General elections in Turkey, originally scheduled for November 2019, are taking place on June 24. These will consist of both parliamentary and presidential contests, held together.
Last year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan only won by fraud a referendum aimed at dramatically enhancing the powers of his presidency. But this was a Pyrrhic victory as it turned out to be a concrete indicator of the declining support for Erdoğan and his AK (‘Justice and Development’) Party.
Even though Erdoğan’s thirst for political control meant he would want to grasp his new wide-ranging executive powers as soon as possible, he feared that bringing forward general elections would damage his charisma and make him look weak; so waiting for 2019 was initially his preferred option.
But his regime had to deal with a fact that eventually outweighed all other considerations, although it is largely hidden from the public by the puppet media. Turkey is facing a huge economic storm, potentially threatening the current regime’s very position. In addition to the global capitalist crisis – which the country is not exempted from – the Turkish lira’s devaluation has taken a nosedive. Turkey’s currency has lost 60% of its value over the last five years, dropping 20% this year compared to the US dollar. As political and economic instability have increased, foreign investors have begun to pull off from the Turkish market.
Under such circumstances, the possibility of an early election started to be a source of growing speculation. Then in April, the decision was officially announced that snap elections would be held in June. That haste only triggered more questions and worries in peoples’ minds: just how big is the economic crisis as Erdoğan can no longer wait to bring people to the polls? What kind of turmoil is coming after the elections?
Once early elections were called, electoral alliances were rapidly formed. In the beginning of the year, afraid of his party’s declining support, Erdoğan had changed the law to suit his ends, by allowing the formation of electoral pacts in order to secure a bloc between the AKP and the far-right party MHP (Nationalist Movement Party), as well as the smaller right-wing Islamist BBP (Great Unity Party). Together, these parties formed the so-called “People’s Alliance”. The MHP’s low poll ratings, combined with the 10% electoral threshold required to get parliamentary seats, has de facto turned this party into a loyal lapdog of Erdoğan – an alliance made easier by the regime’s nationalist turn in 2015 against the Kurdish minority. For the presidential contest, neither the MHP nor the BBP is presenting any candidate; both decided to simply endorse Erdoğan.
Against this alliance, opposition parties have used the new law to their advantage by forming their own electoral bloc, called the “Nation Alliance”: the CHP (Republican People’s Party), the new IYI Party (The ‘Good Party’, named after an icon in Turkish mythology) and the Islamist SP (Felicity) Party have come together for the parliamentary elections – while presenting their own candidates for the simultaneous presidential election.
The CHP is the founding party of modern Turkey, a nationalist bourgeois party, with a veneer of social-democracy. The IYI Party is a split-off from the MHP. Unlike the MHP, it is anti- Erdoğan, and is trying to rebuild a strong right-wing nationalist formation capable of defying the current President’s rule, and to offer a fresh façade for capitalism in Turkey. It is also expected to create a diversion among MHP voters. The third party of that alliance, the SP, is a leftover of the mainstream Islamic party of Turkey in the 1990s, out of which Erdoğan’s AKP emerged from in 2001.
The left and pro-Kurdish party HDP (People’s Democratic Party) is not part of either of these two blocs. After the June 2015 elections, the HDP instantly became the number one target of Erdoğan’s regime, and it has been severely repressed by the State ever since. Even its ex co-chair and current candidate for the Presidential election, Selahattin Demirtaş, is in jail awaiting trial under trumped-up charges.
But the HDP is not included in the anti-Erdoğan alliance, as a result of both the pressures from the IYI Party, and the HDP leadership’s justified reluctance to join such an alliance composed of pro-capitalist forces whose only common denominator is to be against Erdoğan and the AKP.
The electoral process and the possibilities
As it is regulated in the Constitution, at the presidential elections a candidate must get the majority (50%+1) of the votes, otherwise the elections will go to a second round of voting between the top 2 candidates.
The electoral projections suggest that a second round will probably happen, as Erdoğan does not seem to get the majority needed in the first round. That is where the trouble could begin for him: due to his oppressive and deeply polarizing regime, people who haven’t voted for him in the first round are very unlikely to vote for him in the second round. And if the opposition candidate manages to rally big segments of the anti-Erdoğan vote in the second round, the possibility of Erdoğan losing the presidential election is not inconceivable.
Even if he wins, the AKP and its allies might also struggle to get an outright majority in the parliamentary elections. Such a scenario could open up a major political crisis. As we have stated many times before, Erdoğan did not rule in an “ordinary” way. Hence him losing the Presidency or control over the new Parliament would not translate into an “ordinary” transition of power.
Erdoğan has no chance of sustaining his political career as an opposition leader and has grave fears of being prosecuted. For him and his entourage, maintaining their ruling positions is a matter of political life or death. That is why they will try all they can in order to keep the reins of power. In this regard, the possibilities are many: frauds, closing down of polling stations, cancellation of the elections, new snap elections, dissolution of the parliament, new war in order to pump chauvinism (a new Turkish military offensive on the regime’s favored target, the PKK, is already underway in the Qandil Mountain bordering Iran and Iraq). The regime might even try various provocations like “false-flag” terrorist bombings or raising fears of another anti-AKP military coup attempt to take emergency powers. There is even the possibility of a civilian coup by Erdoğan’s fanatic core base of supporters to try to keep him in power.
What should we do?
In an electoral period where pro-capitalist parties are closing ranks, an alliance of the forces of the left is not only possible but absolutely necessary. Despite the obvious limits of an electoral process held in extremely anti-democratic conditions (state of emergency, monopoly of pro-AKP media outlets, jailing of scores of opposition members and activists etc), the standing of the HDP in these elections provides an important opportunity for different socialist parties, groupings and left campaigners who currently lack the ability to present a credible platform on their own, to actually build further links and support among workers, the poor, the youth and the oppressed.
The electoral success of the HDP in the June 2015 elections, when the party got 13.12% of the votes and put into question the regime’s calculations, is a vivid testimony of such potential. Although the HDP is not a socialist party, it is a left-leaning reformist formation with a vote potential of around 10%, and rallying behind it provides an opportunity for socialists and workers to make their voices and their demands heard.
The HDP presidential candidate, Selahattin Demirtaş, has no chance to win the elections or to make it to the second round. But the first round of elections will be very significant for the HDP and the left, so as to make the case for a policy of rupture from the neo-liberal logic defended by all the other parties.
In the case the presidential vote goes to the second round, which is a big possibility, most probably it will be a competition between Erdoğan and the CHP candidate, Muharrem İnce- although an outside chance exists for Meral Akşener, the candidate of the IYI, to be the contender.
Sosyalist Alternatif explains that the CHP and the IYI party are both capitalist parties and do not have the ability to resolve the economic contradictions in which Erdoğan’s regime finds itself entangled. Whoever wins the elections will inherit a wreck. Even Erdoğan cannot turn his head away from that truth as he stated that “an earthquake is approaching”. What this means is pretty simple: whoever wins the elections will end up passing over measures targeting workers and poor to make them pay for the coming crisis. Both the CHP and the IYI have also lent support to the Turkish military invasion of Afrin launched by Erdoğan earlier this year.
If Akşener faces Erdoğan in the second round, her far-right background and notorious legacy as an ex-Interior minister during one of the worst period of state abuses against the Kurdish people, would act as a repellent for the vast majority of Kurds. Yet a challenge between İnce and Erdoğan could create a quite different type of dynamic. In that case, not only the right-wing opposition would opt for a vote for İnce; HDP supporters and important sections of workers, Kurds and youth angry with Erdoğan’s rule might see a vote for İnce as the start of a fightback against the current regime.
In 2016, putting him at odds with his own party leadership, İnce voted against the lifting of the parliamentary immunity for Demirtaş and other members of the HDP. A dual ‘Erdoğan vs İnce’ would turn into a referendum on Erdoğan’s policies and raise expectations among big layers about the possibility of dumping Erdoğan’s dictatorial ambitions, reversing the AKP repressive measures, arrests and purges of the last years etc. In a recent rally in Istanbul, İnce declared “Erdoğan is from the palace, I am from the poor (…) I am the man who fights the bosses.” This class dimension, although in contradiction with the CHP pro-bosses’ agenda, reflects the pressure from workers and poor who wants an end to the AKP not only because of its increasingly authoritarian methods of rule, but also because they are sick of low pay, high prices, precarious work and growing unemployment.
This indicates that the defeat of the AKP regime, which has transformed the country into a dictatorship for 16 years and suppressed all kinds of rights, including the right to strike, can also open the way to a renewed phase of the class struggle. But in the absence of a clear working class party, this is expressed in a somewhat ‘distorted’ manner.
This is why, whatever happens with the vote, the most important task of socialists will be to harness this growing social anger by working towards the building of a mass alliance of workers, the poor and the oppressed, against the ‘People’s Alliance’ and the ‘Nation Alliance’, both of which defend the ruling class’ agenda. Every vote for the HDP will be a contributing factor to encourage the debate about the building of such an independent working class force, needed for when the earthquake arrives after the elections.
Turkey is on the edge of a huge social crisis. Neither the IYI party nor the CHP has a genuine solution to offer to the working class. Since the extent of the problems surpass Erdoğan’s regime, a real solution out of the current chaos can only emerge if the struggle against Erdoğan leans on anti-capitalist and socialist lines. A strong standing of the HDP and the left in these crucial elections will be the best way to reinforce the case for such an agenda.