Wednesday, 13 August 2014

What the Columnists Say

Published in Roundup of Columnists

Two topics dominate the comments after Turkey’s presidential election: the strong showing of Selahattin Demirtaş, the Kurdish candidate, who succeeded in appealing to a broader electorate, and who is generally seen as the real star of the election; and the failure of Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the lackluster joint candidate of the opposition parties CHP and MHP. Liberal and social democratic commentators see Demirtaş’ success as heralding the birth of a new left. These commentators stress that the CHP needs to heed the call of this new left and warn that the party is doomed if it persists in allying itself with the rightist MHP.  Meanwhile, the public rift within the AKP between the supporters of president-elect Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the outgoing president Abdullah Gül has led many commentators to speculate about the future of the AKP. The prediction is made that Turkey’s course will be determined by the outcome of the intra-AKP struggle.



Yüksel Taşkın in Taraf writes that the candidate that expressed the voice of the future without doubt was Selahattin Demirtaş. The success of Demirtaş in addressing us from the more democratic Turkey of the future was the most important, forward-looking dynamic of the election. A part of the electorate that had gone to the CHP in the local elections that followed upon the Gezi process but who were not so happy with the direction of the party voted for the future that they glimpsed in the discourse of Demirtaş. Demirtaş may not have attracted all of this potential voting bloc. It is not to be expected that the wounds of the civil war, the lack of confidence that it has left would be transcended immediately. But Demirtaş nonetheless succeeded in getting votes not only from the socialist left but also from the voters of the CHP. That is the most important dynamic that the CHP people need to ponder. From now on Kılıçdaroğlu needs to be more of a risk-taker; he will have to adopt braver positions on the issues that hold the party back. MHP and CHP don’t stand any chance of addressing the future Turkey by standing alongside. The only alternative for the CHP is to make a move toward the future to which Demirtaş addressed himself.


Murat Paker on the t24 news site notes that the most successful party of the presidential election was without any question the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and that the most successful leader was Demirtaş. Compared to the local elections a couple of months ago the percentage of the HDP rose from 6.2 percent to 9.8 percent, which represents an increase of over 50 percent in proportion to the votes of the party. One million new votes were received, and the vast majority of these came from the provinces in the west. Also, Demirtaş made a positive impression on vast portions of the electorate that did not cast their votes for him by projecting an image of a new, young, sympathetic, wise, witty and non-aggressive politician with a sincere mission and broad perspective. The HDP did not only increase its share of the vote by 3 to 4 percentage points; it neutralized the negative perception of it that used to prevail among a much broader portion of the electorate. Compared to before the presidential election, the number of people that sees the HDP line as their enemy has significantly decreased. That is a gain that is at least as important as the increase in votes.


Ali Bayramoğlu in Yeni Şafak observes that Turkey has taken its first step into a new era with the election of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the presidency. The CHP-MHP front became the victim of what was a strategy without politics. The way the two parties chose to nominate their candidate and constructed their alliance was built solely around the goal to stop Tayyip Erdoğan; their politically empty initiative was not even adopted by their own voters. The fact that İhsanoğlu got five million less votes than the two parties received together in the last election, and that the AK Party’s candidate was the winner in places where the MHP is strong, are clear indications of this. And this defeat has also already made it meaningless to explore a possible opposition coalition in the 2015 parliamentary elections.


Orhan Bursalı in Cumhuriyet regrets that the CHP and MHP did not act in accord with their own base when they nominated their joint presidential candidate. If they had done this through the mechanisms of the democratic process, they would have ensured that a mass of voters, energized and dedicated to the candidate and thinking that the joint candidate could win the election, would have materialized. But none of this happened. And to make things worse, a candidate that had zero name recognition was presented when there were only forty days left to the election; and what is more, his name triggered a broad, negative reaction from the CHP lines. The top-down imposition of a candidate amounted to not taking the voters seriously, to treating them like pieces of wood. Against this backdrop, the 38.3 percent that the joint candidate got is in fact very successful!  The CHP voters made a great sacrifice in the name of the “fatherland.” But from the perspective of the leaders, the outcome is a huge fiasco. They missed a golden opportunity.


Ergun Babahan on the t24 news site writes that Erdoğan’s ascent to Çankaya (the presidential palace) inaugurates a new era for the AKP as well. Turkey’s societal composition is such that the alternative to the present government is going to arise from within this party. The post-election view tells us that we are going to witness the struggle of the two fractions of the AKP. The first fraction sees Turkey’s future not in line with the standards of the European Union, but wants to direct Turkey toward the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. It is apparent that this aligns with Erdoğan’s choice, who wants to rule the party from Çankaya through the intermediary of this group. The other group meanwhile consists of names that we can call conservative-democrats and its leader is Abdullah Gül. Ali Babacan and Mehmet Simşek are two prominent members of this group. This group is inclined to rule the AKP in the image of the Western, Christian Democrat parties, and to raise Turkey to the standards of the European Union. Because, as Abdullah Gül stressed in all his speeches during his presidency, if these conditions are not met, foreign investors stay away. We can observe that there has been no serious industrial investment made in Turkey during the AKP era, and that growth is solely based on the construction sector. As Ali Babacan has stressed recently, there are serious problems in the Turkish economy. And as again Babacan has pointed out, the education system does not allow for the ascent to a more qualitative economic system. We know Abdullah Gül as someone who works with patience and with a long-term perspective in mind. He surely knew better than any of us others that Erdoğan and his group did not want him and that they would take whatever measures to block his way. That he anyway declared that he is going to return to the AKP is a clear indication that we can expect a very interesting time ahead.

Read 8240 times Last modified on Friday, 15 August 2014

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The Turkey Analyst is a publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Joint Center, designed to bring authoritative analysis and news on the rapidly developing domestic and foreign policy issues in Turkey. It includes topical analysis, as well as a summary of the Turkish media debate.


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