By: Annette Brinckerhoff
On Sunday, June 7th, Turkey’s electorate will vote in a new parliament. Amid turmoil in the region, this is a particularly important set of elections. In addition, plays are being made to arrange for referendum to pass which would increase the presidential powers in the constitution.
The Justice and Development Part (AKP), the Islamist-rooted conservative party to which both the president and prime minister belong, will be in line to regain rule of parliament again. The party’s hold on power has long been supported by the international and domestic community for Erdogan’s efforts in integrating Islam into a liberal democratic and economic system. The party will need at least 330 votes to maintain the majority necessary to pass a political referendum which would consolidate the presidential power, further elevating the AKP’s power. However, a recent history of crushing dissent, intolerance for the Kurdish minority, and increasing fundamentalist rhetoric has left many challenging this reign of power.
Hoping to take advantage of this is the People’s Democratic Party (HDP). A political party with close historical ties to the PKK, an armed Kurdish faction who’s 30 year conflict with Turkish security forces have lead to over 40,000 deaths. As the Kurds combat the Islamic Caliphate and Erdogan list of shady behaviors grows, for the first time since taking power the tides seem to be shifting away from an AKP majority win.
The Turkish constitution states that in order for candidates to take their seat in parliament, their party most win at least 10% of the vote. If the party doesn’t get 10% of the votes, none of their candidates actually receive their seats. For the first time, the HDP has decided to run their candidates under the HD Party, instead of as independents, in an effort to solidify their position as a threat to the AKP. Running on minority rights, the HDP has seen a significant rise in support as Erdogan relies on more fundamentalist rhetoric to maintain his conservative supporters. If the HDP were able to gain 10% of the votes, they would secure enough seats in the parliament to prevent a referendum consolidating presidential powers from passing into law.
According to polls, the most pressing issue is the economy. Turkey has been a poster child for emerging markets. Since taking power 13 years ago, the economy has grown by 68% under the AKP. Having tremendous success with a growing market allowed the party to gain its powerful political position. However, in the last few years growth has slowed, and unemployment rose to 10%, shaking their position.
In the past couple of years Erdogan’s political rhetoric has been turning more conservative. Traditionally, a candidate who supported peace efforts with the countries Kurds, spoke up for minorities, and encourages EU membership, Erdogan has turned further away from this progressive agenda. The last few years have proven instead to be detrimental for the media’s autonomy, women’s and worker’s rights, and deepening Islamization.
This can clearly be seen in one of the most recent scandals where a reporter for Cumhuriyet daily released images of Turkish military illegally smuggling arms to jihadi’s in Syria. This evidence comes after many months of accusations and was quickly followed by images allegedly showing Turkish intelligence smuggling jihadis into Syria. This assistance to ISIS has been strongly condemned by the international community and denied by Erdogan. In response to the published images the President said, “This slander and illegitimate operation against the MIT are, in a way, an act of espionage. This newspaper is involved in this espionage activity, too. I suppose the person who wrote this as an exclusive report will pay a heavy price for this.” These remarks, which can only be taken as a blatant threat towards civilian members of a media outlet sparked significant international outcry and pushed Erdogan to seek judicial recourse by suing and demanding a life sentence for the journalist responsible.
This is only one example in a long list of constitutional abuses Erdogan has committed. Were the presidential powers allowed to be expanded as the AKP plans to do, we can only expect the list to grow with even less accountability and oversight. The future of Turkey is key. Turkey’s legacy is that of a successful clash of civilizations between East and West, and which has served as a model for democracy in a highly unstable region.
Photo credit: Reuters