Turkish financial markets rallied late Wednesday after news broke of the release of Mehmet Altan, a left-wing journalist who was imprisoned for suspected ties to terrorist groups. Whether or not Altan will be tried while out on bail is yet to be seen, but this move was regarded as a return to normalcy across the country and maybe a harbinger for the lifting of the state of emergency currently in place in Turkey. Should the Justice Ministry continue to either drop cases or allow those indicted to be out on bail, markets will continue to improve as a sign of lowered tensions across the country.
The release of Altan is another signal for continued success for Turkey this week. The latest presidential and parliamentary elections held Sunday were the first important step this week, but not necessarily because of the results. Despite the outcomes, the elections' success lies in the largely undisputed nature of the tally. In recent elections, opposition parties have complained of unfair electoral practices. The Turkish government and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) have repeatedly dismissed these claims. These complaints of a tainted race are, to a conscientious voter, the worst-case scenario for an election.
If a "tainted" election ever does occur, giving the benefit of the doubt to opposition parties, whoever is behind such rigging should be indicted, tried and sentenced. If this continues to occur, however, that is, opposition parties do not install observers at every voting booth, then suddenly it is "fool me twice, shame on me." In this election, the opposition parties wised up and insured that their representatives were at all the voting booths and largely accepted the results of the election. This was in and of itself a great victory for Turkey. This is the good news. The bad news, however, is that opposition parties played what can only be called "minor league politics." The results were continued dissatisfaction with the main opposition party handing them yet another loss.
The Republican People's Party (CHP) is a Harvard Business Review case study waiting to be written. The last time the CHP won any sort of "meaningful" majority was in 1946, winning 86 percent of the parliamentary seats. The election was not only not anonymous, armed military officials witnessed all voting to insure victory for the CHP and its leader İsmet İnönü, and post-electoral rigging was widespread. Despite this, people were still brave enough to vote in opposition of the CHP, risking their lives. In all previous elections, the Turkish government forbade any other political party from forming and outlawed all opposition. Such acts were punishable by death. This is the legacy Turkey's main opposition party, the CHP, currently carries. The first time the CHP ran in an election with anonymous voting, it lost badly, garnering only 14 percent of all parliamentary seats. The people's hatred for the CHP was palpable and has continued to this very day.
In Sunday's election, the CHP won 22.6 percent of the vote and returned to its baseline of support. Normally, in any developed democracy, the head of the party would resign, and the party would try to reinvent itself. In Turkey, however, the leader of the CHP, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, has lost now nearly a dozen successive elections and has refused to step down. A successful opposition is as important to a democracy as a successful government. Only through continued opposition can governments become more efficient in serving the people.
Just as lopsided outcomes in sports are no fun to watch, so too have become Turkish elections. Whatever your thoughts on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are, nearly everyone agrees he is a skillful politician. Why the opposition parties refuse to focus-group their candidates is beyond me. Criticism involving the AK Party include favorable press coverage by holding companies with ties to the government.
This is valid criticism; however, the most vocal critic of the opposition, Fox News, is by far the most well-funded of Turkish networks with 24/7 anti-government coverage. Even during periods where the CHP controlled all facets of life in Turkey, as they did in 1950, they lost. They lost in the interim. They lost before coups, after coups, even when Ataturk himself was in power. The Turkish people have never warmed to the CHP's message, and someone needs to give them the hint.
What can be done? The CHP needs to apologize for its treatment of Kurds and other minority groups. It needs to apologize for its discrimination against Christians and Jews during İsmet İnönü's presidency in which an "asset tax" was levied as a ruse to "legally" strip them of their wealth. The CHP needs either to disband altogether as a remnant of a one-party rule autocracy or re-brand, making amends for all its past grievances. Let me go out on a limb here and predict every future election in Turkey's history: Short of these steps, the CHP will never win an election, and the Turkish people will continue to vote for whoever is in opposition of the CHP.
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