The Turkish elections: augmenting polarisation

Surrounded by Black Sea, Bosphorus, Turkey appears to be undergoing never-ending process of political transformation


Ali Rauf Jaswal July 16, 2015
The writer is a political researcher. He tweets as @Ali_Jaswal

A land that for centuries served as the centre for the greatest civilisations in history is going through an apparently endless political metamorphosis. For more than a millennium, this sphere was the middle point for the Eastern Roman Empire and later of the Ottoman Turks. Surrounded by the Black Sea and the Bosphorus, Turkey appears to be undergoing a never-ending process of political transformation. Turkey is an integral member of Nato, is geographically connected to both Europe and the Middle East, and is a secular state — a characteristic that makes it important in the eyes of the Big Powers.

The emergence of the socialist People’s Democratic Party (HDP) as a strong force in the 2015 Turkish elections has changed the dynamics of the country. Primarily representative of the Kurds, who have been struggling for their rights for decades, the HDP also represents radical leftists and enjoys the support of feminists and ethnic minorities. Furthermore, for the first time in Turkish electoral history, the HDP gave a 50 per cent quota to female politicians including on all party positions and in HDP-run municipalities. In order to be considered a strong political force in the Turkish parliament, a political party has to get at least 10 per cent of the total vote. The HDP managed to get 12 per cent of the vote along with 80 seats out of 550.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development party (AKP) won 258 seats in the elections, failing to secure 60 per cent of the seats, which would have enabled the party to form a presidential-centric system as opposed to a parliamentary democracy, thus defeating the Turkish ruler’s drive to gain absolute power. The secular Republican Peoples Party won 132 seats, making it the second-largest party in parliament, while the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party, a potential coalition partner of the AKP, secured 80 seats. The result of the elections is being perceived to be a victory for democracy in the country. However, there are indications that these in fact may lead to immense polarisation in Turkey’s political realm, with no political force managing to gain a clear majority. If a coalition government is not formed within 45 days of the election, re-elections will be announced by the Supreme Election Board.

The Turkish government is currently trying to arrive at a peace deal with the militant Kurdish Worker’s Party in an attempt to ensure peace in the region. In such a scenario, the formation of a stable government in Turkey is a necessity as it is one of the strongest, predominantly Muslim countries in the region and a pivotal actor in the ongoing open-ended conflict in the Middle East. In recent years, supporters of the Islamic State (IS) from Europe and North America have used Turkish territory to enter Syria and Iraq. Turkey has a major role to play in ending this conflict as its territory is being used by IS supporters as well as by Kurds. The recent fall of Tell Abyad, an IS power cenre in Syria along the Turkish border, proved to be a huge blow to the IS, as was the regaining of Kobani by the Kurds, enabling 300,000 Kurd refugees to enter Turkey.

US Senator Rand Paul, who is also a presidential candidate, recently proposed the strengthening of anti-IS forces, including the local government in Iraq, through aerial support, instead of sending US ground troops to the country. In the context of Turkey, such a scenario could create potential complications as strengthening anti-IS forces like the Kurds and other militants could result in a backlash by the IS close to the Turkish border, which has the potential of engendering a huge political crisis in Turkey. Given this, Turkish political forces have to be extra prudent with respect to the ongoing conflict in the region and make efforts to form an effective coalition government as soon as possible; otherwise they could end up facing colossal political and security privations. Also, given the immense security challenges it faces, Turkey’s political players must rethink their respective strategies, and the AKP especially should design a political framework that curtails the ongoing cultural, social and political polarisation in the country.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th,  2015.

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