War and chaos boost Erdogan back to power in Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has secured a majority in Turkey’s re-call election, after refusing to form a coalition government following previous elections in June.

His victory came through inciting a security scare, as he reignited the war on Turkey’s Kurdish minority, leading to bombings and violence across the country. The hopes of a peace deal, and an end to state discrimination against the Kurdish population, lie in tatters.

Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have been in power since 2002, consistently winning elections with large majorities. The June elections, where it failed to win enough seats to form a government in its own right, were its first major setback.

The AKP has become increasingly authoritarian, symbolised by its repression of the Gezi Park protests in 2013 where 11 people were killed and thousands injured. The government has jailed dozens of journalists, for reporting on alleged government corruption as well as voicing support for the Kurds.

The week before the election police stormed the offices of two newspapers linked to the Islamic political movement of Fethullah Gulen, using water cannons and tear gas. All the journalists were fired and replaced.

But Erdogan has still fallen short of the super-majority needed to hold a referendum in order to grant himself greater executive powers. In 2014 he stepped down as Prime Minister in order to run for President, a role that is still largely ceremonial. But he has continued to use his office to campaign for the AKP, in breach of tradition.

His election victory relied on a surge of votes to the AKP from the far right party MHP, which lost 4 per cent, or one quarter of its support.

War on the Kurds

The HDP, which unites Kurdish nationalists and the left, also lost votes but succeeded in passing the 10 per cent threshold to win seats. It only passed this threshold for the first time in June’s elections, and will now have 59 seats in parliament.

In July the government began bombing Kurdish nationalist PKK guerrillas in northern Iraq, as Erdogan declared that after two years of the peace process, continuing it was impossible.

Far right groups staged attacks and set fire to over 100 offices of the left-wing HDP party across the country, as police looked on, allowing the attacks to happen.

The Turkish military sealed off the Kurdish town of Cizre in early September, killing 25 civilians including children after they cut off all medical supplies, food and water to stage an operation against PKK fighters.

Then came the horrific bombing in Ankara of a peace demonstration, killing 102 people and injuring 400 more. The demonstration was organised by progressive trade unions to call for an end to the government’s war on the Kurds.

When police arrived at the scene, ahead of ambulances or medical help, they used tear gas on those trying to assist the injured.

The government said Islamic State was responsible. But many on the Turkish left blame the state and the military for failing to prevent the bombing. The government banned media coverage of the bombings and shut down Facebook and Twitter in the aftermath, provoking further suspicion.

The election result is a setback for the left. But as Turkish socialist Ron Marguiles put it, “the government’s authoritarianism and the discontent both generally and in the AKP’s ranks have not gone away.

“People voted for the AKP not because they are suddenly happy with its policies, but for lack of an alternative.”

The country’s economy has slowed in the last two years, after a decade of relatively strong growth. Unemployment is at almost 10 per cent. The AKP argued that a stable government was needed in the face of war and economic uncertainty.

But the main opposition party, the CHP, remains tied to the military, which continually toppled elected governments prior to the AKP taking power. It managed just 25 per cent of the vote.

Erdogan has promised that his government can bring stability. But the PKK’s armed struggle has dragged on since 1984, and with the peace process abandoned there is no end in sight. The now semi-autonomous Kurdish areas in Syria have only given further encouragement to the Kurdish struggle in Turkey.

Turkey has been drawn further into the conflict in Syria too, after the disastrous results of its policy of indiscriminate support for any group willing to fight the Assad regime. This has helped strengthen Islamic State and other hardline groups.

Erdogan’s authoritarianism and war will continue to generate opposition.

By James Supple


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