The people have spoken. Yesterday’s general elections in Turkey were nothing if not decisive. Not only did Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s mildly Islamist Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi increase its vote by almost 13% on the previous general election, taking more than 46% – a margin unheard of since the days of iconic 1980s Turkish leader Turgut Ozal. More significant than that, the new parliament will contain over 20 representatives from the Demokratik Toplum Partisi, the left-nationalist Kurdish grouping that dominates politics in the south-east of the country. The former leader of the leftist Özgürlük ve Dayanısma Partisi, Ufuk Uras, was also elected on the DTP slate. The ability of Ahmet Türk’s party to beat off its previous excluded status (due to Turkey’s electoral system, which requires all parties to gain 10% of the vote to enter parliament even if they dominate a particular region, as the DTP does) came from its tactical decision to run all of its candidates as independents, and have them coalesce under a partisan banner only when they physically enter parliament. What is remarkable about the thawing of Turkish politics under the AKP, is that this appears at this stage to have been more or less universally accepted in political circles.
The fascist Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi re-entered parliament on the back of a coalescing of the hard nationalist vote, but was held to third place and in reality saw its vote increase by less than 9%. After running a campaign overly focussed on Erdogan’s (and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul’s) wife’s choice of headwear, the main opposition Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi took slightly below 20% of the vote, and will enter parliament in second place. Its useless, burned out and right-wing leader, Deniz Baykal, seems safe for now.
These elections marked a rejection of the ultra-nationalist surge which has recently enveloped the country, manifesting in its most extreme forms as the arrest of liberals such as Orhan Pamuk and the politically-motivated murder of figures such as Hrant Dink. Whilst the MHP did re-enter parliament, there was no tidal wave for the “Grey Wolves”, who could not even surpass the lacklustre CHP to become the main opposition. The new parliament will contain more leftish voices than any in decades, and will be dominated by the force that has liberalised relations within the Kurdish regions.
The result also also marks a rejection of the army as a force in politics, particularly given the bellicose noises made in recent months by Chief of General Staff Yaşar Büyükanıt. This can only be a good thing from the perspective of any democrat.
It is to be hoped that this will be a wake-up call to progressives and people on the left outside of Turkey, who now have in the DTP a genuinely liberationist force in national politics to which they can relate, as well as one which has a significant left wing of its own. In Turkey the usual choice posed by so many western “anti-imperialists”, whether to side with “pro-Western” governments or reactionary oppositions, does not apply. There is a political choice to be made here, and I hope for once that the left steps up to the plate.