Category Archives: Turkey

Karlov assassination in Ankara stuns world amid global leadership vacuum

An AP photo shows the gunman who shot and killed Russia’s ambassador to Turkey on Monday. (AP)

Yesterday was the anniversary of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s birth date in 1883. 

It was his assassination by a Serbian nationalist in 1914 that set off a chain reaction leading to World War I.

The world is, rightly, alarmed today with the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, who had served in one of his country’s most delicate diplomatic roles since 2013 and whose experience included long stints in North Korea, including as ambassador from 2001 to 2006.

The gunman reportedly shouted ‘Allahu akbar,’ and ‘Do not forget Aleppo! Do not forget Syria!’ as he shot Karlov from behind at a gallery exhibit of Turkish photography.

The assassination comes at a crucial time for relations between Russia and Turkey. Karlov’s killing could immediately chill the fragile diplomatic gains of the last half-year, however, especially at a time when no one really knows what kind of global leadership that president-elect Donald Trump will provide after his inauguration in just over a month in the United States. On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly praised Putin as a strong leader and promised to escalate US efforts to push back against ISIS in eastern Syria.

But no one should start preparing for World War III just yet.

Much now depends on how Putin responds — and how nationalist hard-liners within Russia also respond — considering that the gunman seems to have acted with the precise aim of destabilizing the Russia-Turkey relationship. Though Russian nationalists are wary of Turkey, they’re far more hostile to the threat of Islamic extremism. Moreover, the two countries have found common ground when it comes to the threat of Islamic extremism. Karlov’s assassination might ultimately Turkey and Russia together more closely Turkey in efforts to eradicate ISIS and other jihadist elements in the Middle East. The incoming Trump administration would almost certainly welcome and join that common front.

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RELATED: Why Erdoğan is not — and will never be — Putin

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If you’re looking for a silver lining, it’s worth noting that the two countries have been moving closer together after last summer’s coup attempt against Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Relations hit their worst point in December 2015 after Turkey shot down a Russian jet along the Syrian border. Today, a year later, relations are much improved, if still strained. That means that the diplomatic channels between the two countries are far more open to deal with a trauma like Karlov’s assassination.  Continue reading Karlov assassination in Ankara stuns world amid global leadership vacuum

Why Erdoğan is not — and will never be — Putin

Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Reccep Tayip Erdoğan met at the G-20 summit, which took place in Turkey, last November. (Facebook)
Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Reccep Tayip Erdoğan met at the G-20 summit, which took place in Turkey, last November. (Facebook)

It’s clear that things are looking up for the bilateral relationship between Russia and Turkey.Russia Flag IconTurkey

At the beginning of last December, the two countries locked into a troubling standoff after Turkey shot down a Russian airplane that had repeatedly crossed into Turkish airspace. The diplomatic standoff came at a time when Russian president Vladimir Putin was using Russian military force to boost the efforts of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to push back Sunni rebel forces. In response, Putin slammed trade restrictions against Turkey.

A lot can happen, however, in nine months, and yesterday, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan traveled to Moscow to mend somewhat broken relations with Putin, who announced that the country would slowly lift economic sanctions against Turkey on the path to restoring normalized relations.

Erdoğan, last month survived a coup attempt from within elements of the Turkish military that, for a few hours at least, seemed like it had some chances of success. The first world leader to call Erdoğan to pledge his support?

Putin.

With Erdoğan placing blame for the coup on the shoulders of Fethullah Gülen (who lives in exile in Pennsylvania) and his Gulenist followers in Turkey, the crackdown has been swift and deep. In the past four weeks, Erdoğan has purged many Turkish institutions of tens of thousands of officials suspected of having any ties to Gulenism. That includes the military and the police forces, but also over 20,000 private school teachers, 10,000 education officials and agents within other government ministries. Erdoğan has also ordered the shutdown of around 100 media outlets, which echoes a decision earlier in March to seize Zaman, one of Turkey’s most popular independent newspapers.

Last May, prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu resigned after a series of files (the so-called ‘Pelican Files’) were released to the public and that showed the former foreign minister, who led the governing Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) to a minority victory in June 2015 and a majority victory in November 2015, was increasingly uncomfortable with Erdoğan. His misgivings included both the push to concentrate power within the Turkish presidency (following Erdoğan’s shift from prime minister to president in 2014) and with the increasingly militant approach to Turkey’s Kurdish population — after over a decade of progress for Kurdish minority rights and a detente with the PKK, a militant, communist Kurdish militia.

Binali Yıldırım, the new prime minister, formerly a transport, maritime and communications minister and a loyal Erdoğan supporter, has been far more willing to countenance the shift from a powerful parliamentary government to a presidential one.

It has been clear since the late 2000s that Erdoğan was not the pure democrat that his supporters (and many sympathizers in the United States and Europe) once believed, and it’s been clear since the Gezi Park protests in 2013 that Erdoğan has no respect for the kind of liberal freedoms — expression, assembly, press, speech and otherwise — that are so important to a functioning democracy. In the wake of the July coup attempt, Erdoğan’s instinct towards the authoritarian has only sharpened. (Though, to be fair, imagine the kind of response that would follow from an American president if a military coup managed to shut down New York’s major airports, take control of public television and bomb the US Capitol).

That his first post-coup visit abroad was to Russia to visit Putin will, of course, be a source of increasing anxiety among US and European officials, who need Erdoğan’s assistance on at least two fronts: first, stemming the flow of migrants from Syria that cross through Turkey en route to Europe and, second, facilitating US, European and NATO efforts to weaken and ultimately displace ISIS from their territorial berth in eastern Syria and western Iraq. Continue reading Why Erdoğan is not — and will never be — Putin

What we learned about Turkey from Saturday’s coup attempt

Turkish soldiers stand guard in Taksim Square Saturday night. (Sedat Suna / EPA)
Turkish soldiers stand guard in Taksim Square Saturday night. (Sedat Suna / EPA)

Something like tense calm seems to be settling on the streets of Istanbul and Ankara after an attempted military coup in Turkey early Saturday morning. Turkey

But the reverberations of the failed ouster will be felt for months and possibly years to come. Though the coup didn’t enjoy the full support of the Turkish military, it was something of a shock — and a throwback — to see tanks rolling through major Turkish cities. Amid the chaos, there’s still much that we don’t and, perhaps, cannot know about the fallout of the July 16 coup.

In other ways, the failed coup gave us quite a glimpse — in at least four ways — into the state of Turkish politics, culture and democracy.  Continue reading What we learned about Turkey from Saturday’s coup attempt

In blow to Turkish media, Erdoğan seizes critical Zaman newspaper

The Turkish government took control of opposition-friendly newspaper Zaman late last week. (Zaman)
The Turkish government took control of opposition-friendly newspaper Zaman late last week. (Zaman)

With much of Europe focused on a deal with Turkey to stem the flow of Syrian refugees into the European Union, the critical Middle Eastern country took another large step toward illiberalism over the weekend.Turkey

Following a court order, riot police on Friday took control of the country’s Zaman newspaper, with by far the highest circulation in Turkey. Police forcibly entered the news offices on Friday, firing its editor, Abdülhamit Bilici, and using tear gas to dispel any lingering protests from reporters and readers who might oppose one of the most shamelessly heavy-handed attacks on press freedom in Turkish history.

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RELATED: The fight for Turkey is between Erdoganists and Gulenists

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To put this in perspective, Poland’s opposition and much of the European elite rang alarms late last year when the new, conservative Polish government pushed to take aggressive control of the state media.

By contrast, the Turkish government has now taken one of the country’s most important private newspapers. On Monday, the newly government-owned Zaman was already taking a chillingly pro-government line. (Oddly, as of late Monday night, the English-language edition’s website was still up).  Continue reading In blow to Turkish media, Erdoğan seizes critical Zaman newspaper

‘Coalition of the frenemies’ is bombing Syria for all the wrong reasons

The aftermath of an American strike in Syria's Idlib province last September. (Abdalghne Karoof / Reuters)
The aftermath of an American strike in Syria’s Idlib province last September. (Abdalghne Karoof / Reuters)

Call it the ‘coalition of the frenemies.’Syria Flag Icon

With British prime minister David Cameron’s victory in the House of Commons last week, fully four of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus NATO member Turkey and several regional allies, will now be engaged in the fight against ISIS (ISIL/Islamic State/Daesh) in eastern Syria. Following last week’s fatal shooting in San Bernardino, California, by two jihadist sympathizers, US president Barack Obama reassured the United States in a rare Sunday night prime-time address that his administration will continue its intensified airstrikes against ISIS in eastern Syria, increasingly targeting the oil tankers controlled by ISIS that fund its jihadist mission.

Cameron’s team, including foreign minister Philip Hammond, argued that a force of 70,000 ‘moderate’ Syrian forces would be willing and ready to take on the ISIS threat in the event of a coordinated allied campaign to deploy sustained airstrikes against ISIS, both reducing the terrorist threat to Europeans at home and establishing the conditions for peace abroad (and the Obama administration has more or less echoed this sentiment). That seems optimistic, however, given that ‘radical’ rebels, like ISIS and the al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra quickly overpowered ‘moderate’ rebels like the Free Syrian Army throughout 2012 and 2013.

In reality, there’s no bright line among anti-Assad Sunnis in Syria. Although Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is Alawite, 75% of Syria’s pre-war population was Sunni, which means there’s a lot of room for variation. Nevertheless, after more than a year of U.S. airstrikes, moderate Syrians (whether 70,000 or 7,000) and Kurdish peshmerga forces have not effectively dislodged ISIS, particularly outside traditionally Kurdish areas of Iraq and Syria.

Though U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is still boosting peace talks in Vienna in early 2016, neither the Assad government nor the anti-Assad rebels have indicated they will join those talks. What’s more, it’s not even clear who would ‘represent’ the anti-Assad rebels, who are fighting as much against each other as they are against Assad.

Even as countries from four continents are running air campaigns in Syria, they are acting in far from a coordinated manner. Tensions are already rising after Turkey downed a Russian military jet late last month, despite repeated warnings that the jet was infringing Russian airspace. Imagine how tense the situation could become if a Russian jet attacks an American one in the increasingly crowded Syrian skies. None of the actors, including Russia or the United States, has any clear strategic plan for an endgame in Syria. Russia still can’t articulate a credible scenario where Assad rules a united postwar Syria, and the United States still can’t articulate a credible scenario where Sunni and Shiite factions can work together to govern Syria — or even Iraq, for that matter.

The descent of the world’s major powers upon Syria was accelerating even before jihadist terrorists left 130 innocent civilians dead in Paris, and the manner in which Syria has now become a proxy war for so many other regional and global actors is starting to resemble the domino trail of alliances and diplomatic errors that began World War I.  It’s irresponsible to argue that the world is plunging into World War III, but the escalations in Syria reflects the same kind of destructive slippery slope that began with the assassination of the heir of a fading empire by a nationalist in what was then a provincial backwater. Continue reading ‘Coalition of the frenemies’ is bombing Syria for all the wrong reasons

Turkey’s election result the best possible outcome

Prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is now set to lead a majority government in Turkey. (Facebook).
Prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is now set to lead a majority government in Turkey. (Facebook).

Though there’s plenty to be pessimistic about in the five months since Turkey’s last parliamentary election in June, the result in today’s repeat snap elections is perhaps the best possible outcome for the various domestic and international actors with a state in Turkey’s continued stability.Turkey

The Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party), the conservative Islamist party that has dominated Turkish politics since 2002, scored the most crushing victory in its history — more than when it initially came to power and more than its prior peak in the 2011 elections. That’s despite a turbulent election campaign marred by an early October suicide blast in the capital city of Ankara, the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of the modern Turkish republic.

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With 99.00% of all votes counted.

Though the AKP will not win the two-thirds majority that it hoped for to enact the constitutional changes that president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wants to rebalance powers away from the national assembly and to the presidency, the result gives the AKP a clear mandate to govern without seeking a coalition partner. The AKP’s path to a majority victory wasn’t pretty, and there’s a compelling case that Erdoğan has seriously damaged his legacy and, he further undermined the rule of law, fair elections, internal security and press freedom over the past five months. But the victory means that Turkey will not face a third election in the spring and all the destabilization that another months-long campaign period would mean.

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RELATED: Ankara bombing curdles already-fraught
Turkish election campaign

RELATED: How the AKP hopes to regain
its absolute majority in November

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Most surprisingly, the AKP managed its overwhelming victory while the leftist, Kurdish-interest Halkların Demokratik Partisi (HDP, People’s Democratic Party) still won enough support to win seats in the national assembly. That feels like something of a miracle, given the increasingly tense atmosphere across southeastern Turkey, where polling took place under conditions of near civil war between Turkish military forces and the radical guerrilla group, the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê (PKK, Kurdistan Workers’ Party).

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While HDP leader attorney Selahattin Demirtaş has called for a peaceful approach to the fight for greater Kurdish autonomy, AKP officials, including Erdoğan and prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu have tried to tie the party to the more militant PKK as a years-long ceasefire, the product of advanced peace talks between the Turkish government and PKK leaders, unravelled in July in the wake of a suicide bombing in Suruç (and attributed to the jihadist ISIS/Islamic State/Daesh). Turkey’s hurdle rate for winning seats in the national parliament is 10%. That means, with around 10.6% of the vote, the HDP is entitled to 59 seats, but with just 9.99%, the HDP would have won exactly zero seats. The latter outcome, just five months after the HDP celebrated the first time an expressly Kurdish party won seats in the Turkish assembly, would have greatly undermined Demirtaş’s argument that Turkish Kurds can work through the democratic system for greater autonomy, self-government and other minority rights.

It’s certainly not the outcome Erdoğan would have been hoping for because, had the AKP taken those 59 seats, it would have the elusive two-thirds majority Erdoğan has sought since winning the Turkish presidency last August. In the long run, however, even if Erdoğan dislikes it, it’s much better that the Kurdish minority feels like it can benefit through democratic participation.  Continue reading Turkey’s election result the best possible outcome

A deadlocked assembly could mean a third election in Turkey

AKP

Since the initial June parliamentary elections in Turkey, the country has weathered more instability than at any other period since the Islamist Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) came to power.Turkey

On the eve of fresh elections this weekend, consider all that’s happened since the June elections when the AKP lost its parliamentary majority:

  • Coalition talks failed between prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and the two secular opposition parties that were most likely to support an AKP-led government.
  • Since 2011, the value of the lira has fallen by 50% against the U.S. dollar and Turkey’s once galloping economic development is slowing — to just a projected 3.2% in 2015.
  • A suicide bombing on July 20 in the southern city of Suruç killed 33 people. In response, Kurdish forces attacked Turkish police after Turkish officials downplayed the need to secure areas of southeastern Turkey that are most heavily populated by the Kurdish minority.
  • Turkish forces responded to the Suruç attack by joining the military effort against ISIS/Islamic State/Daesh, the Sunni radical group that has extended its ‘caliphate’ across eastern Syria and western Iraq.
  • Turkish forces also used the Suruç attack to wage a much more aggressive attack against the militant  Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê (PKK, Kurdistan Workers’ Party), escalating a conflict that had previously been working its way toward a peaceful settlement between Turkey’s government and the PKK’s jailed leader, Abdullah Öcalan.
  • Another suicide bombing on October 10 in the Turkish capital of Ankara at a peace rally became the deadliest terrorist attack in modern Turkish history, further polarizing Turkish voters who alternative pointed fingers at ISIS, the government and the PKK.
  • Critical media voices have been harassed or prosecuted by a government whose record on press freedom was already deteriorating.

In the June elections, the AKP won just 256 seats in the Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi (Grand National Assembly), 20 short of a majority. It was the first time since the AKP first came to power in the 2002 elections that it failed to win a majority, scuttling Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s to consolidate power in the Turkish presidency after won Turkey’s first-ever direct election to the mostly ceremonial office last summer.

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The AKP fell so low because, for the first time in Turkish history, a pro-Kurdish party, the leftist Halkların Demokratik Partisi (HDP, People’s Democratic Party), ran for election on a unified list and won enough support to meet the 10% electoral hurdle for winning seats in the National Assembly. With the HDP taking 80 seats, it made it that much more difficult for the AKP to reach an absolute majority.  Continue reading A deadlocked assembly could mean a third election in Turkey

Ankara bombing curdles already-fraught Turkish election campaign

Two explosions blasted Ankara on Saturday, resulting in over 100 deaths in the worst terrorist incident in modern Turkish history. (AFP/Getty)
Two explosions blasted Ankara on Saturday, resulting in over 100 deaths in the worst terrorist incident in modern Turkish history. (AFP/Getty)

Arguably no one can claim that he or she speaks more for the Turkish conscience than Orhan Pamuk, the only Turk to win the Nobel Prize for literature.
Turkey

In unusually strong terms, Pamuk told the Italian daily La Repubblica yesterday that the divisive policies of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are partially to blame for creating an environment of instability and chaos that served as the backdrop to Saturday’s deadly bombing in Ankara:

“The electoral defeat enraged Erdogan,” Pamuk told the daily, arguing that the setback, which resulted in new elections being scheduled for November 1, was also behind the recent resumption of hostilities between the army and Kurdish militants.

“He didn’t succeed in convincing the Kurds to give him their votes for his plan to create a presidential republic,” Pamuk said. “That is why he decided to go to the polls again on November 1. But neither the government nor the army were satisfied with how things were going and they agreed to resume the war against the Kurdish movement.”

The country now finds itself even more divided in the wake of a terrorist bombing that has now killed more than 100 people, the deadliest such attack in the history of the modern Turkish republic.

The Ankara attack and its political fallout are now set to dominate the last 19 days of the election campaign, and it augurs the possibility of ominous threat to Turkish democracy.

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RELATED: How the AKP hopes to regain
its absolute majority in November

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Erdoğan, elected president two years ago and whose Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) rose to power initially in 2002, has not yet delivered more than a short statement in response to the bombing. Prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s remarks Saturday initially blamed ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State, Kurdish  nationalists or left-wing activists for the attack, though the government says it now believes, on the basis of hard evidence, that the Islamic State is behind the bombings. The attack is similar to a suicide bombing in the southern border town of Suruç that killed 33 people in July — and that set Turkish armed forces in action against Islamic State. Nevertheless, ISIS militants, who are never incredibly bashful about such attacks, have not taken credit for the bombings.

Selahattin Demirtaş, a Kurdish human rights attorney who leads the Kurdish-interest HDP, blamed the government for stoking tensions that led to the Ankara bombings. (Facebook)
Selahattin Demirtaş, a Kurdish human rights attorney who leads the Kurdish-interest HDP, blamed the government for stoking tensions that led to the Ankara bombings. (Facebook)

The Suruç attack also brought angry reprisals from Kurdish militants against Turkish police and military personnel. Erdoğan responded by escalating tensions, thereby bringing to an end a years-long ceasefire with the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê (PKK, Kurdistan Workers’ Party), an armed Marxist group that has intermittently fought the Turkish military since the 1980s. Until this summer, greater cultural autonomy and political freedom for Turkey’s Kurdish population, and a growing sense of security and peace under the mutual ceasefire, had been one of Erdoğan’s most crucial legacies.

No longer. Continue reading Ankara bombing curdles already-fraught Turkish election campaign

How the AKP hopes to regain its absolute majority in November

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Unable to form a governing coalition with any of Turkey’s opposition parties after more than a decade of one-party rule, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s strategy for scrambling politics prior to the country’s return to polls on November 1 is becoming increasingly clear, and it’s a cynical maneuver that could ruin one of Erdoğan’s most important legacies.Turkey

What’s clear is that Erdoğan and his chief lieutenant, prime minister and former foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu are determined to take back their majority in the 550-seat Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi (Grand National Assembly), even if it means bending the rules of traditional democracy. With each passing day, the Turkish military’s intensifying engagement both against the Islamic State/ISIS and Kurdish militants within the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê (PKK, Kurdistan Workers’ Party) seem designed to shake up Turkish politics enough for the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) to return to power without resorting to a governing coalition.

While there were already worrying signs that Erdoğan was attempting to harass Turkish media in the lead-up to the June campaign, he now seems to be going even farther by arresting and raiding the most critical voices in the press. As Erdoğan’s push against Kurdish militants increases, he has openly discussed persecuting all Kurdish politicians, even those with few ties to the PKK.

To understand what’s going on requires an understanding of the arithmetic of Turkish politics, especially because many polls show that voter preferences haven’t particularly changed since June.

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RELATED: How Turkey’s Kurds became a key constituency in presidential election

RELATED: Coalition politics returns to Turkey after AKP loses majority

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In the June 7 parliamentary elections, the AKP won around 41% of the vote. That’s far ahead of any of its opponents, but it wasn’t enough to secure a majority, let alone the supermajority that Erdoğan wants to revise the Turkish constitution and consolidate more power in the presidency. Continue reading How the AKP hopes to regain its absolute majority in November

Both Greece, Turkey could be headed for snap elections

AKP

August may be among the most quiet periods of the year for world politics, especially in Europe as workers spend weeks away on holiday. Greece Flag IconTurkey

But events earlier this week made it very likely that two Mediterranean countries could hold snap elections later this year, adding greater political uncertainty to a European electoral calendar that will see elections for a new Labour leader in the United Kingdom next month, a new regional government in Catalunya (with implications for the Catalan independence movement) and new national governments in Portugal, Poland and Spain.

Greece’s troubled far-left government may call a vote of confidence as it begins implementing the country’s third bailout package, finalized with European leaders last weekend despite onerous conditions that could retard economic growth for years. The bailout and its aftermath could split prime minister Alexis Tsipras’s ruling SYRIZA (Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς, the Coalition of the Radical Left). With far-left SYRIZA rebels already opposed to the bailout and with other opposition parties refusing to prop up Tsipras’s government, Greece could be forced to hold its second election since January, when SYRIZA first swept to power.

Across the Aegean Sea, Turkey may find itself forced to hold a repeat election after the ruling Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) of president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu (pictured above) apparently failed to find common ground with Turkey’s two largest opposition parties, leaving it just shy of a majority in the Turkish parliament. Without a working majority, Erdoğan may be forced to call a new election by August 23, when Davutoğlu’s mandate to form a coalition government expires. Continue reading Both Greece, Turkey could be headed for snap elections

Coalition politics returns to Turkey after AKP loses majority

AKPrally

The hand-wringing about Turkish democracy turned out to be overwrought — electoral churn is alive and well, despite the efforts of its president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to consolidate the power of his ruling party, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party).Turkey

For the first time since the AKP came to power in 2002, Erdoğan wasn’t technically leading the party after winning the presidency last year. Nevertheless, his presence was clear enough in the weeks leading up to the vote, threatening journalists and campaigning openly in defiance of the traditional independence of the office of the presidency, which Erdoğan hoped to strengthen significantly by changing Turkey’s constitution.

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RELATED: Turkish election a referendum on
Erdoğan-style presidentialism

RELATED: Who is Selahattin Demirtaş?

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Erdoğan hoped to win the 330 seats necessary to initiate constitutional changes to shift power permanently to the presidency and away from the assembly. Instead, the AKP fell to just 256 seats, 20 short of a majority. While that’s enough for the AKP to remain the largest party, by far, in the  Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi (Grand National Assembly), voters rewarded Erdoğan’s overreach by forcing the AKP to seek a coalition partner, a novelty after nearly a decade and a half of one-party rule.

Accordingly, the results bring more questions than answers. Though the election is probably good for the long-term stability of Turkish democracy, the result could mean a considerable amount of short-term instability, a prospect that’s already spooked Turkish markets this morning.

For the first time in Turkish history, an explicitly Kurdish party will hold seats (as a party) in the Turkish parliament. It’s a great opportunity for political pluralism, but it also brings risks. If Erdoğan turns too sharply against his Kurdish rivals, he could tragically damage the strengthening trust that he’s built over the past decade between the Kurdish minority and the Turkish government.

Prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Erdoğan’s former foreign minister, had pledged to resign in the event that the AKP failed to win enough seats to form a government, so his future is very much in question. If he goes, Erdoğan will be hard-pressed to find a reliable ally who satisfies both wings of the AKP and who will also govern in deference to Erdoğan’s wishes.

Moreover, shifting to coalition politics will prove difficult for the AKP, most especially Erdoğan. Even if he manages to find a junior coalition partner, Erdoğan might be anxious to hold new elections to restore the party’s majority. As much as the June 7 elections affirmed the resilience of Turkish democracy, snap elections might prove an even more serious test if Erdoğan is willing to resort to extralegal steps — especially after he flouted presidential impartiality and the AKP devoted significant state resources to its election victory.

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Erdoğan, over the years, has gradually consolidated authority into a narrowing group of advisers, to the point that he’s sidelined senior AKP figures, including co-founders like deputy prime minister Bülent Arınç and former president Abdullah Gül, who might otherwise challenge his authority. Increasingly, Erdoğan gradually shifted away from democratic best practices that emphasize liberal freedoms and consensus-building. Turkish voters are also becoming impatient with a slowing economy after years of booming expansion. Continue reading Coalition politics returns to Turkey after AKP loses majority

Who is Selahattin Demirtaş?

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He’s 42 years old, socialist, Kurdish, a native Zaza speaker and an Ankara-trained attorney who encourages gentle outreach to the Armenian diaspora and champions the cause of LGBT rights in a conservative country with a 12-year Islamist government. Turkey

Nevertheless, Selahattin Demirtaş is well on his way to becoming the most potent opposition leader in the 12 years since Recep Tayyip Erdoğan came to national power in Turkey. Notwithstanding grumbling about Erdoğan’s Islamism, authoritarianism, presidentialism or Turkey’s wilting economy, Erdoğan remains the most important figure in Turkish politics since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the military officer who essentially founded the modern state of Turkey as a secular, democratic(ish) republic in the 1920s and 1930s.

Enter Demirtaş, a virtual political pop star, who challenged Erdoğan for the presidency last year and won 9.8% of the vote. Since the August 2014 presidential campaign, Demirtaş has only become more popular, and he hopes that Sunday’s election will mark a breakthrough performance for his party, the Halkların Demokratik Partisi (HDP, People’s Democratic Party), a merger of several left-wing groups and the Kurdish Democratic Regions Party.

If he succeeds, the HDP will be the first pan-Kurdish party to clear the 10% electoral threshold to win seats in the Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi (Grand National Assembly). In the past, candidates from Kurdish parties have run as independents. This time around, Demirtaş is betting that he can achieve the 10% support that would double Kurdish representation in the Turkish parliament.

Polls show that it will win anywhere from 8% to 13% in the June 7 elections and, provided it meets the 10% electoral threshold, between 57 and 72 seats in the Grand National Assembly, though most observers believe the HDP will skew even higher than polls capture.

On the campaign trail, Demirtaş has championed a leftist agenda not atypical for a social democratic party across Europe — a call for a rise in the minimum wage, calls for national unity and respect for all Turks and, most astoundingly, greater rights for Turkey’s LGBT population — not the easiest sell in the conservative, Islamic country of 77 million. Though he’s emerged as the star of the 2015 campaign season, he points out that he’s only the co-chair of the HDP. Like Germany’s Green Party, for example, Demirtaş serves alongside Figen Yüksekdağ, a female activist from the socialist wing of the HDP.

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Yüksekdağ (pictured above) founded in 2010 the ‘Socialist Party of the Oppressed’ and joined forces with the HDP in 2014, and brings to the HDP campaign an emphasis on feminism and the kind of leftist economic policy that wouldn’t be out of place at a SYRIZA rally in Greece or a Podemos rally in Spain. Though she’s not as flashy as her co-chair, she provides greater depth to the HDP, which could transcend the Kurdish electorate and appeal to the wider circle of Turkish liberals.

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RELATED: How Turkey’s Kurds became a key constituency in election

RELATED: Turkish election a referendum
on Erdoğan-style presidentialism

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The HDP will largely draw its support from Kurdish voters in the southeastern corner of Turkey, but Demirtaş has attracted support from liberals across the country, including secular urbanites in Istanbul and Ankara disenchanted with  12 years of Erdoğan rule.  Continue reading Who is Selahattin Demirtaş?

Turkish election a referendum on Erdoğan-style presidentialism

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You will not find the name of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, on any ballot during the June 7 Turkish general election.Turkey

Make no mistake, however — Sunday’s vote is nothing short of a referendum on Erdoğan’s 12-year rule, creeping authoritarianism, mild (and sometimes not-so-mild) Islamism and, above all, his plans to change the Turkish constitution to redistribute more power to the presidency and away from the legislature.

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RELATED: How Turkey’s Kurds became a key constituency in election

RELATED: Erdoğan  wins first-round presidential victory

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Barring a surprise, however, Erdoğan and the ruling Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) will almost certainly fail to win the two-thirds majority of seats in the 550-member Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi (Grand National Assembly) to impose constitutional reforms. So long as the AKP controls the Turkish parliament, however, Erdoğan will almost certainly dominate national policymaking. Prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who previously served as foreign minister, is a loyal Erdoğan ally, and Erdoğan has started culling other senior members of the party, leaving a chiefly pliant set of AKP officials who owe their political careers to Erdoğan.

There are three key numbers to watch:

  • 330 is the number of seats Erdoğan and Davutoğlu need to push through unilateral constitutional change.
  • 311 is the number of seats the AKP currently holds.
  • 276 is the number of seats that constitutes a majority.

If the AKP wins 330 or more seats, it will be a surprising and astounding victory, despite a slowing economy and growing disenchantment with Erdoğan’s rule, as Constanze Letsch writes for Politico EU:

Firat Inci, a 32-year-old restaurant owner from the southeastern city of Siirt, has supported the AKP for years. This time, he intends to vote for the opposition. “The name of our ruling party is Justice and Development, isn’t it?” says Inci. “But they haven’t been able to deliver justice, and the development we have seen under this government has been nothing if not unjust.”

Over the years, the AKP has come to resemble the corrupt, authoritarian Kemalist regime it once unlodged — by the end of the last decade, prudent caution slipped into outright paranoia. Erdoğan and his allies began using the levers of government, through the Ergenekon trials, to prosecute opposition and military leaders, before turning on one-time allies, including secular allies, Islamic ‘Gulenists,’ and even top AKP figures like former president Abdullah Gül.

Despite glowing reviews for the Turkish economy, which liberalized and modernized under the AKP’s first two terms in power, corruption and rising debt have magnified the fact that Turkey’s galloping economic growth slowed to 4.1% in 2013 and to merely 2.9% in 2014.

If the AKP wins less than 276 seats, there’s a chance that Turkey’s opposition parties can form a coalition — or that the AKP will be forced to find a governing partner, the first time that Turkey will face a hung parliament since the 1999 elections.

The problem is that though Turks may be souring on Erdoğan, they are none too enamored of the other choices, either. Continue reading Turkish election a referendum on Erdoğan-style presidentialism

15 in 2015: Fifteen world elections to watch in 2015

2015Photo credit to letyg84 / 123RF.

Over the past 12 months, the world witnessed a pivotal general election in India, presidential elections in Indonesia, congressional midterm elections in the United States, European parliamentary elections and elections (of varying competitiveness) in over a dozen of additional countries in the world, all pivotal in their own ways — Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, South Africa, Japan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, Serbia, Ukraine, Bosnia, Belgium, Sweden and independence referenda in Scotland and Catalunya.

After such a crowded 2014 calendar, it’s not surprising that 2015 will not bring the same volume of electoral activity. But there’s still plenty at stake, especially as volatile oil prices, Chinese economic slowdown and the return of recession in Europe and Japan could stifle global economic potential. The most important of those elections that will determine policy that affects the lives of billions of people worldwide.

Without further ado, here is Suffragio‘s guide to the top 15 elections to watch as 2015 unfolds — beginning in Greece, where the government fell earlier this week.  Continue reading 15 in 2015: Fifteen world elections to watch in 2015

Can Abdullah Gül save Turkish democracy?

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On Thursday, Abdullah Gül, Turkey’s last indirectly elected president, will leave office after seven years.Turkey

Officially, he’ll have no role in either Turkey’s government or in the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) that his successor, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, leads and that Gül himself co-founded with Erdoğan in 2001. 

Erdoğan’s victory in Turkey’s first direct presidential election on August 11 cleared the way for his plans to transform Turkey’s government into a presidential system, the culmination of years of gradual centralization since Erdoğan first became Turkey’s prime minister in 2003

Though Erdoğan will officially step down from any formal party and political role, he has made clear that he expects, unofficially, to direct both party and policy from his new perch at Çankaya Köşkü, the Turkish presidential palace, as the powerful leader of what he calls the ‘new Turkey.’ He’ll do so at first as a de facto leader. Late last week, the AKP chose Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey’s foreign minister since 2009, as its new AKP leader and, accordingly, Turkey’s new prime minister. In that role, Davutoğlu is widely expected to follow Erdoğan’s lead in governing Turkey. 

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RELATED: Erdogan wins first-round presidential victory

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That leaves Gül, perhaps the only figure in the AKP more popular than Erdoğan, as one of the few people in Turkey who have enough political strength to stand up to his successor. 

A year ago, the conventional wisdom was that Gül would trade places with Erdoğan and become prime minister, an office that Gül held briefly during the first four months of the AKP’s government. When the Islamists first won the 2002 elections, Erdoğan was still subject to a ban on his involvement in politics that the new government soon lifted. When Erdoğan subsequently became eligible for the premiership, Gül became Turkey’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, launching Turkey’s accession talks with the European Union in 2005 and asserting a greater Turkish presence in the Middle East. 

Despite some controversy over the rise of an Islamist to the Turkish presidency, Gül easily won the vote in Turkey’s National Assembly in 2007. As head of state, Gül generally observed presidential impartiality, though he courted controversy when he became the first Turkish president to visit Armenia and condemned Israel after it attacked an aid flotilla destined for Gaza in 2010.

But Gül also chided Erdoğan’s response to 2012 protests, which began over plans to build a new mosque in place of Gezi Park in downtown Istanbul and grew to encompass the growing authoritarian manner of Erdoğan’s government. In particular, Gül directly criticized police forces for the brutality deployed against largely peaceful protesters. Gül further argued that democracy requires liberal freedoms and the rule of law, comments that further distanced Gül from Erdoğan. Gül also strongly resisted Erdoğan’s short-lived attempt to restrict Turkish access to Twitter in the prelude to March’s local elections. 

Despite Erdoğan’s presidential victory, Turkey remains polarized over his leadership. Critics argue that Turkey is moving away from European-style democracy toward a more centralized style more reminiscent of Vladimir Putin’s rule in Russia. Though many moderates and secular Turks welcomed Erdoğan’s rise over a decade ago, when he effectively thwarted the corrupt secular leadership that ruled in tandem with a coup-prone military that routinely harassed political Islamists. But they increasingly worry that Erdoğan is so completely consolidating power that he’s becoming an arguably larger threat to Turkish democracy.

Gül has indicated his disapproval of Erdoğan’s plans and, in his farewell address as president, Gül pointedly defended his impartiality, decried political polarization and otherwise emphasized and his commitment to the rule of law, press and personal freedoms, the impartiality and independence of the judiciary and a secular state balanced by the freedom of religion.

Continue reading Can Abdullah Gül save Turkish democracy?