Tag Archives: AKP

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

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

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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

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?

How Turkey’s Kurds become a key constituency in election

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After a century of being treated like second-class citizens in their own country, Turkish Kurds must wonder with astonishment how they have become increasingly in the span of less than a decade one of the most important swing groups in Turkish politics.Turkey

When prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won Turkey’s first direct presidential election last week, he undoubtedly did so with the support of a significant portion of Turkey’s Kurdish population, which amounts to something between 15% and 25% of Turkey’s 76 million people. Continue reading How Turkey’s Kurds become a key constituency in election

Erdogan wins first-round presidential victory

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Ultimately, neither Gulenists nor Kemalists nor anyone else could stand in the way of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in his quest to become Turkey’s first directly elected president. Turkey

But his victory in yesterday’s presidential election wasn’t exactly surprising — the only question was whether Erdoğan (pictured above) would win the presidency outright on August 10 or whether he would advance to a potential August 24 runoff against the second-place challenger, former diplomat Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu.

As it turns out, Erdoğan narrowly won in the first round with around 51.79% of the vote:

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Though the election’s outcome wasn’t really in doubt, Erdoğan’s future and the direction of Turkey’s political structure remain much cloudier. Vowing a ‘new era’ in his victory speech, Erdoğan’s  ambition to remain the most powerful figure in Turkish politics is hardly a secret, even though the presidency has been a ceremonial office since the 1961 constitution. That means his presidential victory now presents at least three difficult questions for which we won’t have answers anytime soon.

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RELATED: Can Erdoğan be stopped in
first direct Turkish presidential election?

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In light of Turkey’s role as a key fulcrum in international affairs, straddling the European Union to the west, with which it shares a custom union, and increasingly exerting its influence in the Middle East to the east, with mixed effect in Iraq, Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan.  Continue reading Erdogan wins first-round presidential victory

Can Erdogan be stopped in first direct Turkish presidential election?

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You’ve probably never seen Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan like this before. Turkey

In his bid to win Turkey’s first-ever direct presidential election, he donned bright orange athletic gear (pictured above) and took to the football field at a new stadium in Istanbul earlier this week, scoring a hat trick against token opposition.

Though that may replicate Erdoğan’s seemingly unstoppable rise, leading his governing Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) to victory three consecutive times — in  2002, 2007 and 2011 — his latest electoral quest may prove more difficult.

Turkish voters will elect a president in voting scheduled for August 10 among Erdoğan and two challengers, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu and Selahattin Demirtaş. If none of the candidates win more than 50% of the vote, the top two candidate will advance to an August 24 runoff.

Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu

The Cairo-born İhsanoğlu (pictured above), who served as the secretary-general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation between 2004 and January 2014, is an academic with a background in, of all things, the history of science.

An independent by party and a conservative by temperament, İhsanoğlu was nominated for the presidency by an alliance of two very different opposition groups pushed together by a mutual opposition to Erdoğan: the center-left Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP, the Republican People’s Party), most associated with Kemalism in the pre-Erdoğan era, and the ultranationalist, conservative Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (MHP, Nationalist Movement Party).

Demirtaş

Demirtaş (pictured above), a 41-year old rising star popular among Turkish leftists, is the candidate of the Kurdish-interest Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi (BDP, Peace and Democracy Party), though he hopes to win support from among the CHP’s more liberal supporters.

Defying decades of repressive precedent, Erdoğan has tried to pacify relations between the central government and Turkey’s Kurdish minority, and he’s increasingly made Turkey an improbable ally of the de facto independent Iraqi Kurdistan. That’s won Erdoğan genuine respect among Kurdish voters, though many will undoubtedly support Demirtaş in the election’s first round. It will nonetheless be something of a curiosity if Erdoğan is forced into a runoff, but makes it over the top on the basis of Kurdish votes.

Today, most observers give Erdoğan the edge, but the prime minister has become such a polarizing figure, and his project to place the Turkish power firmly in the presidency such a controversial idea, that it could be much closer than anticipated. If Erdoğan fails to clear 50% and thereupon faces a direct challenge from İhsanoğlu later in August, the runoff will become a referendum on whether  Turkey will essentially become not an Islamist or democratic or Kemalist state, but an ‘Erdoğan state.’

If İhsanoğlu wins, he will become, like many of his predecessors, a figurehead with ceremonial powers and little else.

If Erdoğan wins, in either round, he will almost certainly transform the Turkish presidency into a much more powerful office. Formerly, the president was appointed to a single, seven-year term by the Turkish parliament. Under the new system, the president is elected to a five-year term with possible reelection.  Continue reading Can Erdogan be stopped in first direct Turkish presidential election?

The fight for Turkey is between Erodganists and Gulenists

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At first glance, Turkey’s local elections on Sunday seem like a huge victory for prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (pictured above).Turkey

His party, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party), which has governed Turkey since 2002, had an impressive day, notwithstanding the protests last summer that seemed to weaken Erdoğan’s grip on power, and corruption scandals that led to the resignation of four ministers in Erdoğan’s government late last year.

With nearly all of the votes counted, the AKP  won 44.18% of the nationwide vote — that’s even more than the 39% it won in the most recent 2009 local elections. Far behind in second place was the center-left, ‘Kemalist’ Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP, the Republican People’s Party), with just 26.15%.

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Notably, the conservative, Turkish nationalist Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (MHP, Nationalist Movement Party) won more support, in percentage terms, that during any election since Erdoğan came to power. The leftist, Kurdish nationalist Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi (BDP, Peace and Democracy Party) won nearly 4% of the vote, picking up several municipalities in the most Kurdish areas in Turkey’s southeast. The map below from Hürriyet that shows the winners throughout the nation:

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Though the CHP (light red) is still a strong force in Turkey’s major cities and along its western coast, and although the BDP (blue) thrives in Kurdish-majority areas, the wide swath of yellow demonstrates that Turkey is still AKP country.

Even more impressively, the AKP appears to have won the mayoral contests in both Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, and Ankara, its capital. Kadir Topbaş, who has served as Istanbul’s mayor since 2004, narrowly won a third term against CHP challenger Mustafa Sarıgül, the longtime mayor of Istabul’s Şişli district, by a margin of 47.85% to 39.93%. Though there are reports of electricity blackouts during the vote-counting and other minor irregularities, Sarıgül has conceded defeat.

In Ankara, however, the race is still too close to call. The AKP’s Melih Gökçek, who has been Ankara’s mayor since 1994, officially won 44.64%, while CHP challenger Mansur Yavaş won 43.92%. Both candidates have declared victory, and Yavaş has alleged ballot fraud. The CHP will appeal the result in what could be a protracted fight over control of the Turkish capital.

But the real fight was never between the AKP and the CHP, and though Erdoğan defiantly claimed victory in a balcony rant Sunday night, threatening vengeance on his enemies, other forces within his coalition will determine whether Erdoğan will be a candidate in Turkey’s first direct presidential election in August, and whether Erdoğan (or another AKP leader) will lead the party into its bid for a fourth consecutive term in government in parliamentary elections that must be held before June 2015.

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That’s because Erdoğan’s most serious challengers are the followers of Fethullah Gülen (pictured above in a rare BBC interview earlier this year), a Turkish cleric based in Pennsylvania since his self-exile from Turkey in 1999. Continue reading The fight for Turkey is between Erodganists and Gulenists