The influence of the elections on Turkish democracy

Published 10.06.2015 23:41
Updated 11.06.2015 01:04

Turkey is entering an interesting period with the results of these elections. Although it is a fact that coalition has its own disadvantages there is no need to be pessimistic about the country's future

While checking my mail, I noticed that one of the influential newspapers in the U.S. started a discussion regarding the influence of the results of the June 7 general elections on Turkey's democracy. They asked me for a brief review. I guess they expect me to say that the electorate taught an important lesson to the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) by saying no to the authoritarian policies. The Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) entered Parliament by passing the 10-percent election threshold and Turkish democracy has returned from the brink of an abyss at the last minute.

No, I am not going to say any of this, since the truth of the matter is quite different. Some people can insistently and solely discuss matters of press freedom and lifestyles when democracy is in question. Of course, they are also within the realm of democratic culture. But democracy and liberties comprise a more comprehensive framework than this. Its basis includes the right to live, speak one's mother tongue and freedom of thought and faith. In other words, Turkish democracy, which was interfered with by military coups many times and is still ruled with a Constitution that is the outcome of a military coup, has more deeply-rooted problems. The Kurdish question, a heritage of the Kemalist mindset, lies at the heart of all these problems. This issue deeply influences all the building blocks of Turkish democracy. It would be self-deceptive to argue that democracy operates in a country that could not resolve the Kurdish question, could not disarm the outlawed PKK and where people cannot speak their mother tongue and armed terrorists can walk freely on the streets.

The AK Party administration must have seen this problem, since it kicked off the reconciliation process to end the conflict, which has been ongoing for 30 years and has claimed the lives of 30,000 people. Within this process, Turkey obtained many considerable acquirements on the path of democracy. The state of emergency ended in southeastern Turkey. The bans on the Kurdish language were abolished. Mother tongue education was allowed, although it was only introduced as an elective course. All these steps, which would have stirred great controversy a decade ago, were implemented one by one. Guns were silenced in the eastern and southeastern regions and conflicts came to an end. The Kurdish intellectuals and artists who fled from Turkey due to the state oppression many years ago started to return after witnessing the developing democratic atmosphere in the country.

Turkish democracy will only grow more mature after the Kurdish question is resolved, and it will grow mature eventually. However, it cannot be institutionalized yet, and remains quite fragile. The results of the latest elections demonstrate how fragile it is in the short term. Unfortunately, the results of the elections do not promise a better democracy, since the message conveyed by the voters does not include the reconciliation process. Those reading this can object by arguing that the HDP entered Parliament by exceeding the election threshold with an emphasis on integrating into Turkey. But this is not precisely case.

In my previous column, I said that the HDP's inability to pass the threshold and enter Parliament would have some costs. However, I underlined that the cost of its exceeding the threshold would be greater for the reconciliation process. I was wrong in my calculations since I thought that even though the HDP passed the threshold the AK Party would maintain its power without a needing a coalition partner, but it would be a weak ruling power. A weak ruling power cannot possibly sustain the reconciliation process. Therefore, the HDP's achievement of passing the threshold will undermine the AK Party and negatively influenced the reconciliation process. The point where I was wrong is that the HDP passed the threshold, but it did not only undermine the AK Party. Also, the AK Party lost its ruling power without coalition support. In other words, we do not have single-party rule that will maintain the reconciliation process from now on. The voters favored a coalition rather than a single party's rule. However, the reconciliation process cannot continue with coalitions, and it seems impossible with the picture the ballots revealed.

To be more precise, the ballot results offer two options. The first option, which is very probable, is going for early elections. And it is hard to predict what kind of a picture we would come across after early elections. And a coalition that excludes the AK Party cannot possibly be formed. Besides, due to political concerns, there is only one party that the AK Party will form a coalition with. This party is neither the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) nor the HDP. It is the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which defends Turkish nationalism and as such, is strictly against the reconciliation process.

The AK Party faces a dilemma at this point. It will either go for early elections and meet the electorate again, which has unpredictable risks on the economy and politics, or it will form a coalition with the MHP. The MHP laid down ending the reconciliation process as a condition for joining a coalition, as it does not favor the process. In such a framework, can it be said that the reconciliation process will still operate or that Turkey's democracy will progress?

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