Saturday, June 13, 2015

Turkish Elections -- A Guardian Op-ed by Yavuz Baydar

Turkey’s people have acted to prevent an autocratic nightmare
by Yavuz Baydar
Editorial: The challenge now is for a fractured society to make multiparty politics work

There is only one loser from Turkey’s historic elections on Sunday, which was without doubt a referendum. The president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, made it a vote about his “way”, and found himself rejected by a large group of “democrat” voters – and almost completely abandoned by his long-term allies: pious Kurds. The wound was self inflicted.

Erdoğan, with one erratic move after another, brought this situation about. It is the end of an era.

The electorate, reacting to his murky attempts to grab more and more power, simply said “enough is enough”, and applied the handbrakes. Their message is that Erdoğan is an undesired player in active politics. By implication, he now risks being seen as a liability for his party, the AKP.

After four long years of a terrible choreography, his attempt to establish a new order – a “new Turkey” – is over. It is clear that voters in sufficient number realised that the real aim was to establish an Orwellian structure – a “Mukhabarat state” consolidated around the AKP and run by an inner circle of sycophants.

Erdoğan lost his daredevil gamble. He now faces defeat and eventual isolation. He tested the “moral” segment of Turkey’s silent majority to its limits in terms of intelligence and patience. That was his undoing.

What Erdoğan and his inner circle failed to understand was that the grassroots of the party that ruled Turkey for more than 12 years was and still is a social coalition, which, among other groups, was backed by a large bulk of Kurds, a coalition that would crack if pushed too far.

By resorting to denialist rhetoric about the Kurdish issue, Erdoğan ended up losing almost the entire bulk of the Kurds, as well as votes from Turks who expect more, not less, freedom and rights.

He is a charismatic leader, polluted by power, who became a victim of his own success. Erdoğan has never been defeated, his party has never been forced to endure opposition since its inception 14 years ago. Blinded by a series of sweeping victories, he forgot that the public saw in him not only stability, but also a hope for decentralisation and redistribution of power.

Instead, the AKP became embroiled in corruption allegations, symbolised by raids in December 2013, which were ruthlessly covered up. But the cover-up could only extend so far. There for all to see are tangible products of a corrupted mentality – the massive palace in Ankara, and a smaller but equally excessive one, overlooking the Bosphorus in Istanbul.

His repression of the Gezi Park protests in 2013 – when it is estimated that eight people died and 8,000 were injured, further exposed his dark side. Ever since he has been perceived as a leader with a hammer who sees every problem and act of dissent as a nail.

Freedoms of expression, speech, media and assembly have been severely restricted; journalists, judges and prosecutors have been jailed or charged in courts for doing their jobs.

The press has been muzzled, large chunks of the state’s checks and balances lie in ruins. And it was no accident. It is clear that the ruling party’s plan was to sever Turkey from the democratic values of the west, possibly for good.

What is positive is the reaction of the voters. They may only have been able to slow the process, to apply the brakes. Still, they showed the world that with a single vote it is possible to pull back from the brink, pull back from the autocratic nightmare that now afflicts states such as Egypt.

The people of Turkey took a risk that could have ended in disaster. But when it seemed that the channels to democracy might be tightly shut, they moved to keep them open. It will become a historic example of strategic thinking.

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