Looming defeat for Erdoğan

Esen Uslu looks ahead to the coming election that pits the centre-right against the incumbent Islamist‑nationalist right. But what about the Kurds and the fractured left?

The long-awaited date of the presidential and general elections has now been announced by president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for May 14 - after much deliberation on his electoral chances, not least with the recent earthquake disaster. Unless there is a last-minute glitch, recent polls suggest he is likely to lose. However, we should keep in mind that he is capable of doing the unexpected - with the help of his war chest, filled with undeclared earnings from the illegal oil trading flowing from Iraqi Kurdistan, not to mention his cronies in the construction industry, the military-industrial complex, as well as the all-powerful state bureaucracy and judiciary.

The vote for president (held simultaneously with the general election) is the crucial one, as the all-powerful president requires half of the votes cast in order to be elected. Erdoğan’s own party, the AKP (Justice and Development Party) is generally unable to obtain such a percentage of the vote, as the last two general elections have shown. He needed the support of the ultra-nationalist-fascist MHP (National Movement Party) to be able to govern. However, this time round, the MHP seems unable to provide the required numbers, since it is quickly losing its electoral footing.

As the predicament of MHP became apparent, the AKP-MHP coalition changed the electoral law to reduce the electoral threshold for parliament from 10% to 7%. Despite that change, the rapidly sinking fortunes of the MHP may leave it beneath that threshold. Added to this, that change of law also reduced the time interval to hold the elections. So Erdoğan has had to forego what might have been more advantageous dates.

Despite its falling support, the MHP still provides useful support for Erdoğan’s presidency. However, the AKP-MHP coalition (the People’s Alliance) looks unlikely to provide the required majority. So one of its offshoots, the BBP (Great Unity Party), has also been invited to join the alliance despite its miniscule percentage support in the polls.

Erdoğan has been looking for all the support he can muster from Islamist radicals, and after much haggling, managed to bring Hüda Par into the fold. Hüda Par (Free Cause Party) is the legal political resurrection of the 1990s infamous Hezbollah Islamist terror organisation, which operated mainly in Kurdistan. It was aided and abetted by the ‘counter-terrorism’ structures of the state, aimed primarily against the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party). But leaders of Hezbollah were killed and arrested after they got out of control (those arrested were eventually sentenced to life imprisonment in 2009), and the organisation was deemed to have lost its usefulness. However, in 2011 they were released from prison, while their appeal was pending, and a new law restricting the remand period to 10 years was enacted. Hezbollah immediately vanished from the scene, and their lawyers founded Hüda Par. (The Free Cause Party could also be named ‘God’s Party’, which is the Turkish version of the term ‘Hezbollah’.)

Accepting Hüda Par into the fold was too much for many AKP and MHP members, since Hezbollah was infamous for killing police chiefs and employing gruesome torture methods. But, even including Hüda Par was probably not enough for Erdoğan, and the YRP (New Welfare Party) - which is led by the son of Erdoğan’s former mentor, Fatih Erbakan, and represents a sizable vote - was invited into the coalition too.

So we have an electoral coalition of five parties on the Islamist-nationalist right supporting Erdoğan in the presidential election. When it comes to the parliamentary election, the Hüda Par candidates will find electable positions on the AKP list, but it seems the others will stand with their own list.


The opposition Nation Alliance has been operating as a pack of six parties - in Turkish parlance it is called the ‘Six-Seater Table’. Its cornerstone is the habitual opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP). After long deliberation the alliance eventually resolved to field a joint candidate for the presidency - CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Opinion polls suggest the CHP share of the vote will be around 25%.

There are also parties formed by ex-MHP and ex-AKP members dissatisfied with the conduct of Erdoğan and their former parties. The largest of the lot was the IP, the Good Party, run by Meral Akşener (a former lieutenant of MHP leader Deviet Bahçeli), who served as the (first female) minister of internal affairs from 1996-97. The party was quite hesitant about Kılıçdaroğlu’s attempt to woo Kurdish votes, and a last-minute crisis was barely avoided when she declared that the party had left the coalition, but it returned to the table a day later, after being put under immense pressure. It currently stands at about 12% in the polls.

Despite efforts to reinvent themselves as democracy-loving parties, this opposition merely represents the anti-Erdoğan wing of the centre-right. They are already making plans for their new government to overturn the constitutional changes that created the current presidential model ‘without checks and balances’, with a reversion to the old parliamentarism.

The AKP actually helped two independent presidential candidates to obtain the 100,000 signatures needed in time to stand. One of them is Muharrem İnce, who was CHP’s candidate in the last presidential election. After his dismal electoral performance he has fallen out with the party, and eventually he formed MP (Country Party). The AKP now hopes his candidacy will steal some votes from CHP. The other independent surreptitiously aided by the AKP is Sinan Oğan, a former MHP member who was thrown out of the party. Erdoğan hopes that, with his impeccable fascist credentials, Oğan will split the Good Party vote.

Third way

Any opposition candidate will need the support of Kurdish voters to pass the post in the presidential elections, but asking for that was a ‘no, no’ to the opposition coalition. So Kılıçdaroğlu left to the last possible moment talks with the pro-Kurdish HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) and did not make any promises to the Kurds except platitudes about a fuller democracy. It is a deliberate tactic of Kılıçdaroğlu not to visit HDP headquarters, as he did with all the other parties he was wooing. Nevertheless, after a while HDP declared that it would not field a presidential candidate - giving tacit support for Kılıçdaroğlu. With that boost his support in the opinion polls has now reached 53%.

As for HDP itself, it has led the way in the formation of the Emek ve Özgürlük İttifakı (Labour and Freedom Alliance). This alliance includes the People’s Democratic Congress (HDK), Workers Party of Turkey (TİP), Labour Party (EMEP), Labourist Movement Party (EHP), Social Freedom Party (TÖP) and Federation of Socialist Assemblies (SMF).

The first alliance component mentioned above, the HDK, is itself a formation of various political groups, as well as trade unions - including the YSP (Green Left Party), ESP (Socialist Party of the Oppressed), DBP (Democratic Regions Party), SKYP (Socialist Refoundation Party) and the Trotskyist DSİP (Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party). The HDK is also supported by several Alevi Muslim organisations.

Notable absentees from the left coalition are the SP (Left Party) and TKP (Communist Party of Turkey). Both combine a rejection of the unity calls from the centre-right with an aloof attitude towards the Kurdish Freedom Movement.

However, there are many obstacles to be overcome for the Labour and Freedom Alliance. The judicial assault on HDP is still ongoing, for instance. The party has to submit its defence in the forthcoming April 11 hearing calling for its closure - and the Constitutional Court has refused the HDP request to postpone the hearing to after the May 14 elections. In other words, the court may ban the party, thus barring it from participating.

Facing the dilemma of losing its parliamentary privileges, HDP resolved to field candidates under the Green Left Party (YSP) umbrella. While this would avoid an outright ban on contesting the election, it would cause difficulties for party members and supporters. However, the rank and file seems quite prepared. A journalist asked an HDP youth at a recent Kurdish Newroz demonstration if coming under the YSP umbrella would cause confusion. He replied with a quote from Shakespeare: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Many on the left wish that all the so-called left groups would pull themselves together and resolve to quit bickering in order to form a united organisation. But even the situation I have summarised above did not seem possible up till a couple of days ago. However, at the last minute the importance of defeating Erdoğan at the ballot box seems to have been accepted by a large segment of the left opposition.

Now the ball is in Erdoğan’s court. He seems determined not to relinquish power, and his supporters in the military and civilian bureaucracy may be willing to do their utmost to keep him in post. Either way, Turkey is entering a volatile period and the outcome may depend on many other internal and external factors.

However, it is worth recalling how Friedrich Engels warned us against the “incurable malady, parliamentary cretinism - a disorder which penetrates its unfortunate victims with the solemn conviction that the whole world, its history and future, are governed and determined by a majority of votes” (Revolution and counterrevolution in Germany).