Ömer Faruk Şen: 'It’s like a sit on a powder keg'

 Ömer Faruk Şen

Ömer Faruk Şen

What underlies all the vibrant change in Turkish parliamentary and electoral politics in recent years? What has happened to the ‘Solution Peace Process’? The bilateral relations between Turkey and Russia – how were they damaged and why? What are Turkey’s attitudes towards ‘EU refugee deal’ and civil war in Syria? We talk about this and more – with Ömer Faruk Şen, the Research Assistant in TOBB Economy and Technology University in Ankara and member of the 3H Movement.

Omer, where did the AKP actually collect the amount of votes necessary for victory between June and November?

In order to understand how AKP took votes by which it came to power again in November 2015 election, it’s necessary to check to whom and how it lost votes in June 2015 election.

AKP has lost 9% votes in June 2015 election in comparison to 2011 election. Nearly 3% of the lost votes were gone to Turkish nationalist party MHP and 4% of these lost votes were gone to the pro-Kurdish political party.

This loss has had some reasons.

The “Peace Process” run together with the Kurdish movement has annoyed Turkish nationalists who usually supported AKP. Furthermore, with the government’s staying silent about corruption, President Erdogan’s asks for votes for AKP by organizing public meetings instead of staying neutral; and keeping the presidential system on agenda consistently led to some AKP’s supporters who are nationalist and conservative going towards the only alternative right party, MHP.

In its own turn, the pro-Kurdish HDP has found a chance to address to AKP’s conservative Kurdish supporters and some secular Turk opponents of AKP within a period when the guns were actually silent because of Peace Process. Also, contrary to Erdogan’s presidential system propaganda, the HDP leader Demirtas ran a campaign with the ‘we won’t make you president’ slogan. As a result, with the votes taken by Kurdish conservatives and some leftist, secular and liberals’ “barrowed” or “strategic” votes, HDP passed election threshold and the AKP did not obtain the parliamentary majority.

But after the AKP’s defeat in June 2015 election, that ‘spring weather’ didn’t come around as its opponents wished. Again, it was AKP’s time.

President Erdogan of Turkey

President Erdogan of Turkey

There are three reasons for this.

First, the ever increasing acts of violence. In a funny kind of way, after an election when HDP got in parliament, the PKK (pro-Kurdish terrorist organization) has started armed terrorist attacks against government by reasoning ISIS’s attacks to Kurdish people in Suruc. The government didn’t take a step back to these attacks. PKK started the attacks and moved its involvement to the city centres. However, HDP didn’t say the necessary words about this situation and as a result, many disappointed conservative Kurdish people came back to AKP. People, who voted for HDP with their “borrowed votes”, lost their passion in the atmosphere of violence.

Also, ‘thanks’ to the end of Solution Process Turkish nationalists could turn back to AKP.

Secondly, AKP didn’t repeat mistakes in November they’ve done in June election. For instance, Erdogan didn’t organize any public meetings extend any propaganda about presidential system in this election.

Moreover, the AKP has nominated more efficient names and has made populist promises like raising minimum wage with the highest rate AKP ever proposed.

Third reason was the clumsiness of opposition parties about forming a government.

Notably the MHP and the opposition parties blowing off and being up to the negotiations (except liberal CHP) has increased AKP’s “discursive power” in front of the public. Because people have judged that only AKP is party eager to form a government. Although truth was different – because CHP put its willpower to form a coalition with AKP but Erdogan somehow prevented it, common perception was on the behalf of AKP.

However, those coalition governments have a really bad image in Turkey. When this image was connected to clumsiness of opposition parties, people who suffered from political and economic future anxiety turned back to AKP.

Devlet Bahceli, the nationalist MHP leader

Devlet Bahceli, the nationalist MHP leader

Why has the nationalist party (is it actually nationalist?) done so poorly?

The basic reason why MHP’s vote decreased rapidly in November was that it was against the negotiations about establishing government. Such that, at the night of June election, the party leader Devlet Bahceli called for an ‘early election’, as if the results would change.

During the summer, he talked about his “red lines”; he didn’t state anything positive. He asserted three conditions to sit at the negotiation table. These were: ending the Solution Peace Process (1); Erdogan’s pull out to his constitutional boundaries (2) and sending four ministers, involved into corruption to the Supreme Court (3). MHP said “no” to AKP which said that ‘let’s first come to the table, later we can talk about our conditions’. Furthermore, by refusing the call by CHP and HDP to build a government altogether, he said “no” to other opposition parties.

Finally, Bahceli stated that they won’t be a part of any coalition government where HDP exists. Early election seemed inevitable.

MHP said again “no” to the AKP’s calls which declared ‘let’s establish a coalition government at least till the early election’. Besides, he said “no” to delegate any ministers to the ‘election government’ in which all parties could participate in a proportion to numbers of MPs. Even the strongest supporters of MHP couldn’t make sense of their party leader Devlet Bahceli’s decisions.

I guess Bahceli planned to take votes from nationalist conservatives by pushing AKP to a coalition with CHP or HDP; and to conquer secular nationalists’ votes from CHP. AKP realized this trap and used Bahceli’s “no politics” against MHP’s supporters in pro-election propaganda. In conclusion, Bahceli brought “no politics” term to the Turkish politics; but this ended with disappointment for himself.

Another reason was the ending of peace Solution Process in summer. Then, by the end of Solution Process and start of new conflicts, the AKP has used a more nationalist language — rhetoric against PKK and HDP. And at last, MHP couldn’t hold the in its hand the conservative-nationalist Turks who voted for it. In fact, I want to underline that the “nationalist discourse” has always been a useful tool in Turkish elections, especially at times when any uncertainty arises.

As a result, MHP’s MP result went down 41 from 80 seats. It became the smallest faction in the parliament. According to surveys, its votes continue to go down. In my opinion, if there is an election today, the party can hardly pass the election threshold.

HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş

HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş

What happened to the HDP—why did it barely get in?

Kurdish people had the highest voting rate and turnout for the first time in their political life — with the HDP’s 13.5% result in June. But, in November, HDP took only 10.5% and it hardly passed the election threshold which is 10%.

There are some reasons for this result, some of them were in HDP’s power and some were not.

First of all, the PKK broke the ceasefire surprisingly one day after the 7 June election. It was too hard to understand why PKK has started terror attacks although Kurdish movement took the chance to be represented in the parliament with so many MPs for the first time.

Obviously, there is conflict between PKK and HDP about “being the true representative of Kurdish movement”. PKK has therefore inflicted more damage upon HDP, than the government has done. And, HDP didn’t speak up to PKK’s terror attacks. As a result of this unresponsiveness, HDP’s voter base has narrowed.

Firstly, moderate and conservative Kurdish people who voted for AKP in previous elections moved away from HDP. HDP has experienced a downfall in votes they acquired in the West of Turkey because they couldn’t break off the relation with the illegal Kurd militant organization.

It couldn’t convince most of the secular Turks who voted for them, the party simply couldn’t avoid being seemed as a legal wing of PKK.

Even though the HDP has accused the government by saying that the election wasn’t done in a free and democratic atmosphere and there were tricks in elections, I don’t accept these reasons as causes of HDP’s failure.

Speaking quite frankly, it was PKK which influenced election atmosphere more negatively than the government. Apart from some unimportant local exemptions, there were no tricks which could affect election results. However, if we take government opportunities into consideration, it can’t be said that this is fair.

Definitely, six months have passed after the last election. During this time, the PKK moved its attacks from the mountains to the city centres. In addition, today PKK carries out attacks not only versus soldiers and policemen in East but also at civil people in West of Turkey. In the end of the day, HDP continues to loose votes and as I see that, in case we have an election today, HDP is also unable to pass the election threshold.

Good Deal, heh?

Good Deal, heh?

To your mind, is this a good swap-deal for Erdogan—stopping refugees for an EU return with a visa-free regime with Europe?

Firstly, I want to stress, that I don’t find this agreement humane. Both Erdogan and European politicians regard the Syrian refugees who are deprived of the most basic rights as a “statistics”. In my opinion it is totally problematic from a human point of view. If we evaluate this legally, as far as I know, collective expulsion of refugees is forbidden by European Convention of Human Rights. Also, the EU has aimed to save the day for itself without thinking over Syrians’ legal statue in Turkey. Since Turkey put a drawback on Geneva Convention, it doesn’t provide Syrians with a refugee status. That ‘conditional’ refugee status prevents the future of Syrians from being predictable.

Besides removing the drawbacks which are built into enforcement of international agreements, Turkey needs to make changes to its domestic legislation. The opportunities that Turkey offers with concern to ensuring refugees’ social, economic and cultural adaptation are way not enough. The fact that EU ignores these deficiencies should serve a shame to ‘European Humanism’.

The positive side of this agreement is the restart of negotiation process which has not been going on for years between EU and Turkey .Unfortunately, this new negotiation process, different from the previous ones, is more of a relationship based on self-interest and distrust than an integration based on trust.

Due to this reason, it seems that the deal too hard to prove sustainable.

I could find better ways to get the visa-free regime with the EU.

Turkey will still go Europe:)

Turkey will still go Europe:)

Is it possible that the AKP will collect enough parliamentary support to put through a constitutional referendum of any sort?

It’s like a sit on a powder keg. Right now AKP has control of 316 MPs. In order to organize the constitutional referendum, 330 MPs’ votes are needed. So, AKP needs the support of 13 other party’s MPs. Probably, in a push for bringing the presidential government system to the referendum, the AKP will try to convince other parties’ MPs instead of negotiating with other parties themselves. This is due to the fact that opposition parties as institutions are obviously against this ‘Turkish style presidential system’ which is deprived of check and balance mechanisms.

On one hand, we do hear that there are some MPs in AKP who are against presidential system, on the other hand, there is a few support from other parties’ MPs. It’s a difficult issue to make any guess about how that might develop. In my opinion, if we look at parliament’s existing composition and polarisation with other parties and within itself, the AKP will not be able to collect support that it needs.

But there is a critical ‘extraordinary party congress’ which can even lead to MHP’s split next month. In this congress, due to the fact that the new party leader is going to be elected, some MHP MPs could be expelled from the party and it may lead them to approach AKP. If this happens, all our predictions will be useless.

It’s really risky to predict Turkish political developments from one day to another.

Given that AKP takes presidential system to the referendum, it seems to me that AKP will sweat to make people to accept it. According to survey results, nearly 60% of the public are against the presidential system. However, Erdogan continues to be such a successful leader in organizing electoral victories. Therefore, it is possible that he is able to convince the 51% through using his charisma and ‘friendly’ (to put it this way) mass media.

What political parties or groups in your country are close to definition of Liberal or Libertarian?

There is only one liberal party in Turkey, the Liberal Democratic Party. However, most liberal voters in Turkey do not support this party because of several reasons such as its leadership, its party programme and so on. Its vote rate, therefore, is sort of too low.

The most active liberal group in Turkey is the “3H Movement”. Turkey’s only liberal youth organization 3H Movement works towards protection and promotion of such values like rule of law, property rights and freedom of the press,  supporting civic activist and intellectual endeavours. The most successful liberal think-tank in Turkey is the Freedom Research Association (FRA), which does much of the research on public policies and is an independent and non-profit NGO. It also prepares reports, organizes conferences and engages in education and publication activities for a vision of free and prosperous Turkey.

With Putin's military jet downed by Turkey Moscow dreams of global influence dwarfed again :)

With Putin's military jet downed by Turkey Moscow dreams of global influence dwarfed again :)

Did Turkish attitudes towards Russia and Russians change due to well-known incidents?

Lots of people have turned to a hostile attitude towards Russia and especially to Putin. Lots of propaganda against Putin has appeared in the government-friendly media. And we here do know that a similar propaganda was ravaged against Turkey and Erdogan in Russia.

However I don’t think that this caprice between the leaders can be regarded as normal either by Turkish or by Russian people. This geopolitical tension between these two countries affects lives of the ordinary people very negatively. Eventually, a Russian wants to go to Antalya without any visa and a Turk wants to sell tomatoes, milk, textiles to St. Petersburg without importation embargo. As far as I’m concerned, both Turks and Russians cannot believe in these propagandas which are produced to damage relations due to leaders’ squarell.

Lastly, I want to state that Erdogan and Putin who were so offended and threaten each other today – could hug each other tomorrow. As any authoritarian leaders involved into Middle East politics, these two leaders, too, can easily say ‘white’ at something which they called ‘black’ yesterday convince their supporters to believe that, once conditions change.

So far, so close, those strongmen, aren't they?

So far, so close, those strongmen, aren't they?

Finally, is there any feeling that Turkey will expand it’s envolvement into Syrian conflict and what such expansion could possibly mean?

I think Turkey has already got involved into war in Syria more than enough. Besides, a few years ago Erdogan has declared that “we don’t see the Syrian topic as some external matter. Syria is our internal matter.”. Insomuch that Turkey has supported politically and financially some groups who fight against Assad regime.

By saying ‘expansion’, if you mean a military operation in Syria, I think it’s a bare chance. Firstly, the public opinion in Turkey is against such an over-involvement, or expansion. While the government is fighting with terrorism and suffering high losses inside, it’s impossible to make people accept a full-fledged military intervention to Syria.

Secondly and more importantly, it doesn’t seem possible for Turkey which is a regional power to follow expansionist policy in Syria where Russia and global powers take part in. Because of this disadvantage, Turkey often accuses the USA of being passive with concern to the Syrian civil war; although, if there is a ground offensive led by the USA, it is being said that Turkey will take part in this coalition.

At this point, the importance of presidential election in November in the USA becomes crucial. Activating the US Syria Policy by the newcomer president may increase Turkey’s claims in Syria.

However, it’s necessary to mention that there are many issues on which Turkey and the USA do not agree. The most important one is Kurdish PYD which is seen as the extension of PKK in Syria by Turkey and is seen as the ally against ISIS by the USA.

In short, I don’t think that Turkey can expand its involvement into Syria without US direct help. If it does, this would create the new situation of close combat with Russia. Such a conflict will throw the unlucky region into real hell.

The Russian-language version in the Ukarainian newspaper the DSNEWS is available here

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