By Alan Thomas
The recent general elections in Turkey saw a decisive victory for the ruling, mildly Islamist Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AK Party) of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The election, called in light of the Turkish constitutional court’s intervention in the presidential selection process and also following sabre-rattling from the Army who have previously toppled Islamist-led governments, saw the AK Party increase its vote by almost 13% on the previous general election. In fact, Erdogan took more than 46% - a margin unheard of since the 1980s. This obviously gives him a mandate for future governance and represents a step forward for Turkish democracy in that the Kemalist generals have not felt able to simply scrap an election which produces a result that they dislike.
However, of perhaps even greater significance for the left is that the new parliament will contain over 20 representatives from a slate dominated by the Demokratik Toplum Partisi, the left-nationalist Kurdish grouping which is strong in the south-east of the country. The ability of Ahmet Türk’s party to circumvent its previously excluded status (Turkey’s electoral system is rigged to exclude Kurdish parties, as it requires all parties to gain 10% of the national vote to enter parliament even if they are strongly represented in particular region, as the DTP is) 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. Again, it would also seem that the military’s agitation in the Turkish Kurdistan region, including threats to invade the north of Iraq, has been decisively rejected by voters who largely split between the AKP and DTP in that area.
Furthermore, other left-wing figures were elected by this method, including Ufuk Uras, the he former leader of the leftist Özgürlük ve Dayanısma Partisi. The ÖDP is a broadly left-social democratic party, in which Trotskyists have had some limited intervention in the past.
Meanwhile, the elections were a disaster for the “old” Kemalist opposition Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi which barely increased its vote, and which actually lost seats due to the eccentricities of Turkey’s electoral system. The feared ultra-nationalist surge in light of the arrest of liberal author Orhan Pamuk and murder of Armenian newspaper editor Hrant Dink. also did not happen, with the fascist Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi coming a distant third, though it did gain sufficient votes to re-enter parliament.
The election provides the left outside of Turkey with a political choice. It has decisively demonstrated that the “standard” model used by many on the left of a stark choice between an anti-democratic ruling elite and an ultra-conservative “anti-imperialist” mass is simply nonsense. In the AKP there is a party which has reached its dominant position by all but dropping its Islamist political frontage, and softening its image with the wider public. In the DTP there is now a liberatory force in national politics to which the left can relate, as well as one which has a significant left wing of its own. The elections are excellent news therefore from all democratic perspectives, and it is to be hoped that the left will engage with the opportunities that they represent.