Marian Karagyozov of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences comments the results of the parliamentary elections in Turkey and the first round of presidential elections. Unlike the united opposition hoped, Recep Tayyip Erdogan received more votes than Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and his position before the second round is much better. The economic difficulties Turkey has been going through did not make Erdogan lose his popularity.
A popularity, our guest explains, he gained, among others, through such moves as social transfers and pay rises for state officials. The social strata that used to be the electoral base of the left, such us the urban working class, tend now to support Erdogan. This is the result of both limited social policy and long-time repressions aimed at left-wing movement.
We also discuss Turkish nationalism and its rise (or rather its permanent presence in Turkish political discourse and praxis) and the prospects of Turkish foreign policy. As Marian comments, Turkey will neither lose its interest in the Ukraine war, nor would stop being an active player in Syria, especially when the issue of Syrian refugees inside Turkey becomes one of the key challenges for the new president – whoever he’ll finally be.
The entire transcription of the interview is available below the video.
Hello, everybody. Welcome to another episode of Cross Border Talks – a quick reaction to presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey. We record together with the expert you may remember from another episode. Marian Karagyozov is with us to comment on the results of the election that was labeled historical by many observers, but perhaps may end up as a prolongation of the status quo. Welcome, Marian!
Very good morning. Thank you for inviting me.
Marian, in my country, at least, many observers and commentators claimed that the opposition in Turkey had a great chance to win these elections, both in parliamentary and in the presidential race. And they claimed that Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lost a lot of the popularity he had enjoyed due to inflation due to high level of different economic and social problems as well as to the earthquake. Well, the reality proved the opposite. The earthquake regions voted massively for the president and the opposition candidate gained not no more than 44% in the first round. And in the second round, the confrontation is likely to end with another Erdogan victory. How do we explain this?
Let’s start with the fact that some more careful observers were a bit skeptical about all this talk about very easy oppositional victory. It was claimed by some Turkish pollsters and political scientists that probably the alliance, the People’s Alliance of President Erdogan and Nationalist Action Party in Turkey will gain majority in the Turkish parliamentary elections. The projections were about maybe 45% for the People’s Alliance of the ruling coalition, and maybe around 40-42 for the so-called Table of Six, or the opposition alliance. The main question was whether we would have a cohabitation, if Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the main contender of Erdogan, the joint opposition candidate was able to to have the majority of the votes. However, the total vote share of President Erdogan is like 5% higher than expected by most of the pollsters.
The Turkish sociologists have to explain this difference. Is it a hidden vote? Is it something else? Whatever the answer is, definitely he’s in a much better position because he already won the absolute majority of the parliamentary elections. So he could easily claim that in order to have stability in Turkey, you must have a parliament and a president from the same camp or supported by the same alliance. And he is leading in the presidential race, more than 2.5 million votes.
The morale of the opposition is very low right now. Their expectations were much higher. Definitely president Erdogan is the candidate with much better prospects for the second round. At least part of the votes for Sinan Oğam, the third candidate in the presidential race, a nationalist, is a protest vote. They don’t like neither the incumbent president, nor the oposition. However, I guess it’s more likely that at least part of Sinan Oğan’s voter base supports President Erdogan, because the pro-Kurdish parties in Turkey declared their support for the opposition candidate.
Sinan Oğan gathered more than 5% of the vote. You call him a protest candidate or a person for whom the protest voters actually voted. Some commentators are worried about the rise of Turkish nationalism, which is, in their opinion,proven also by the result of this candidate. Do you think that Turkish nationalism is really on the rise or was it always present in Turkish politics over the last decade?
Both are true. Since the military coup in 1980, the official state Ideology after the coup was a Turkish-Islamic synthesis. The coup in 1980 was an attempt to remodel, to reshape the Turkish society, to depoliticize the society by reducing class tensions. which were very high in the 70s. The main solution, which the military invented, was creating a more homogeneous Turkish nationalistic outlook.
As a result, since that time, nationalism is very widespread. It is present in almost all political currents and trends in Turkey. The main oppositional secular Republican People’s Party? They have a nationalist wing. In addition, there are different nationalist parties. Nationalist Action Party consists of more conservative nationalists, while the Party of Good, which is an offshoot from MHP or Nationalist Action party, involves urban middle classes nationalists. They also have like 10% support among the ranks of the ruling alliance, the Alliance around Justice and Development Party, led by president Erdogan. There are some small religious conservative nationalists, like, for example the party led by Mustafa Destici, the Great Unity Party.
We see this fusion between nationalism and Islamism, religious and conservative circles around the president Erdogan. There are secular nationalists as well. Basically, nationalism has a strong presence in almost all political parties in Turkey, except, of course, the Kurdish movement.
Let us speak for a moment about the left-wing opposition, the Party of the Green and the Left Future. They scored less than 9% of the vote. And people connected to this party now report irregularities during the voting. When we speak about the left opposition, we might also remember the crackdown against the HDP politicians and local politicians over the last years. Why is this party unable to gain more votes in other regions of Turkey outside of the South-East? Was it definitely destroyed by the Turkish state apparatus?
When talking about left wing politics in Turkey. I would try to point to two factors – one structural and one conjunctural.
Structurally, after the coup in 1980, the left-wing parties and unions in Turkey were physically smashed, their activists tortured and sent to prison. Their offices were shut down, there were party closures. That was the first huge blow against the Turkish left movement. More precisely, not the first, but one of the major ones – along with those later with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. These events were another huge blow to the left-wing movements in Turkey and elsewhere in Europe. In fact, they have still not been able to recover from it.
When Justice and Development Party of President Erdogan came to power, it was totally pro neoliberal policies, but with some Turkish specifics. Its policies included privatizations, commodification, urban transformation., but the party delivered alms to the poor, social assistance, distributing coal, fuel, food packages before and after the elections. Let me say it again: was kind of a neoliberalism with Turkish specifics. Being a right-wing party which they always claimed, the AKP created some bonds with people who generally show the tendencies to vote for the left. I mean the working class or the urban poor, also some of the rural population.
About the contemporary situation. There are arrests, removal of mayors. We’ve been witnessing all this for a couple of years. I’m speaking about the arrests of the HDP or the People’s Democratic Party members, the main pro-Kurdish party in Turkey. Arrests of their members, removal of their elected mayors and other officials – all of these happened indeed.
But during these elections, I think, they made a mistake. While there was a coalition between some left wing parties and the Kurdish movement, the Turkish Workers Party decided to run under their own logo. That was a mistake, because according to Turkish law, votes are distributed among the partners in the coalition. Each of the partners must secure at least 7% of the votes.
When the Workers Party decided to have their own candidates in 50 electoral districts, they were not able to secure such a high amount of support in the western parts of Turkey. So they ended with four deputies. Had they participated under the logo of the coalition, they would have gotten maybe 15 deputies more from western Turkey. Tactically, I think, they overestimated their strength. The initial projections were about this alliance having about 80 MPs. Now, they have 65.
One quick question before we switch to foreign policy issues. We can observe that the big tent coalitions of the liberal opposition with other local allies repeatedly fail in the elections. This happened in Poland, in Hungary, now in Turkey. Do you see there a pattern? Do the sovereignist or the national right-wing options have better recipes for ruling or gathering support? And liberals make the same communication mistakes?
Actually, this is related to the first question about the Erdogan trend. He made some symbolic and socio- economic moves in order to gain support, like increasing pensions, increasing minimum wage. And this is important for Turkey because many, many people, many more than in any European country, work for a minimum wage. Also, he increased the salaries of the civil servants. In addition, he introduced to the public the first Turkish electromobile drone carrier or landing dock platform. It’s kind of an aircraft carrier, a bit smaller but still very much an asset. And there were other industrial developments. Recently he has promised a very quick and removal of the dust from the earthquake zone and a very quick beginning of new house units building. These factors shaped the support for Erdogan.
On the other hand, since day one of the campaign, it was very obvious that a coalition would not work well. There are six parties. There are both secular Republican People’s Party and the Good Party and three or four more religious parties, the offshoots of Erdogan’s movement which joined the opposition. There are both left and right-wing parties, not really liberal, with perhaps the exception of a very small Democrat Party, kind of economically liberal and right of center.
The Republican People’s Party is to the left of the center. All other coalition partners are right of the center. So it’s a very unstable coalition. It’s very difficult to convince secular voters to vote for a joint list with some religious guys they don’t like and vice versa. You cannot convince conservative people to vote for secular politicians.
It is a very tricky task to be a succesful opposition when you have a strong man, someone who is dominating the political field. Like Orban in Hungary, or in Poland, or Turkey, or perhaps Bulgaria, or Russia. It is very difficult to unite all the fractions of the society against the incumbent leader. You need to make compromises and you move on not a very stable ground.
Let us close the talk with a look at Turkey’s foreign policy. What will be the main directions of this policy, when Erdogan starts, because it sounds to be the most plausible scenario, his next term as the president?
I think the Syrian issue is an important issue. We see how the Turkish population, because of the economical crisis, is not very happy with the presence of that high number of Syrians in their country. So what will happen with Syrian refugees in Turkey? That’s a $1 million question.
In addition, we are witnessing contacts between Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iran. They’re trying to negotiate the future. So definitely this would be a big issue. What is going on in Ukraine is a huge, big thing. And the Turkish role as a mediator or in regards to this grain deal, Black Sea grain deal is important as well. Turkey will be an important, important player in this regard as well.
Turkey would probably also try to at least keep the relations with the European Union and in the US going. I’m not sure whether significant improvement in these relations is possible in the short term, but at least both sides in these relations need some working, workable relations. We’ll see how exactly how these relations will be designed in the next months.
Very soon we will find out who will definitely become the Turkish president for the next couple of years. And today, Marian Karagyozov helped us to find out what is going on in Turkish politics. Thank you, Marian, for being with us.
Thanks for having me.
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