An unexpected 9% swing by voters in Sunday’s general elections in Turkey delivered a knock-out victory to the Justice and Development Party, giving it a comfortable majority of about 40 in the new Turkish Grand National Assembly and throwing all the opposition parties into disarray.
Provisional results for around 45 million votes cast, 83% of the total electorate, were available a little over three hours after the polling booths shut. Official results will not be available for another ten days.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu declared victory early Sunday evening with a cry of “Elhamdullullah” (All praise is to God alone) to a crowd of cheering supporters who responded with shouts of “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great).
“We have buried the parties of the old Turkey,” Davutoğlu told his supporters.
The AKP victory dashed general expectations before the elections of a renewed parliamentary deadlock and a possible coalition government in which opposition parties would exert renewed influence.
Instead, it looks as if all three major opposition parties may have been permanently relegated to the sidelines.
Each managed to cross the 10% national barrier for representation in parliament, though the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) only just cleared the barrier with 10.7%.
It shed 1.3 million votes compared with last June’s election and if it had fared worse would not have been in parliament at all giving the AKP a two thirds majority under Turkey’s system of proportional representation.
The AKP’s success seems to have been built mainly on three factors.
First was fear of terrorism and disorder which erupted in July after the government ended the two-year old peace process with the country’s militant Kurdish nationalist movement. The violence is estimated to have claimed nearly 1,000 lives on both sides, including around 200 policemen and soldiers.
Second was tight control of the media. This was a general election with almost no campaigning (because of violence) and almost no real debate. The AKP told voters that the opposition parties were indirectly responsible for the violence and to end it, the party needed a majority.
Third, perhaps because of their difficult circumstances or because they were unduly sure of their likely support, the opposition parties campaigned only feebly against a barrage of messages supporting the AKP.
Opposition voices on major television channels were more or less completely suppressed, while the government launched raids on an opposition TV station and newspaper, Bugün, just four days before the elections.
Transmission of a live broadcast was interrupted. Staff who questioned the proceedings were fired summarily and their names taken. Next day, both paper and TV channel were working normally again – but this time as vociferous AKP supporters.
In the aftermath of the vote, the recent drift in Turkey towards authoritarianism looks set to continue and probably accelerate.
Opposition media, already under severe pressure, seem certain to face tougher restrictions and some may go under.
Can Dündar, editor of the left of center daily Cumhuriyet, compared the elections as getting someone to accept death by threatening them with malaria. The AKP was, Dundar said, “A totalitarian structure, out of touch with democratic values using religion for political purposes.”
Certainly, the AKP looks likely to continue with its policy of removing areas of opposition, ranging from the Sufi Gülen movement to secular critics and Kurdish opponents.
A media crackdown, if it happens, will be part of a general move to establish the dominance of the AKP and its Islamist power base in the country over the whole of Turkish society, a process under way since it first came to power in 2002 but which has speeded up in the last few years.
A re-Islamised Turkey in whose political life secular parties play little or no part might seem an odd partner for NATO and the EU, but on Sunday evening the EU was swift to welcome Erdoğan’s success as a ‘victory for democracy’ even before the count was complete.
Federica Mogherini, the EU’s Foreign Affairs chief, and Johannes Hahn, its Enlargement Commissioner, jointly declared that they “will work together with the future government in order to further enhance the EU-Turkey partnership.”
But their statement contained no hint that they envisage speeding up Turkey’s ailing application for full EU membership.
The union is chiefly concerned to see that Turkey does not allow some of its 2.3 million Syrian refugees to attempt to cross illegally into its member states and is prepared to make a heavy concession of its founding principles to this end.
Meanwhile, Turks wait to see how the AKP will use its new dominance over their country.
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