Tag Archives: AKP

AKP’s sweep to power in Turkey raises more questions than answers

As the Justice and Development Party (AKP) swept to a single-party majority for the fourth time since 2002, this was much to the surprise of many.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP won 316 seats in parliament in stark contracts to June elections.

The snap elections would afford a second chance to make amends and coalition talks were always going to collapse. It was merely months between the elections but many key events transformed the picture on the ground.

Erdogan argued that only the AKP could provide elusive stability at a time of increasing security threats and chaos and the people were seemingly swayed by this stance.

Turkey witnessed deadly Islamic State (IS) inspired bomb attacks, joined the war against IS, saw media raids on opposition media outlets linked to Fethullah Gulen but above all it was the restart of the war against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that changed the dynamic.

Without a doubt, the rise of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) led by Selahattin Demirtaş, gaining 13% of the vote in the June elections that directly led to AKP’s loss of the parliamentary majority.

The renewed violence with the PKK, which resulted in deepening unrest in the south-east, curfews and dozens of tit-for-tat killings, become a noose to tie around the HDP.

And it’s no coincidence that the AKP took significant votes from the HDP, who crucially still surpassed the 10% threshold to enter parliament, and also the anti-Kurdish Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Ultimately, it was the millions of undecided voters that transformed the electoral landscape, opting for stability of a single-party rule against fragile coalition governments that have traditional failed in Turkey, amidst new regional sandstorms.

Erdogan used the security chaos to good affect but once the dust settles what kind of Turkey will be left?

First of all, for all of AKP’s significant support, the other 50% or so are deeply against them. With media raids before and after the elections setting a marker for dealing with Gulen-backed opposition, Erdogan is in no mood to relinquish his quest to eradicate the “parallel state” that he firmly believes is undermining government.

Secondly, Erdogan promised to continue the campaign against the PKK until the organization was “eliminated”.

Finally, Erdogan has made no secret of his desire to change the constitution to afford the presidency the power he craves. He is 14 seats short of the 330 seats needed to call a referendum on constitutional change but faces fierce opposition.

Above all, this leaves a Turkey that is as polarized as ever. There are more questions than answers despite the AKP’s sweep to power.

Does it indefinitely insist on a military solution against the PKK even when decades of such a formula have proved fruitless? How about the millions of Kurds that feels trapped between PKK violence and harsh government policies that ultimately voted for the stability of AKP?

The Kurdish question is not just a PKK question. Further democratic reforms are urgently needed to appease sliding Kurdish sentiment.

Then there is the fight against IS. For too long Turkey sat on the fence and the IS problem on its doorstep will only get worse. Turkey may want stability at home but it has to make tough calls to achieve this.

Insisting that the Syrian Kurdish forces, who are key players against IS, are no different to the PKK or not accepting the reality of Kurdish autonomy across the Syrian border, benefits no side.

Economic and foreign relation challenges only add to the complex picture.

Erdogan needs to make tough decisions if he is to bring Turkey the stability he preaches.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Turkey’s snap election promises yet more political deadlock and instability

Turkey faces a snap election on November 1st, just months after its last election. The elections of June 7th bore great significance as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority owed to the success of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) that saw a Kurdish political party comfortably pass the 10% election threshold for the first time with 13% of the vote.

The first elections were symbolized by fierce rhetoric between HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. And the stage is set for a similar showdown ahead of the snap elections.

A few months may have passed since June but a lot has happened in this short time. The failure to form a coalition with either Republican People’s Party (CHP) or Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) was worsened as the wounds of war were re-opened with Erdogan declaring war on the Islamic State (IS) and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), with the PKK taking by far the brunt of air strikes.

By re-opening the conflict with the PKK and effectively ending the peace process after relative calm since 2012, Turkey entered a dangerous phase.

For many critics, the PKK conflict was orchestrated with snap elections in mind, echoing concerns that coalition talks were always designed to fail.

Erdogan and the AKP have eyes firmly on a re-shot at gaining a parliamentary majority. Attacks on the PKK which have resulted in the death of dozens of security forces in return, may net nationalist votes which were unease over the Kurdish peace process but this further entrenches the Kurdish voter camp with the HDP.

It is not clear how many nationalist and conservative votes the AKP could really grab from MHP or the CHP or if the MHP or CHP would in fact be real benefactors in any nationalist swing. The election re-run introduces more questions than answers. The AKP may increase its voter base but ultimately the HDP is unlikely to drop below the 10% threshold that the AKP desperately needs to form a majority government.

With the renewal of the PKK conflict, this put the HDP in a difficult corner. Erdogan has persistently tried to tie the PKK noose around the HDP. At the same time, the pro-Kurdish party has felt compelled to protect Kurdish interests and condemn government actions.

Erdogan has insisted that the November election is about choosing between “stability and chaos” – Turkey is certainly in a phase of chaos with two new fronts against IS and the PKK, failure to form a coalition government for first time in its history and not forgetting the economic alarm bells that will ring louder in the event of more upheaval.

The question that the electoral will have to ultimately decide is whether this chaos has been fermented by Erdogan.

In an ironic twist, the CHP and the MHP refused to take part in the first interim government in Turkey’s history, but the HDP accepted 2 seats, meaning the AKP was effectively in short-term coalition with the HDP and numerous other independents.

This scenario is hardly a coincidence but a ploy by the MHP and particularly the CHP who were incensed at not been given the opportunity to form a coalition, to put the AKP in an awkward position of a de-facto coalition with the HDP.

Come November, Turkey will be in a similar positon of having to form a coalition government. This time negotiations and terms will be even more painstaking and the AKP will be in a more difficult corner if it fails to achieve the majority that it craves with the war on PKK and IS festering long beyond the elections.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

HDP’s historic triumph at the polls renews focus on peace process in Turkey

History was achieved at the polls in Turkey as the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) became the first pro-Kurdish party to enter parliament as it emphatically surpassed the traditionally elusive election threshold with 13% of the vote.

At the same time, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) were the biggest losers even as they amassed the most votes.

The electoral outcome means that Turkey returns to the days of coalition governments and instability that blighted the country prior to the onset of the AKP in 2002. The elections results were also seen as a major dent in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan quest to amend the constitution and for a stronger presidential system.

The manifestation of 80 seats in parliament in many ways builds a new bridge between East and West of Turkey. For too long, the Kurdish problem was reduced to a terror problem. In fact, various Kurdish parties suffered under the PKK label and were quickly shut.

However, 13% of the national vote is a strong political mandate and not a voice of terror. The people clearly strive for peace and a strong voice in parliament is the vehicle for the Kurdish card to firmly enter Turkish politics.

Importantly, the HDP were able to successfully muster non-Kurdish votes which is important in its ambition to become a progressive party of Turkey.

The peace process became a key battleground between the AKP and HDP as fierce rhetoric resonated on the issue.

The peace process has somewhat stalled ahead of the elections with the PKK not willing to giving up arms outright without certain conditions been met and the AKP not willing to alienate its nationalist voter base by succumbing to PKK demands.

HDP has worked as a key interlocutor with a measure of influence with imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, but they have stressed that the power to instigate the giving up of arms is with Ocalan and not them.

HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş hit back at criticism of interim Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on the issue of laying down of arms, as heated rhetoric continued in the aftermath of the elections, stating that only Ocalan is capable of this and “Ocalan will make the call, and he is ready in İmralı to do it.”

A HDP delegation is seemingly ready to visit Imrali where there is optimism that Ocalan could set a date for the party’s congress to convene discussions on laying down of arms. Ocalan has undoubted influence but from an isolated prison other wider PKK circles have to be appeased, and it’s not clear how far or how willing a potentially weaker new government in Turkey would be to meeting key demands.

Elusive peace has many obstacles and many foes. Deadly bombings at a HDP rally days before the elections, increasing skirmishes between the PKK and Turkish forces and most recently a number of fatalities as the leader of a charity linked to the Kurdish Islamist political party Huda Par, with traditional animosity with the PKK, was killed.

It is clear so soon after the elections that these provocations are intended to stir unrest in the south east of Turkey and derail peace. This could be from nationalists who want to undermine the success of the HDP at the polls or sideline any peace with the PKK or show that HDP has unsufficient weight to placate the Kurdish region, from Huda Par seeking to stir old tension with the PKK or even elements from the PKK who believe their armed struggle is not over.

Demirtaş lashed out at the lack of government response, “People are taking steps to push the country into a civil war, and the prime minister and president are nowhere to be seen.”

From essential non-existence to a strong role in parliament, the Kurds have a come a long way in Turkey, the implementation of the peace process is now of critical importance for a better Turkey for both Turks and Kurds.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Emboldened by local elections, Erdogan looks to the Kurds in presidential bid

The local elections in Turkey were widely touted as a pivotal landmark and referendum on the 11 year rule of AKP and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Whilst Erdogan has been under great pressure of late and has endured much publicity, he was not only able to come out the elections fighting but emboldened to the contrary of expectations from opposition circles.

This goes to show that in democracy even if 1 million come to the streets in stern opposition, it is relative and not always a reflection of the sentiment of millions that decide not to take to the streets. His opposition cannot be taken lightly but his support is evidently greater.

In the end the Gülenists failed to demonstrate that they have the political clout to strike a real blow to Erdogan and the AKP. The resounding victory gave Erdogan renewed confidence to undermine and attack the Gülenists and Erdogan hardly hid his desire to root them out, holding them responsible for unrest in Turkey and smear campaigns against the government.

The election results provide a platform for Erdogan to pursue his long-time ambition of replacing Abdullah Gul as president at the presidential elections in August, where for the first time the president will be elected by popular vote and not by government.

The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) had a decent showing at the elections even if they failed to woe their targeted number of votes, but AKP continued to fair strongly in Kurdish districts.

There is popular consensus amongst Kurds that Erdogan, who has been the instigator of much welcome reform of Kurdish rights and gradual steering away of nationalist hysteria against the Kurds, is the key to the continuation of the peace process.

Even though the pace and scope of the peace process has disappointed and not met Kurdish expectations, Erdogan has taken political risk amidst a backdrop of nationalist opposition.

In this light, dealing a blow to Gülenists and secular nationalists alike was a common agenda of the Kurds and the AKP.

Erdogan secured 46% of the vote but must now strive to build on this especially if he is to succeed in the presidential elections. An alliance with the BDP is a seemingly logical step for both sides.

The BDP (and their sister party HDP) mustered just over 6% of the vote having won 3 metropolitan municipalities, 8 provinces and 66 districts.

Kurds represent a signifiant portion of the elctroate and between those that voted for AKP and the BDP, a coming together to support Erdogan‘s candidacy will almost certainly tip the scales favourably.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Dialog is the way forward for stability and prosperity

As Turkish parliament stutters to a start, Kurds demand wholesale measures not piecemeal gestures

The recent national elections in Turkey were historic for the AKP as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan secured a landslide visctory and a third term, and many had hoped would also be historic for the future face of  Turkey.

However, the ushering of a new chapter inTurkeyhardly got off to the best of starts as boycotts by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) derailed any short-lived post election euphoria.

The simultaneous boycott by the CHP underlined the broader national frustration with judicial handicaps and democratic constraints in Turkey, and strengthened the sense of injustice amongst the Kurds.  

Progress on the Kurdish issue has been stop-start and inconsistent at the best of times, nevertheless, the Kurdish question has taken a new footing under Erdogan’s tenure. Some of the reforms, cultural rights and increasing reachout to the Kurds in the midst of nationalist hysteria have certainly been symbolic.

However, as we have seen with the unprecedented Arab spring that has rocked the Middle Eastern horizon and toppled many long established regimes, once expectations rise unless progress on the ground and fulfilment of demands rises exponentially with it, the enmity and determination of the people can not be contained and this leads back into a vicious cycle of tail-chasing socio-political progress.

The experiences of the Kurds in Turkey is hardly glittered with glory but as expectations have naturally grown and the people have become steadily more confident, the raft of changes proposed by the Turkish government has failed to appease Kurdish ambition.

Erdogan has promised to secure consensus for the drafting of a new constitution with a key demand of the BDP and PKK been recognition of Kurdish identity amongst the proposed amendments.

Much like the much heralded ‘Kurdish opening’, Turkey finds itself in position of promising much but delivering little against a backdrop of hawkish circles and nationalist anger. As such Kurdish hopes for comprehensive changes to the constitution are unlikely.

Erdogan’s AKP previously enjoyed strong electoral support in the Kurdish regions but the latest elections demonstrate a bewilderment and lack of faith in Erdogan fulfilling his promises.

The balance of keeping the west and east of the country happy has almost certainly shifted in the favour of appeasing the west of Turkey. Erdogan has proven he can stand-up to the traditionalist elite and rise above the might and influence ofTurkey’s military peers. But this battle has proved a difficult and contentious balancing act and as such Erdogan’s reach-out to the Kurds has quickly been followed by backtracking.

In the current Middle Eastern turmoil, the rising prominence of Kurds in Iraq and Syria and the changing strategic shape of the region, it is the east of Turkey that’s holds the real card to Turkeys growth, prosperity and stability.

In the pastTurkeycould afford to ignore their restive Kurdish population at will and worse confide them to second class status but in the present age such policies will only see a kickback forAnkara.

Without economic growth in the region, social and cultural advancement, more political freedom and a much a larger slice of state focus and investment, what reasons will the Kurds have to sway towards Ankara and reconciliation?

It is time for the Turkish government to offer the Kurdish population a real political alternative. The Kurds have often been stuck between successive repressive governments and violence and resistance of the PKK. This has had led to a vicious cycle where the people have been seemingly trapped. On the one hand the Turkish government’s overtures simply do not fulfil those expected of a modern democratic European nation and on the other hand the Turkish government has drastically undermined political representation in the region which has ubiquitously left the PKK as the representatives and interlocutors of the Kurdish nation.

Indeed this PKK shadow continues to hinder Kurds in the political arena.  BDP is a reincarnation in a long line of Kurdish political parties that have been banned and reprimanded. The fact that the BDP representatives had to run as independents tells its own story with the electoral system continuing to plague Kurdish advancement.

Whilst Erdogan recorded a landslide victory, the real victors at the recent polls were the BDP with 36 votes. However, the BDP boycott of parliament as a result of the stripping of jailed deputy Hatip Dicle of his seat along with the refusal to release 5 candidates awaiting trial in prison quickly dispelled hopes of a new beginning and evoked fears of a return to the poisonous atmosphere of the past.

If this was a one off occurrence then perhaps it would be more understandable, but practically every Kurdish party in the past has been hindered and disbanded for one reason or another.

The Kurds fear that the government is already trying to clip their wings again as they potentially form a considerable voice in parliament.

Just where does this leave roadmap for the Kurdish opening? Evidently, the more disillusioned the Kurds become the more the PKK threatens to grow in influence. Kurdish political advancement is a must for Turkey to shake the cob webs of its past struggles against the PKK. In the new dawn of a new age, violence is no longer an acceptable form of political resolution and like most ordinary Turkish citizens, the Kurds do not favour violence or instability. They want jobs, opportunities, cultural and political freedoms and investment.

As bitter of a pill as it is to swallow, the PKK is now intertwined with the Kurdish opening and a solution to the Kurdish problem. Even the government behind the political chambers has realised this and have kept contact with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, but this has been concealed and played down for fear of a major government own goal.

In reality, without a resolution to the PKK dilemma, the Kurdish question can never be resolved. This is the by-product of Turkeys own mistakes. It has failed to promote political representation for Kurds and at the same time has refused to acknowledge the PKK.

Turkeymust break from tentative steps and piecemeal gestures to its Kurdish population and instead implement tangible wholesale reforms.

The Kurds are eagerly looking towards Ankar ato gauge the sincerity and appetite of the government for real change.

In the meantime, the PKK continues to lurk in the background with its own threats and demands and ongoing confrontation in the south east. Against a backdrop of nationalist fever, the government is unlikely to meet PKK demands, negotiate directly or grant any level of amnesty.

While an inflammation of armed insurrection is unlikely, the Kurdish population as they have shown in the protests leading up to the elections, can cause more unrest and political damage than any armed struggle.

As witnessed in theMiddle East, mass mobilisation of the masses is far more superior to any military might. The Kurdish population is not a small insignificant corner of Turkey but an integral part of its past, present and future.

There is no reason why Turkey could not usher a new era of  true fraternity. The Kurds have much more to gain with a productive Ankara by its side but at the same time can not indefinitely accept token gestures.

Both the Kurds and Turks, both within Turkey and beyond are inseparable entities. The prosperity of both nations lies only with the advent of strong relations and new channels of dialogue and understanding.

As difficult as it may prove for the BDP, it must end its boycott and not to succumb to further weakening in parliament. While Turkey must realise that it must first solve democratic shortcomings in its own backyard before launching itself as the regional sponsor of the new reformist tidal wave in the Middle East.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

A referendum on the taste for change and the historical foundations of Turkey

For a country seemingly in transition and an ideological tangle between its historical roots and the reformists intending to drag Turkey into the new millennia, the vote over constitutional amendments held extra significance.

Many had perceived the vote as a referendum on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself and the thermostat by which to gauge the ruling party AKP’s likely showing ahead of next years crucial national elections.

A hard-fought and contentious campaign was followed by a tense vote as the Turkish people voted ‘yes’ to the constitutional reform package on the table. The polarisation of Turkey could not be painted better than the fact that although 58% of the electorate voted in favour, large section of the Kurdish south east boycotted the vote or voted no. Elsewhere, large sections of Istanbul, a secularist bastion, were weary of government measures to dilute historical state principles and ideals.

The AKP, who stormed to power in 2002 with a tight-hold on the Turkish political arena, faced stiff criticism from nationalist and conservative circles, especially from the main opposition party, CHP, who accused the Islamist rooted AKP of a de-facto Islamist coup and aiming to seize control of the judiciary.

Since the AKP assumed political ascendancy, many key reforms designed to facilitate EU accession have been passed. This has included loosening laws around restrictions on freedom of speech, allowing landmark if not limited and state controlled broadcasting in Kurdish and slowly clipping the wings of the powerful Turkish army, the long-time guardians of the secularist ideology.

One of the key aims was to limit the power of the judiciary and the largely independent hand of the constitutional courts, whose status at times has afforded a free hand in upholding the now mystical secular and nationalist ethos of the state, and who were even close to banning the AKP only a couple of years ago.

The new measures provide the government greater influence over the selection of judges and also include steps to try army officers in civilian courts.

In many ways, the constitutional referendum pitted an old Turkey against an aspiring new one.

Over the past decades since foundation of the republic, certain blueprints of Turkey such as its strong secularism, nationalist ideals and the almost sacred role of the military were almost deemed untouchable.

While the AKP and Turkey has a long way to go, the sense of new if not highly contentious dialogue has been a strong development for Turkey as it tries to reshape its strategic role and identity both in the Middle East and Europe.

Admittedly, many of these reforms have been forced by EU accession demands than pure free will but the change in the air in recent years has certainly rocked the established elite.

The same ideals that engulfed Turkey in the 1920’s can not be merely applied indefinitely. The advent of globalism, a new world order and more transparent economic unions, means that Turkey must simply change with the times, or become stuck in out dated ethos that will only prove counter-productive to its advancement and standing.

Eventual entry into the EU is a major carrot and one that will ultimately see Turkey make further constitutional changes required, no matter how hard they may be to stomach in certain quarters, let alone discuss at this sensitive juncture.

As debate and a sense of anxiety in some nationalist circles continues to grip Turkey, perhaps it was fitting that the referendum was held on the day that marked exactly 30 years since a military junta took power 30 years ago and duly adopted the current constitution in 1982.

The current constitution drawn up by military influenced and ultra partisan actors with very specific objectives at the time is out-dated and simply incompatible with that of an EU aspiring country.

This common acceptance of the need for modernisation begs the question why all the fuss over the reform package? The answer is that although the reforms included only 26 amendments to the 1982 constitution, many which were widely expected and some now irrelevant, many hawks and nationalists fear that this may just be the tip of the iceberg as the AKP government manoeuvres further to imprint its ideology.

Critics will point to the way the reform package was rushed through earlier this year, and to the fact that citizens had a choice of ‘all or nothing’ over the proposed changes. While Erdogan has been heralded for spearheading economic and political advancement in Turkey, opposition camps point to his rigid style and view the Prime Minister with a degree of mistrust.

Ironically, while for some the constitutional amendments were too radical, for the impoverished Kurds struggling in the shadow of authoritarian and repressive laws and who largely abstained or voted “no”, the reforms simply do not go far enough. Many of the key laws and stipulations that continue to impinge Kurdish rights remain enshrined in legislature. For example, the key law that stipulates that any political party must attain a 10% threshold to enter parliament has continually blighted Kurdish political parties. Teaching and broadcasting in the Kurdish language are still limited and freedoms are still someway short.

Quite simply the changes simply do not quench the evident need of greater political reform in Turkey. However, particularly for the Kurds, who only decades ago were denied altogether, the gradual thawing of age-old mindsets is more significant than the limited reforms on the table at the current time.

It took many decades to usher even the notion of change and thus expectancy that the Turkish nationalist horizon will now suddenly tip upside down is optimistic at best. The democratisation of Turkey will continue, and as frustrating and tense as it has been, further changes will be painstaking, gradual and not wholesale.

For example the much anticipated ‘Kurdish opening’ ran out of steam as the government became paralysed by stiff opposition, perception of ‘succumbing’ to the PKK and also at the same time from instability and general mistrust in the south east, who argued the steps did not go far enough.

While disappointedly the iconic steps by the government to reach out to the Kurds never took any semblance of ascendancy, the channels of democratisation and dialogue are surely, if not slowly, taking root.

New democratic pages must be turned to ensure modernisation of Turkey’s south east and a peaceful resolution to the Kurdish question.

The EU must shoulder a lions-share of responsibility in carrying and pushing Turkey towards accession and prosperity, by loosening the nationalistic constitution further and particularly ensuring that Kurdish rights are advanced further. After all if Turkey joins the EU, it will be bringing its millions of Kurds with it.

While US President Barack Obama’s belief of “vibrancy” in Turkey’s democracy is exaggerated, in Erdogan own words, Turkey has at least “crossed a historic threshold”.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.