Erdogan's Reign continued
While some degree of fraud and irregularities are to be suspected, those in and of themselves were likely not perpetrated to the degree necessary to result in such a significant upswing of support when compared to the last election. What appears to have happened is that Erdogan’s extremely risky gambit has paid off, and that Turkish voters were placed in such a paralyzing atmosphere of manufactured fear that they instinctively clung to the ruling party out of desperation for what they were made to think was any viable alternative.
The article begins by looking at the four themes that Erdogan used to scare half of the participating electorate into submission, before explaining exactly how that worked out on the psychological front. Afterwards, the article then compares the difference between this vote and June’s, explaining some of the more salient intricacies of what changed since then. Wrapping everything up, the last part offers a few forecasts for Turkey’s political direction under an emboldened Erdogan Presidency.
The Fear Factory
Faced with an unprecedented electoral defeat in June, Erdogan promptly unleashed a vicious campaign of fear mongering. This saw him exploit an array of internal and external factors in order to cultivate the appropriate atmosphere of anxiety that would scare voters into clinging to his party. The first event of significance that occurred was the ISIL-attributed suicide bombing in Suruc, which a sizeable amount of people suspected was a false flag attack ordered by Erdogan. Whether it was or not, it did achieve its strategic goal, which was to incite the Kurdish population against the authorities and give the government the ‘pretext’ to violate the existing ceasefire and recommence its War on the Kurds.
In response, the Kurds began an intense insurgency that Erdogan would then characterize as a terrorist war, which thereby allowed him to market it a transnational conflict and ‘legitimized’ Turkish attacks in Northern Iraq. This state of undeclared civil war in Turkey continued until the PKK declared that it would unilaterally halt its operations in the immediate run-up to the vote, and then held to their word despite the Ankara suicide bombing that some people think was meant to incite them back into rebellion. Right before the vote was held, Turkey fired on the Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria, obviously in an attempt to provoke some sort of response that could be used to gin up even more nationalistic pro-AKP fervor that would work to Erdogan’s electoral favor.
Syria And Russia:
Looking at the other fear mongering tactics that Erdogan resorted to, it’s appropriate now to mention a few words about Syria. It’s been clear from the beginning that Erdogan has a personal stake in waging the War on Syria, seeing it as a geopolitical prerequisite for the rise of Neo-Ottomanism. While that hasn’t played out as he expected and can now be described as a failed strategic vision, it doesn’t mean that it’s outlived its utility for the Turkish strongman. Even though the prospects of a conventional Turkish invasion have been all but extinguished by Russia’s anti-terrorist intervention there, Erdogan knew that he can continue marketing the conflict to his internal audience in order to stoke pro-government nationalism and appeal to voters from the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). In order to give the conflict a dramatic flair, he also over-exaggerated the accidental airspace violations by Russian military aircraft, which contributed to the paranoid siege mentality that he was forcing upon the Turkish populace.
The ‘Right’ Recipe
Looking at the four ingredients of Erdogan’s psychological recipe, it’s clear that each one served a specific and complementary purpose in keeping him in power. The first ingredient is the two ISIL suicide bombings, which even if it’s never conclusively proven that Erdogan was directly linked to them, it can at least be solidly argued that they came as a blowback consequence of his disastrous War on Syria policy. The effect that they had on Turkey was to convince the voters that the terrorist threat in their land was acute and urgent, and that resolute action and dependable leadership is required to root it out. Naturally, given that Erdogan has been in power for over a decade and is a familiar face to all Turks (for both good and bad reasons), he seemed like the only logical individual to fit this profile.
The next ‘ingredient’ that ‘Chef’ Erdogan threw into the blender was the War on the Kurds, which as was written about earlier, was triggered by that demographic’s reaction to what they truly believe was a false flag attack against their ethnic kin. One thing led to another, and before anyone had time to think about what was happening, Turkey was already in a state of open warfare with the Kurds, leading some observers to think that this was actually a preplanned action on the part of the military. No matter if it was or not, the saliency of this situation in the context of the elections was that it contributed to putting Turks on edge through the prefabricated creation of a second internal enemy (ISIL being the first one). While Erdogan never succeeded in outlawing the Kurdish-affiliated HDP as some had thought he would before the election, it does seem as though he drove some of the non-Kurdish voters away from it through his repeated and unproven accusations that the party was associated with the terrorist-branded PKK.
The third element of Erdogan’s recipe was to play up the possibility of a Turkish-initiated and NATO-supported “no fly zone” or “safe zone” inside Syrian territory. This ultra-nationalist stance was meant to appeal to the more aggressive voters in Turkey, particularly those with the MHP. Erdogan gambled that they’d become enamored with his ‘leadership’ after relaunching a War on the Kurds and simultaneously threatening Syria, and judging by the election results that will be analyzed shortly, this risk seems to have paid off greatly for him. What he essentially was maintaining was the idea that the Syrian Arab Republic and President Assad personally are some type of external “enemy” to the Turkish people, thus overwhelming them with a multitude of foes that just happen to have jumped out of nowhere. President Assad as vilified long before, but now he was being falsely attributed for the refugee crisis, which has upset many in Turkish society and engenders very negative emotions. So to keep count, the Turkish people were now under ‘siege’ from ISIL, the Kurds, and President Assad/Syria, according to Erdogan.
The last ingredient that really topped everything off was the disproportionate and boisterous rhetoric emanating out of Ankara after Russian jets accidentally violated Turkish airspace. Russia, already maligned by the Western mainstream media as “enemy number one” to ‘global peace’ was now, as it was manipulatively made out to be, turning its sights towards Turkey. As expected, this likely galvanized any Turkish voters who were still on the fence about their choice of the AKP in the upcoming elections, and they probably thought it better to keep Erdogan in power to ‘deal’ with Russia than to risk changing leaders and having an apparently ‘weaker’ Prime Minister (in reality, one who is actually more pragmatic with Russia) in power. But then again, recall that as it currently stands, the Presidency is weaker than the Premiership unless Erdogan can find a way to rewrite the constitution (which the AKP currently doesn’t have the power to do), but one should also keep in mind that it’s generally understood that it’s Erdogan who’s controlling Davutoglu and not vice-versa. Weakening Erdogan through a coalition government can be interpreted by many as weakening Davutoglu (the individual legally holding the most power in Turkey right now), thus, as Erdogan wanted the voters to infer, weakening Turkey in its relations with an “aggressive” Russia.
Comparing The Count
The main idea being presented is that Erdogan’s combination of internal and external fear mongering tactics was successfully used as a ploy for garnering more support for the AKP, and that the examined events were the most critical in bringing it about. Keeping that in mind, it’s necessary to compare the most recent results with those from June in order to see exactly what changed electorally and in which direction:
AKP – 40.9% AKP – 49.48%
CHP – 25% CHP – 25.31%
MHP – 16.3% MHP – 11.90%
HDP – 13.1% HDP – 10.75%
The most obvious change is that the AKP gained votes while MHP and HDP lost them, with CHP remaining about the same in each election. Building on the argument that’s been made so far, it can be said that Erdogan’s aggressive, hyper-nationalistic actions clothed in the fabric of “patriotism” succeeded in wooing voters from the MHP to the AKP. They likely saw in Erdogan the man that they always wanted him to be – the individual who is ‘tough’ on the Kurds and ready to stand up to Russia, all while seriously plotting a conventional invasion of Syria. The explanation for why more MHP voters didn’t ‘defect’ to AKP is because there’s still an influential segment of the population that doesn’t think Erdogan does enough in this direction and should actually be more radical. It goes without saying that this strand of thinking is exceptionally dangerous, and that it could maybe even one day turn into a “Pravy Sektor” type of anti-government ‘revolutionary’ movement. After all, they already control the “Gray Wolves” movement, which is pretty much a Turkish version of Pravy Sektor anyhow. They have yet to take their frustrations to the street and are strongly suspected of cooperating with Turkish intelligence in staging the Bangkok Bombing, but just as Al Qaeda eventually got out of control and turned against its American maker, this Turkish nationalist guerrilla group could potentially one day do the same to its Turkish one (and with strong American backing).
Moving along, the HDP lost 3% of the vote from last time, or in a comparative percentage, nearly a quarter of its earlier advocates as a percentage of its previous tally (13.1% vs 10.75). The explanations for this are two-fold: firstly, some Kurds may have been too scared to vote or unable to do so without excessive government intimidation preventing them, and this could have contributed to them staying home and not voting; and secondly, that Erdogan’s mud-slinging campaign of linking the HDP to the PKK succeeded to the degree that some of its non-Kurdish supporters broke ranks with it and didn’t turn up to vote (or if they did, they voted for the CHP and made up for its prior supporters who didn’t vote this time). If that’s the case, and it certainly seems plausible that some of the country’s dissident elements may have fallen for this ruse, then that means that the HDP is now more of a Kurdish-centric party than even before, thus unwittingly confirming the self-fulfilling fear that Erdogan has of it potentially being a ‘front’ for the PKK’s political interests for the Kurdish community. What’s most important to recognize, however, is that the HDP still passed the 10% threshold needed to enter into parliament, so Erdogan did fail in his attempt to politically silence the group, even if he was mildly successful in decreasing its electoral support.
There’s really not much to address when it comes to the CHP. Considering that the June and November elections saw near-equal turnout (83.92% and 85.18%, respectively), it looks like all of those who were going to vote for the party already did so and continued to do so. In this respect, they can be seen as the second-most loyal of party members behind the AKP, which looks to have had most of its June voters returning to the polls in November, plus the extra ones they ‘poached’ from the MHP and whatever other voters they attracted that didn’t participate last time. Altogether, the voters that went with AKP were probably calculating that it would be best to retain the country’s well-known and ‘trusted’ leader amidst the existential time of troubles facing the country, despite them all being attributable in one way or another to Erdogan, and two of them, Syria and Russia, being grossly exaggerated and completely manufactured.
Even though there were scattered protests in the majority Kurdish-populated areas of Turkey after the results were announced, it’s not likely that this will have any affect Erdogan’s ability to govern, nor on his perceived legitimacy in ‘cleanly’ winning the vote. The CHP, the long-standing political party and traditional opposition to the AKP since 2002, didn’t contest the results, which means that the ‘international community’ (the West) won’t question them either. For better or for worse, they already have a working relationship with Erdogan that some of them are more than comfortable with keeping intact, hoping to build upon it in one way or another instead of having to go through the motions of recreating such ties with whoever his successor might have been. Because of this, there’s no real chance that the formal political parties will stage a Color Revolution at this time, but remembering that over 50% of the country didn’t vote for the AKP, it’s always a possibility that could return in the future, and mustn’t at all be discounted (whether naturally occurring or externally provoked).
Islamization And Authoritarianism:
That being said, it can be expected that Erdogan will continue working towards the Islamization of society and the centralization of his rule, even if he doesn’t have the parliamentary supermajority to do so in either cases. The ideologies of Islamism and authoritarianism, as so brilliantly described by Ghassan Kadi for The Saker, are part and parcel of the Erdogan package, and they won’t ever go away. He may tactically ‘moderate’ his approach towards each in order to strategically accommodate the parliamentary situation at the time, but he’ll never turn his back on pursuing them whenever possible. Just as a rat will always move towards cheese, so too will Erdogan always move towards these ideologies.
The War On The Kurds:
More tangibly, it can be assumed that Erdogan may continue resorting to his ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards the Kurdish Insurgency, and that any government-provoked return to violence on their part will be met with a very brutal response. Erdogan needs to continue building up support among the MHP ultra-nationalists in society and maintaining that which he has already won, and there’s no quicker way for him to do that than to order military force against the Kurdish population. Everything now depends on the PKK, and whether they’ll submit to the Sultan on his terms or continue fighting until they can clinch another ceasefire in promotion of their genuine interests.
The War On Syria:
It’s clear that Erdogan is working with the US in plotting an improvisation of their earlier conventional invasion plan against Syria, but it’s not yet clear what Turkey’s role will be in it. The cross-border anti-Kurdish firing that took place about a week before the vote could be indicative of forthcoming Turkish intentions, which may be to use military provocations against the YPG to ‘justify’ a ‘limited’ invasion of northern Syria, which would then be used to create the so-called “safe zone” that was already planned (albeit in a different geographic location than was publicly declared in the past). Under this scenario, Turkey would probably use special forces like the US has already deployed in order to limit the ‘conventionality’ of its invasion and make it more challenging for Russia to respond to. Also, it might patronize the Arab component of the “Democratic Forces of Syria” proxy that the US recently assembled earlier last month in order to use it to occupy strategic parts of the Syrian border on Ankara’s behalf and in place of the Kurds, although this might unintentionally break the alliance with inter-ethnic strife if pushed at the ‘wrong time’.
In this respect, Erdogan will likely be a lot more predictable than in the aforementioned two topics. More than likely, he’ll harden his position and continue to negotiate as tough as he can to maximize all of the economic advantages that he can from the Balkan Stream pipeline plan (the author’s more geographically inclusive terminology for the full portion of the Turkish Stream). At the end of the day, however, it’s probable that he’ll sign it, although Russia may have to give up enormous economic concessions in terms of gas pricing in order to finally reach the deal. From Erdogan’s perspective, it’s Balkan Stream is much more than an economic prize, but also a strategic one as well, since it would tie Turkey together with Russia in the latter’s soft power projection throughout the entire Balkan space, and with Neo-Ottomanism failing in the Mideast, he may think that this presents him some sort of opportunity to shift gears in redirecting the policy towards the Balkans. It’s not to say that he’ll succeed in that (he’s failed on so many foreign policy fronts in his career), but that this may be one of the imperatives on his mind at the moment and could play to the benefit of seeing Balkan Stream finally actualized in form.
Hamas released a much-publicized message congratulating Erdogan on his victory and proclaiming that it would “benefit the Palestinian people”. This is clear evidence that the group is doing its best to ingratiate itself with the Sultan in the hopes of coming under his sponsorship. In the same article that was just cited, 12 Syrian “opposition” groups also voiced their happiness that their benefactor will remain in power for the coming future. The words of support coming from Syrian-based terrorists shouldn’t be surprising, but some mind have difficulty understanding Turkey’s relationship to Hamas, so it deserves to be elaborated on a bit.
Hamas announcement must be seen in the wider context of the group falling under the guiding influence of Saudi Arabia and Qatar in recent years, both of which are states that have very positive relations with Turkey (Saudi Arabia through the coordinated War on Syria, and Qatar through Erdogan’s hosting of the Muslim Brotherhood). At this point, it is better to understand Hamas not as a Palestinian resistance organization, but as a joint Saudi-Qatari proxy masquerading as an anti-Israeli group, which still happens to have important influence among Palestinian society regardless. The two unipolar-obsessed Gulf Kingdoms are symbolically ‘offering’ Hamas’ support to Erdogan in order to grant him heightened ‘legitimacy’ in the Middle East, probably because they’re planning another fake Turkish-Israeli ‘fall out’ to boost his regional image.
Finally, the last part of the forecast that the briefing will address is Erdogan’s anticipated relations with the US. Ties between the two countries have been up and down, as one tried to outsmart the other in tricking them into acting first in the conventional invasion of Syria, which had the effect of creating a strategic dilemma that ultimately scuttled the whole plan. The US has plotted against Erdogan with the Kurds and favorable coverage to the Gezi Park protesters, but likewise, Erdogan tried working against the US with Balkan Stream, for example, so the games have now gone both ways. From the looks of it, it seems as though Erdogan and the US have decided to bury the hatchet in order to coordinate their response to Russia’s anti-terrorist intervention in Syria, so it can be expected that Turkey will double down on its Euro-Atlantic loyalty vis-à-vis Syria in exchange for the US applying certain instruments of pressure against the EU’s elite in order to get them to support an expedited Turkish ascension to the bloc.