Turkey: Erdogan’s victory based on fear and intimidation

Turkey: Erdogan’s election victory based on fear and intimidation

The recent Turkish election took place against a backcloth of deepening economic and political insecurity in the country – a situation engineered by the ruling class.

Society has become further polarised as a result of the state’s resumption of military attacks on the Kurdish PKK guerrilla group, both inside and outside Turkey. The authoritarian clampdown on opposition media outlets and social media, along with the faltering economy, also ramped up this ‘strategy of tension’.

This includes October’s terrorist bombings in Ankara which devastated a peace rally by left-leaning trade unions and the pro-Kurdish rights HDP (People’s Democratic Party).

The AKP blamed the bombings on Isis (which has benefitted from the Turkish government’s strategy in Syria). But why were known terrorists not stopped earlier and why was only an HDP event targeted? Mike Cleverley examines the election results.

Following my recent visit to Turkey, and experiencing the horror of the Ankara bombing on 10 October, the Turkish general election on Sunday 1 November 2015 was an event I have followed with great interest. This was especially the case after meeting a comrade of Socyalist Alternatif, the sister organisation of the Socialist Party in Turkey.

The conservative AK Party won a decisive majority in the general election, securing 316 seats in the 550 seat parliament. The result satisfied the capitalist class, with the Turkish currency and stock market surging upwards.

The main capitalist opposition, the CHP, only slightly increased its vote since the June elections while the far-right MHP’s share fell from 16% to 12%, losing out to the AKP.

The AKP’s menacing nationalist rhetoric and brutal military campaign against the Kurds undoubtedly managed to attract significant votes from a layer of MHP supporters.

The pro-Kurdish HDP (People’s Democratic Party), whose June election vote had been boosted by votes from young, radical Turks, also lost out with 21 fewer MPs, just crossing the undemocratic 10% threshold needed to secure seats in parliament.

The loss of support for the HDP will be a disappointment for the left, but many will rightly question the idea of ‘free elections’ taking place when Kurdish towns and villages have been under military siege. Many HDP supporters have been arrested in the last few months, and HDP offices have been physically targeted by mobs associated with the AKP and the MHP.

This result is a boost to President Erdogan but not enough to allow him to press ahead with changes to the Turkish constitution which would have consolidated the powers of the presidency.


The election was held against a backdrop of massive scaremongering, rampant violence and clampdown on opposition voices – including interference by the president in the run up to polling day, against the constitution he is supposed to uphold.

Prior to the election there were rumours, emanating from a whistleblower from within the government, that the AKP had installed its own supporters in positions to rig the ballot results.

Growing reports of electoral fraud and polling disruption are now emerging, especially from the Kurdish areas where the HDP secured high votes in the June election.

Various intimidation tactics were directed at voters, critical journalists and election observers. Some international electoral observers were taken away by the police, and polling stations closed down or deprived of access by the army.

In a number of areas ballots disappeared, while in Izmir, for example, there were 700,000 more votes than the number of registered voters!

Just days before the election Koza Ipek Holdings group, which publishes media linked to opponents of Erdogan, was taken over and senior editors replaced by AKP supporters in both papers and TV channels. The Turkish Bar Association condemned these measures as unconstitutional.

Undoubtedly these actions and the general climate of crisis helped to secure the AKP’s victory on Sunday.

The losses by the HDP will also have been affected by its decision to cancel planned rallies following the bomb attack in Ankara on 10 October.

All these factors contributed to a totally biased election in which the voices of the opposition could hardly be heard, while the voices of the ruling party were magnified.

The election result itself will not mask the deep divisions within the ruling class, reflected not only in the existence of both the AKP and its more secular rival the CHP but also in the uneasy balance of power between president Erdogan and prime minister Davutoglu.

All three of the opposition parties will be examining these election results for evidence of fraud. This includes the loss of over 650,000 votes from the voters’ lists between the June and November polls and the appearance of over 400,000 new voters onto those lists. These ‘anomalies’ appear to be concentrated in districts where the margins between the main two parties were close back in June.

For the organised working class in the trade unions this election came at a time when they are gaining in confidence.

General strike

The two-day protest general strike immediately following the October bombings in Ankara (blamed squarely on the AKP’s policies), indicates the potential power of united working class action.

Unfortunately, this strike was not followed up by any call to escalate the mobilisation, leaving the movement without a clear strategy, and the AKP to dominate the public discourse again in the run-up to the election.

The general strike came after a sustained period of workers’ struggle. In May 2014, following a mining disaster, workers struck to protest against the appalling safety record of Turkish mine bosses.

In May 2015 a strike at the Renault factory triggered action at other factories in Turkey’s industrial heartland.

This in spite of extremely harsh anti-union laws in Turkey where “authorised unions” frequently fail to protect workers’ interests resulting in Turkey having the lowest proportion of unionised workers in the OECD (the ‘developed countries’). Turkey has even seen doctors on strike, in May 2015, protesting against excessive workloads.

Socialists in Turkey organised around Socyalist Alternatif, (sister organisation of the Socialist Party), will continue to campaign for worker’s unity and for an independent mass workers’ party.

The HDP could potentially provide a stepping stone to this – if it turns towards workers from all communities with a bold programme of action and democratises its internal structures.

Such a party should embrace a socialist programme of public ownership and democratic workers’ control of major industries; the right of self-determination for the Kurdish people and an end to the attacks on Kurdish national rights under the guise of fighting terrorism.

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