Elections in Turkey

Mandate Against Authoritarian, Majoritarian Regime

In the recently held elections in Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lost majority in the Turkish parliament for the first time in 13 years since 2002. In an election which saw a massive 86% turnout, Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) won 258 seats in the 550-seat parliament. Though the AKP is the single largest party in the Parliament, it lacks the numbers to form the next government on its own. The AKP moreover suffered a 10% decline in its vote share. Two other parties, the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) won on 132 and 80 seats respectively. The left-leaning People's Democratic Party (HDP) has won 79 seats, and around 12% of the vote. This mandate ensures a significant presence in the Turkish parliament for left forces and to the Kurdish minority of Turkey. This mandate assumes significance for several reasons; the people of Turkey have voted for more inclusion and against the AKP's policies of divide-and-rule.

HDP won on all the seats in Kurdish cities of Batman, Agri Dersim, Hakari, Sirnak, and Igdir, while one million people, including a significant number of non-Kurdish population, cast their votes in support of this party in Istanbul, leading to victory on eleven seats in the city. These historic gains by HDP can further strengthen the peace process with the Kurds within Turkey and will have the potential to restrict Turkey’s establishment from forging any tacit manoeuvring with ISIS. HDP favours a new foreign policy that will scrap every vestige of the Ottoman Empire legacy that sought to establish Turkey as a regional power. HDP also seeks to correct the existing policy regime that propagates sectarian hatred and gives a space for organizations like ISIS.

It must be noted that Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) engaged in armed struggle with the Turkish government since its foundation in 1974, too enjoys significant support among Kurdish people and is a factor in Turkey’s politics. PKK has undergone a ceasefire agreement with Erdoğan regime which was broken after the latter’s manipulations with ISIS in Syria where PKK is fighting valiantly against ISIS.

HDP is being seen as an emerging political challenger in Turkey’s politics, particularly in the working class areas, which was a result of the efforts for building a people’s movement going on for two decades. It has been vocal in asserting rights of workers in employment as well as in all aspects of their lives. It has promised for the investigation of ‘industrial murders’, the prohibition of child labour, and betterment of agricultural workers. The guarantee of the social rights of all workers, especially those in precarious employment was a main plank in the election campaign.

It is yet to be seen how HDP, which also faced attacks and violence by right wing forces during election campaigns, will be able to succeed in foiling Erdoğan's plans of amending the country’s constitution towards a quasi-autocratic rule that would establish Erdoğan as the executive-President. (The existing constitution was written in 1982 at the behest of the military junta which captured power after a CIA- and US-manoeuvred coup in 1980.) The HDP is struggling for a constitution which is “non-sexist, ecological, democratic” and “reflects Turkey’s multiethnic, multicultural, religiously diverse, and multi-identity reality” as described by HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş in 2014. He has said that the new constitution must be the foundation document of a democratic Turkey and should be written by the people.

AKP, which has been seen as espousing a dangerous divide-and-rule policy in order to rally its religious-conservative base, was challenged by the HDP's campaign that defended the rights of ethnic minorities, women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The HDP moreover formed an electoral coalition with the Kurdish minority in Turkey's south-east and progressive forces in Istanbul and elsewhere. The election results will therefore give the Kurds – who, with 20% of Turkey's population, are the country's biggest minority – true representation in parliament. In 1980, the military-dictated constitution of Turkey had decreed a 10% threshold of vote share in the elections before a party could enter the Parliament. This clause has over the years often restricted the representation of minorities in the Parliament. The HDP has surpassed the 10% threshold and entered the parliament.

Significantly, 40 percent of the HDP's newly elected MPs are women, while women hold only 17 per cent of the total seats in the country's Parliament. Along with Kurdish rights and the rights of women and the LGBT community, the HDP also raised the issues of minimum wages and anti-corruption.

This mandate is also being seen as a culmination of the Gezi Park protests which rocked Turkey in 2013. Those protests, which spread to large parts of the country, had prominently raised the issues of Turkey's secularism and defending freedom of expression.

Sociologist and HDP member Erdem Yörük explains the backdrop in which the HDP was born: “In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the developmentalist economy featuring tariff protections, state-owned enterprises and an emphasis on agricultural self-sufficiency gave way to an export-economy fueled by low-wage labour by a new class: the informal proletariat... These reforms weakened the position of small farmers in the overall economy, necessitating internal immigration to the cities in search of wage-labour... Because political Islam was able to organize social aid on a local and communitarian basis, it filled the vacuum left by a retreating Left that had not adjusted to the new realities of the informal economy, and managed to address the destitute workers of the cities and earn their loyalty. The Kurdish national movement did similar things. Meanwhile the labour unions, which were unable to absorb the huge influx of internal immigrants and in any case restricted in various ways by anti-union legislation, went into decline.” What the HDP did was to build a base for itself among this vast section of informal working class.

The HDP has many challenges ahead, one of which is to make greater inroads within the Turkish areas. Building on their work among the Turkish working masses will be the key here. With none of the parties able to form a government on its own and AKP unable to find a coalition partner, a re-election may be in the offing. And in that case HDP will have to prove that its first time electoral success was really the beginning of a new phase in Turkey’s politics and not a one-time phenomenon.

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