The post-coup purges in Turkey are continuing in full swing. Alongside the ongoing purges in the state bureaucracy, Erdoğan and his government recklessly targeted the political opposition. 11 MP’s of the pro-Kurdish left party HDP (People’s Democratic Party) were arrested and placed under pre-trial detention.
June 2015 elections: a breaking point
The elections of June 2015, following which the AKP lost its majority in the parliament, constituted a breaking point in Erdoğan’s policies on the Kurdish question. The AKP’s desired objective was to prevent the HDP to surpass the (totally anti-democratic) electoral threshold of 10% needed to get seats in the Parliament. By being the second most important party in the Kurdish areas of Turkey (=Northern Kurdistan), the AKP would grab all the Kurdish parliamentary seats for itself. Therefore it would be able to reach the critical number of 367 seats necessary to carry through a constitutional change without taking recourse to a referendum.
During the so-called “resolution process”, the AKP persistently addressed the PKK as an interlocutor rather than the HDP, for the very same reason: trying to keep the HDP in the dark. In order to attract Kurdish votes, the AKP leaders did their best to spread the message that it was their party, not the HDP, which was leading the peace resolution.
However, the HDP’s success in the June 2015 elections completely destroyed the AKP’s plans. The HDP’s left approach, with its strong emphasis on social and economic questions, had a great impact, not only in the Kurdish cities, but most importantly, also in the Western cities where Turkish people are in the majority. Reaping the fruits of victory, the HDP literally beat the pants off the AKP with 13% of the vote. The AKP was far from its presidential agenda and, having lost its absolute majority, was not even able to form a government without the support of a coalition partner, facing the danger of being pushed back into the opposition.
Erdoğan and the AKP officialdom knew all too well that the moment they would concede political power, they would be prosecuted for all the constitutional violations, the war crimes, and the corruption committed under their rule. This was not an option they were ready to contemplate by sitting back – hence maintaining power became a matter of political life or death.
After the June elections, Erdoğan knew that his days were numbered. The AKP leaders had to chart a new course, as their priority was not the presidential system anymore; it was to keep political power at all costs. Abandoning all hopes for the Kurdish votes, the AKP played in the most populist way possible in order to get Turkish nationalists’ votes. With the support of its puppet media (which is almost 100% of the total media - including the self-proclaimed “secular/social-democrat” media, who are on the same page when it comes to the Kurdish question) the AKP declared a war against the Kurdish movement. Hundreds of civilians were murdered, Kurdish cities were torn into pieces, and guerilla fighters were executed, tortured, and even exposed to public shame. Most importantly, all those military operations were applauded and legitimized in the name of “counter-terrorist operations” by the puppet media.
The war was not only raging in the East. In western Turkish cities, Kurdish neighborhoods, workplaces (bookstores) etc. were attacked by AKP supporters and fascists (who were already looking for any pretext to attack the Kurds), and Kurdish people living outside Northern Kurdistan were equally terrorized. By means of all those events, Erdoğan, AKP officials and the puppet media fueled chauvinism in society and directly targeted the HDP as a supposed sponsor of terrorism. This logic failed to follow any consistency, since it was the parliamentary HDP, not even the PKK -nor obviously the AKP who had once negotiated with it- which was in the main line of fire. The war was intensely going on, in both an armed and unarmed way.
In the meantime Erdoğan, as president of the parliamentary system, did his best to manipulate the governmental process. He blocked all possible ways to form a coalition government, and forced the other parties into a snap election. That manipulation was successful; consequently a snap election was organized, in November 2015.
The HDP was under ferocious attacks, hence too weakened to repeat the type of successful electoral campaign it had led for the June elections. This was unfortunately reinforced by some mistakes from the party’s leadership, such as its decision to cancel all electoral rallies in the aftermath of the double terrorist attack that shook Ankara on 10 October 2015. In this climate, the demonization and marginalization campaign against the HDP was met with a certain amount of success, to the point that the latter lost a considerable amount of Turkish votes in Western cities and barely passed the electoral threshold. The ruling party’s war-mongering tactics paid off, as the AKP came to power on its own again. Now that the cold breath of political death was not in their back any more, Erdoğan and his clique were ready to go back to their presidential agenda.
Why a presidential system?
So what is the motive behind Erdoğan’s ambition to move towards a presidential system? The motive is, simply, to stay politically alive. Erdoğan, the AKP and all its lapdogs are somehow compelled to move towards a dictatorship. They don’t have any other option but to be that much authoritarian and assailant, because of three major reasons. Firstly, since the June elections they have been boosted by the chauvinist wave they initiated. Erdoğan’s nationalist and conservative supporters who would always fall for any action against the Kurds simply embraced the war against the Kurds. Erdoğan escalated the violence to a very high level and has prolonged that level since last June’s elections, and now nothing less is expected of him. They have unleashed a dynamic upon which they are now dependent, and which they cannot easily put an end to. Secondly, Erdoğan knows for certain that any crumb left of the opposition has the potential to snowball into another street movement like the Gezi Park events of 2013. They have been suppressing the opposition so hard and for so long that any non-AKP supporter is longing for any opportunity to be heard and looking for any way to get rid of their reign. So any embryo of opposition has the potential to be backed by a mass of people. Erdoğan and his watchdog police are very conscious of this; they would even attack a 10 people-strong press statement, as they are scared of any breach of opposition becoming the starting point for something bigger. Thirdly, even if Erdoğan seems to be at the height of his power, he is aware that he still faces the grave peril of being prosecuted. Erdoğan has not ruled in an “ordinary” way and he does not have the option of smoothly falling back into the opposition in case he loses grip on power. The genuine and most obvious reason behind his presidential dreams is that he intends to make sure that he never loses political power until the end of his lifetime; his push to amend the Constitution would in effect allow him to stay in office until 2029.
The characteristic of Erdoğan’s policies was that he seemed, at least in appearance, to be loyal to legal processes and proceedings. His way of ruling was not to ignore and to transgress; but to use all his political power to manipulate, enforce, threaten, extort and then to finally achieve his aims after a “100% legal” procedure. Making the most extended use possible of Turkey’s immature bourgeois democracy has been his method from the beginning - at least until the attempted military coup in July.
The unsuccessful military coup attempt was, in the proper meaning of the word, a blessing from heaven for the regime (Erdoğan himself called it a “gift from God”), in the sense that it served him on a golden plate another “counter-terrorism” target. The boost the coup attempt gifted him was so huge that he did not need legal procedures and proceedings any more. After this attempt, whoever was to stand against him would be stamped as a coup supporter. The failed coup drastically changed Erdoğan’s method and gave him the opportunity to completely ignore the law, as imperfect, unjust and corrupt as it already was. He by-passed the parliament and ruled the entire country by presidential decrees. As president, he was already a part of the executive power, the jurisdiction consisting of his puppet judges and prosecutors; now he could start to substitute the parliament altogether with his presidential decrees. What is intended to be expressed here is not that Erdoğan is indirectly in control of the parliament via his party (which was already the case before the coup attempt), but that Erdoğan is now directly constituting the legislative power through personal decrees. After the coup attempt, he took one step closer to establishing a more classic form of "personal" dictatorship, by hollowing out the parliament and by relying heavily on the police machinery to crush resistance to his rule.
So, what is next? The monster fed by Erdoğan since the June elections is fattening and getting more gluttonous every day. It will keep eating every obstacle Erdoğan faces before the presidential system, and will not stop until then. The authors of Cumhuriyet –the main opposition newspaper- have been detained, followed by the HDP MP’s. A few days after the detention of these MP’s, around 370 associations were closed down. Who will he target next? It is hard to tell. In any case, he will keep attacking, and socialists are undoubtedly on the rack.
If Turkey was a living organism, the diagnosis for its health condition would be “opposition deficiency”. The pro-capitalist opposition parties have been brought to their knees by Erdoğan. Besides the HDP, there are two opposition parties in Turkey: the neo-fascist MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) and the Kemalist CHP (People’s Republican Party). The MHP has been riding on Erdoğan’s coattails since the June elections and has not presented any shred of opposition. This is not surprising. What has taken sections of the masses by surprise however is the fact that the CHP, a supposedly social-democratic and secular party, is shining by its inertia and its complicity with the AKP’s agenda since last June’s elections. First, they voted in favor of the military operations against the PKK right after the elections. Then they voted in support of lifting off the parliamentary immunity of the HDP representatives. And since the coup attempt, they have openly supported Erdoğan, dashing their own voters’ expectations that they would do something to stop him in his tracks. Party officials are aware that there is not much to be done against Erdoğan through the parliamentary arena, while they abandoned all hopes for legal procedures. At the same time, they never saw the streets as a solution, therefore they never initiated any grassroots mobilization - which they fear would spiral out of their control. Last week, for example, a demonstration was planned in Istanbul and the CHP, in the most ridiculous manner, dropped its participation to the demonstration an hour before it took place. The CHP’s compromising attitude vis-à-vis Erdoğan’s offensive has caused a deep disappointment among its supporters, not to say disgust. Many CHP supporters are screaming through social media for them to finally do something.
Everyone opposing Erdoğan in Turkey is longing for a way to fight back, but the last months have demonstrably shown that a serious opposition will never come from the CHP’s camp. The CHP is the founding party of the Turkish Republic, it is a pro-establishment party defending the interests of Turkish capitalism, and it has proved once more that it will never be the vehicle for organizing a serious struggle in defense of the interests of the working class, the poor and the Kurdish people.
Serious initiatives undertaken by the left not only have the potential to grow into another mass protest movement like Gezi, but also would help bring the most genuine layer of CHP members and supporters towards the left. What is necessary against Erdoğan’s rule at this point is a united front, in which the labor movement should be a driving part. Every element of genuine opposition, every little obstacle on Turkey’s descent towards dictatorship, should coalesce into a mass movement to get rid of the regime.
Recently, thousands of people, especially women, demonstrated across the country to protest against an AKP bill that would overturn men’s convictions for child sexual assault if they married their victim. This mass outcry forced the government to retreat almost immediately. This example is significant as it demonstrates that behind its façade of toughness, the regime is petrified by the reemergence of any street mobilization, and can be forced to retreat. As many people have been longing for any sign of opposition, it is a great time to develop a grassroots struggle from below. Yet this struggle should not only target Erdoğan himself, as the man stands as the ultimate arbiter of an entire system that has made him and nurtured him. Erdoğan is a genuine product of Turkish capitalism, hence there is no greater antidote to counteract his rule than the revival of the class struggle. In the midst of the deadlock of the capitalist crisis, a socialist alternative must be urgently built.