The Presidential Election of the Republic of Turkey has been resulted. We spoke to Güney YILDIZ, journalist at BBC, about the results and the new era of Turkey with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Dear Güney Yıldız, firstly thank you for accepting our “interview” request. As you know, Mr. Erdoğan became the 12th President of the Republic of Turkey recently. He got % 52 of the total votes, Mr. İhsanoğlu got % 38.5 and Mr. Demirtaş got % 9.8. What do you think about the results of this election? Why did the coalition of many parties including CHP and MHP fail? How did Erdoğan reach success again?
Result of the Presidential polls might have come as a surprise to many observers who have been following developments in Turkey from outside. Since June 2013, the Western media have been focusing primarily on the anti-government Gezi Park protests, corruption investigation into figures associated with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the government’s mishandling of Soma mine disaster. There was less focus on the reasons why around half of the population continued to support ruling AK Party and Mr. Erdoğan. Turkey is firmly divided between those who are devoted to Mr. Erdoğan and those who have contempt for him. This polarization, though not started by Mr. Erdoğan, has worked to his advantage, since the opposition was feeble and fragmented.
The Presidential elections showed us again that a broad coalition of left wing and right wing nationalists with the Hizmet movement doesn’t work against the AK Party and Erdoğan. This was also the case in the Gezi protests, which brought together an unprecedented coalition of left wingers, Kurds, liberals, nationalists, secularists, “revolutionary Muslims” and the members of the LGBT community.
Since the height of Gezi Protests, Mr. Erdoğan has been seeking to consolidate his support among the conservative electoral base rather than making concessions to left wing, liberal and secularist-nationalist protesters. He had done this without alienating the support of the Kurdish electorate. On the other hand, the opposition failed to appeal to Kurds and majority of people who support negotiations with the PKK. Instead, the opposition bloc attempted to lure some of the conservative voters by nominating the former President of Organization of Islamic Countries Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu for President.
The success of Demirtaş in getting 9.8 percent of the votes across Turkey is another testimony to the failure of opposition’s strategy towards the Kurdish question.
Mr. Erdoğan has been successful in 9 elections within 13 years. Hereafter, how do you see the future of Turkey? What will we see with Mr. Erdoğan’s Presidency with Davutoğlu?
During his highly politicized campaign for Presidency, Mr. Erdoğan made it clear that he is not seeking to become a President whose remit is limited to carrying out ceremonial duties. He thinks that the way he was elected – that is directly by the people, rather than voted by the Parliament – gives him a mandate to play a more active part. He didn’t follow the precedent when he was a Prime Minister over ten years either. He intervened in ministerial or local decisions that would normally have fallen beyond his remit. There is no reason to believe that he will not use his influence in a similar way as President. His strong grip on the AK Party means that his candidate to succeed him as Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, will help him direct the government.
Mr. Erdoğan will initially revive dormant powers of the post, such as calling and presiding over cabinet meetings. He will also try to push the boundaries of his powers by overseeing the decisions made by the Prime Minister. And he will also be influential in choosing ministers or preparing lists of candidates for the 2015 parliamentary election.
However, in order to give himself more executive powers, Erdoğan will ultimately he needs to change the constitution to give himself more executive powers and he will need to have a two-thirds majority at the parliament to do that.
His AK Party does not have that majority at the moment. And with less than a year before the parliamentary elections, getting a majority will depend on his Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s success. Despite being influential in Turkish politics for almost a decade, Mr. Davutoğlu clearly lacks the charisma Mr. Erdoğan has.
It should be noted that there are also concerns that Erdoğan’s Presidency would mean an increasing monopolization of power at his hands and would undermine the democratic separation of powers for the sake of political efficacy.
Presidents in Turkey traditionally act as an arbiter over domestic politics by being above the party politics. But Mr. Erdoğan maintains his links to his former party. And he has a political stance towards the opposition to the level that he doesn’t even pronounce the name of the main opposition party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, to whom he refers to as the General Manager of the main opposition party.
Mr. Demirtaş and his party got around% 10 of the votes. This means that if he and his team work a little bit more, next year in the general elections, they can go directly to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey eliminating the 10 % threshold. What do you think about this success?
Mr. Erdoğan emerged as the victor of the elections. However, as candidate for the new left and the Kurdish movement, Selahattin Demirtaş could also be considered as a winner himself. He managed to almost double the votes his party received in the latest local elections. The fact that he also received some level of support from the Western Turkey is also significant. Part of this success is due to the failure of Mr. İhsanoğlu to appeal to the new left voters that emerged out of Gezi Protests and also a failure of main opposition CHP to bring some Alevis on board to support the opposition candidate.
However, it would still be too risks for People`s Democracy Party (HDP) to participate the 2015 parliamentary elections under the party banner rather than fielding independent candidates, because in the event of a failure to pass the election threshold, the party would lose all its chances to have representatives in the Parliament.
Despite being proven himself to be a very skillful politician, Demirtaş’s success was dependent on a series of unique factors and it would be very challenging to replicate the success in Parliamentary elections.
The numbers of votes in the local election and Presidential election Erdoğan and his party got are the same, but we see that the percentages are different: % 45 in the local election and % 52 in the Presidential election. How did this happen? Is this because of the fact that millions of voters did not vote; meanwhile the percentage of participation is % 72.98? Why some people did not vote?
It is possible to draw multiple conclusions from the relatively lower level of voting. However, all these conclusions would remain highly speculative in the absence of a broad investigation which would be supported by opinion polls. One of the reasons for the relatively low turnout could be the timing of the election, which took place during peak holiday season. Another reason could be the alienation of many voters who didn’t feel that a candidate that truly represents them is competing in the race. Another reason could be the strong anticipation of a victory by Mr. Erdoğan either in the first or the second round of the election.
Also there is an interesting point; in the local election, AKP got 20.519.829 votes; in the Presidential election Mr. Erdoğan got 20.541.254 votes. Does this mean that Mr. Erdoğan got 21425 votes by himself? What does this tell us? Who is stronger; Mr. Erdoğan or AKP?
In parliamentary democracies, Prime Ministers supposed to have no separate democratic legitimacy. The governments are designed to be collective and the Prime Minister depends for his power on the support of the members of his party in parliament. However, during AK Party rule, Prime Minister Erdoğan was the one on whose support his party and cabinet ministers depend for their power. Erdoğan effectively turned 30th of March elections into a plebiscite on his popularity and led his party’s campaign himself rather than letting it be done by the individual candidates for local government. I would argue that Mr. Erdoğan has stronger support than his party, but it would be difficult to separate the support for his party from his own support based on the Presidential election due to the fact that Erdoğan’s campaign was effectively also AK Party’s. During the last couple of years, Mr. Erdoğan has succeeded in creating a power base specifically among the youth and women that is directly supporting him rather. This provides the background for the strong grip he has over his party.
In foreign countries, Erdoğan got about %75 of votes; İhsanoğlu got about % 14 of votes, and Demirtaş got about % 11 of votes. However, in the UK, İhsanoğlu got % 49.64; Demirtaş got % 26.83; Erdoğan got % 23.53. This situation is one of the surprised ones. Why did the Turkish citizens living in the UK vote for İhsanoğlu whilst the Turkish citizens living in the USA, Germany or France vote for Erdoğan?
Again, it would be difficult to answer this question without having access to opinion polls and extensive research on the issue. The turnout was also too low to be representative of the immigrant population in the UK. However, demographics of the immigrants from Turkey are different to that of immigrants in Germany. Several reports suggest that percentage of Alevis among immigrants from Turkey is higher in the UK compared to other countries which have significant Turkish immigrant populations. Apart from this fact, AK Party lacks strong mass organizations similar to those it has in Germany. Kurdish movement also failed to mobilize support behind their candidate Mr. Demirtaş. The fact that many potential supporters of Demirtaş arrived in the UK as political refugees also play a part in the lower level of votes for him.
Finally, what’s the perspective of British media towards the results?
By focusing exclusively on the several crises in Turkish poetics, British media provided an impression to its readers that Mr. Erdoğan might lose much of his support probably very quickly. Some papers such as the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Economist have explicitly taken an anti-Erdoğan position and seek for the roots of a strong opposition against him. On the other hand, newspapers like Financial Times are perceived as pursuing a more pro-Erdoğan approach. There are criticisms that the news sources of the British media are almost exclusively from the white, secularist-nationalist middle class Turks who portray a skewed picture of Turkey.
Hacı Mehmet BOYRAZ
Researcher at Leeds Beckett University