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Sunday, June 20, 2021


The Electoral Matrix


In this second part of his dispatch from Istanbul, Saurabh Kumar Shahi gives a peep inside Turkey’s interesting electoral arithmetic and explains how it will shape the all important upcoming local elections
SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Issue Dated: March 30, 2014, New Delhi
Tags : Adnan Menderes | Democratic Party | Turkey | Kemalist institutions | Menderes | Anatolia |

In a week’s time, Turkey will see its one of the most important local elections ever taking place. It is not to say that the previous elections have not been important. They have been. Considering these elections bring in all powerful Mayors, which is equivalent to our Chief Ministers here. However, the present election has become so important because it is also a show of strength for both Erdogan and his new bête noire, Gulenists.

Erdogan seems surrounded. The Deep State that his government took on, with more than little help from Gulenists, still survives. The opposition CHP and MHP appears emboldened. The Gulenists will come with everything they have to counter this existential threat of theirs. Under the circumstances, Erdogan is in loss for monikers to play on. His anti-Deep State moniker does not resonate too well with the masses as he now openly says that it was a “conspiracy” by Gulenists to undermine the army. His pious-Muslim moniker is also failing in finding required tractions, as tapes after tapes of him saying scandalous things in no-less scandalous language undermines it. His situation is like a drowning man who grabs a snake in want of anything concrete to hold on to. Erdogan has found one in Adnan Menderes, Turkey’s ill-fated ex-Prime Minister.

Adnan Menderes and his Democratic Party undermined the militant secularism of Turkey by lifting ridiculous sanctions when he came to power. All Kemalist institutions conspired to overthrow him. And overthrown he was in a coup. A year later, he was summarily executed. Erdogan always treated him as his hero. No wonder, he is using him to bail himself out.   

“Back then they called Menderes a dictator. Today they say the same for me. Back then they called Menderes an enemy of freedom. Today they say that about me,” he declared infront of the teeming mass at an election meeting in the south-western province of Aydin, Menderes’ home town. “Either we claim Menderes' battle for democracy or we will be siding with those who have martyred him. This election also has such a meaning,” he added in good measure.
But will the crowd convert into vote? Let’s do some maths.

Erdogan and his AKP remains strong in Anatolia and there is no doubt about this. For most of the conservatives, he is the only option. There is resentment, but there is no alternative. So, while the conservative masses of Anatolia might not come out as enthusiastically to vote as they did in the past; a substantial portion of those who will come out will still vote for him.

“You have to look at the situation through their eyes. They say, “Corruption was always there. It is not a new phenomenon. But Erdogan brought development to Anatolia.” You cannot argue with this kind of logic, would you? Make no mistake, if push comes to shove, Anatolian conservatives will stand with him,” says Mr. Shahin Alpay.

Then, there are city based conservatives who are more educated and articulate. Modern in appearance and conservative in thought, they are also financial lifeline of AKP. They are genuinely baffled by the corruption charges against the Party. However, it is here that Erdogan’s hold on the private channels comes handy.

Erdogan commands huge influence on several TV channels through businessmen whom his administration has favoured through contracts and tenders. These TV channels try their best to either discredit the tapes declaring Erdogan’s complicity or to at least create information chaos. And this has helped Erdogan’s case a lot.

“Educated conservatives who understand the issue are being confused by pro-Erdogan media. They think, “Ok, so these channel says that Erdogan is squeaky clean and Zaman and others say he is indulged in massive corruption. The truth must be somewhere in between.” The only problem is, truth is not somewhere in between, you see,” quips Bulent Kenes, editor of Daily Zaman.
But only conservative masses won’t be able to win him these elections. The primary force behind AKP’s success has been this rainbow coalition of voters. Different shades of green stays with him. Agreed. But let’s take a look at other groups as well.

One of the groups that supported rise of AKP after leaving traditional Kemalist parties was the urban middle and upper middle class that was not sufficiently conservative but supported AKP and Erdogan as he brought prosperity in general. This group is scandalized following the revelations and justifiably so. This election will see massive desertion of this group from the ranks. This will affect party’s change in bigger cities.

And last, the elephant in the room for Erdogan, is of course Gulenists. In his public meetings, Erdogan has been saying that Gulenists form merely one percent of the Turkish population and thus don’t deserve attention. However, he contradicts himself by attacking Gulen and Gulenists in almost every election meeting he addresses. It is because deep inside his heart Erdogan knows that Gulenists’ influence run much wider than merely among their core follower.
“Our neighbours and people whom we deal with know that we are good people. They know what kind of character we possess. When we say something, they listen to it. It is foolish to say that we are merely one percent,” describes Kenes.

Several estimates put Hizmet Movement’s influence to roughly about 15-16 percent of Turkish population. That’s a huge number. It is not immediately clear how many of this percentage will desert AKP, especially so because Hizmet Movement will stick to its tradition of not explicitly asking its followers and sympathizers to vote for a particular party. However, if they manage to wean away even half of this number, Erdogan will be seen wiping off his foreheads.

And if that is not enough, there appears to be some sort of unsaid synergy developing between Hizmet sympathisers, CHP and MHP. While CHP and MHP have put weak candidates against each other at several places, indicating a hitherto unheard understanding, Hizmet sympathisers will also vote for one of these parties depending on where they are in a position to defeat an AKP candidate.

It is therefore expected that a large section of Hizmet sympathisers will opt for MHP in Anatolia and CHP in European Turkey, Istanbul, Izmir and Aegean Sea coast districts. This kind of tactical arrangement will severely damage Erdogan’s Neo-Ottoman March. We’ll just have to wait and watch.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017