the minister for internal affairs, Süleyman Soylu. The infighting suddenly exploded, as it was revealed that the state security apparatus had been monitoring Soylu’s telephone calls. Apparently that was with the aim of discrediting him if need be.
The row between the minister of internal affairs and the general director of the Istanbul police has also become public. It is said the director does not even reply to Soylu’s phone calls. Both have vowed to finish the other off after the elections. It is widely believed that the row is over who controls the AKP youth organisation.
Then, unexpectedly, an AKP MP once more raised the question of Erdoğan’s university diploma. According to the constitution, only graduates can be nominated for the presidency and, while Erdoğan claims he graduated from a university in Istanbul, he has been unable to produce his diploma. Previously a very amateurishly made fake had surfaced, but was quickly discredited. However, the Supreme Electoral Council did not pursue the question and Erdoğan was elected president. The fact that once more this has become an issue reveals the existence of rival groupings within the party.
Meanwhile, some AKP members who once held important posts, but were sidelined over the years because of a whiff of opposition to Erdoğan, have been recalled in order to rally support for the president. Some of them, unceremoniously dumped in the past, have found themselves being tempted by the prospect of a seat in parliament.
But Erdoğan felt he needed to look further afield. In an attempt to rally the right, even former leaders of nationalist death squads - as well as their family members - have been harnessed to the AKP cart, finding themselves looking at the possibility of being elected on an AKP ticket. In addition famous sportsmen, as well as artists, not previously known for their political commitment, have been given a place on the AKP ticket, in the hope that they may bring in a few more votes.
Despite everything, however, things are not looking too good for Erdoğan and the AKP. He seems to be looking at no more than 45% support in the first round of the presidential election, which, like the parliamentary poll, will take place on June 24. If that is reflected in actual votes, there would have to be a second round. The Teflon seems to be rubbing off.
All this has left the state bureaucracy in turmoil. As an outright win for Erdoğan seems unlikely, the top apparatchiks have started scheming among themselves. Those who resigned their positions to participate as candidates are now uncertain of their future.
An AKP overall majority in parliament now seems impossible. Even the formation of a coalition government of AKP and MHP members seems conditional on keeping the leftwing, pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) under the electoral threshold and out of parliament.
Dissenting voices are being silenced, using the excuse of national security or the war in Kurdistan. For example, more than 144,000 voters are being forced to vote in districts other than their own in 19 provinces - predominantly Kurdish. This so-called ‘transported ballot box’ is a ploy to discourage Kurdish voters from supporting the HDP by forcing them to go and vote in localities where there are ‘village protection’ schemes.
The Supreme Electoral Council (SEC) is part of the judicial establishment and is supposed to be impartial, but when candidate lists were submitted by the parties it refused to recognise some particularly popular HDP candidates. One is Turgut Öker, the former leader of the Confederation of Alevi Associations in Europe. Like every candidate he submitted a court document declaring that he has no criminal convictions. But the SEC in its wisdom decided that a fine resulting from a civil court case on a charge of “insulting the president” was sufficient to disqualify comrade Öker from standing.
Many former HDP MPs have had criminal cases pending for years, but suddenly a rush of court activity has resulted in summary convictions and disqualification from standing again. This was on top of the well-documented convictions of former MPs after their parliamentary immunity was unceremoniously removed by an unconstitutional AKP initiative supported by the ‘social democratic’ CHP in parliament.
The Erdoğan gamble was also a calculated move in regard to the economy. As the global financial downturn started to put pressure on Turkish public finances, Erdoğan thought he should seek a new period of office before things got worse.
However, the economic blunders he has committed have now caught up with him. Islamist to the core, he is against ‘usury’ and is therefore keen to keep interest rates low. He has claimed that the reason for high inflation is high interest rates - he argued this forcefully in a televised interview when he visited London in early May.
In order to keep those rates under control in an economy that has traditionally suffered a high foreign trade deficit, he put pressure on the supposedly independent Central Bank to keep them down. But since last autumn it has been obvious to all that holding down interest rates is virtually impossible and any attempt to do so would quickly dry up Turkey’s foreign currency reserves.
The financial bureaucracy made a pretence of holding the general rate at 8%, while foreign currencies could be sold at ‘late-liquidity’ rates (the supposedly emergency rate to assist banks), which stood at 12.5%. Such illogical and childish deception was supported by regulatory threats to financial institutions.
But suddenly the exchange rate of the Turkish lira to the dollar fell dramatically. The ‘economic miracle’ was exposed as a fake and the much vaunted ‘Turkish model’ was sliding down the drain. The financial establishment pleaded with Erdoğan to let them increase interest rates and it took three days to obtain his permission - even the pro-Erdoğan Muslim Businessmen’s Association was calling for an increase. In the end the rate more than doubled to 16.5%. But the damage had been done. Erdoğan immediately sent his finance minister to London to placate the international markets.
However, even a minister on a mission knows when he is out of favour and so may not be re-elected. Erdoğan will no doubt attempt to blame him and Central Bank officials for the lira’s fall in value, as well as the economic downturn itself. But this time it may not be so easy.
As it becomes apparent that Erdoğan is not able to get what he wants and that he and his loyal troops are prepared to do anything to cling onto power, alarms are sounding in every corner of the opposition that he could well refuse to hand over power even if he loses. According to the argument, Erdoğan and his loyalist circle have indulged in graft and corruption to such an extent that it will be impossible for them to step down unless there is a guarantee that they will not be charged for their crimes. However, the role he and his Islamist policies have played in the Syrian war along with its unpredictable consequences do not leave much room for such a guarantee.
As the opposition tries to close ranks in order to topple Erdoğan and the AKP government, they will have to come to terms with what to do with any election win they might score. With the ‘Kurdish problem’ and war in Syria still dividing all sections of society, as well as the opposition itself, the prospect of finding a common alternative route seems remote. That can only mean increased uncertainty - and turmoil - after the elections.