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Impressions on Turkey’s General Elections 2007

Monday 3 September 2007, by Yüksel Söylemez

An interview with Yüksel Söylemez, a former Turkish diplomat. Since February 1999, he joined Turkish Foreign Policy Institute as Co-chairman.
He is the editor of Turkish Foreign Policy at the U.N

- What are your first impressions ?
Soylemez :

In one word positive. It was a historic popular event. A defining moment in Turkish politics. Historic because AK Party registered a landslide. Historic because AK Party did not lose votes, as was generally expected and hoped for by some, not to say the media. AK Party votes jumped drastically from %34.5 in 2002 to %46.5 in this election. In my opinion and more important AK Party or the personal charisma of Recep Tayyip Erdogan received a general vote of confidence from all over Turkey that is from 81 provinces and to the exception of none. Every other person who cast a vote chose Erdogan and supported what he stood for. It was a referendum and a show of people’s power which swept aside the opposition parties. The second most important thing which will be remembered of this election is the rise of independent candidates some of whom have found their way to the Parliament with the support of the people and defeating the national ceiling. And thirdly, the rise of women in Turkish domestic politics which is a new phenomenon and something to proud of in the name of Turkish democracy.

- Why did the Turkish people support Erdogan in a sweeping manner?

Soylemez :

All public opinion polls before the elections expected AK Party to be the first among its competitors in this 17 party election race of something like 42 millions prospective voters. Except the KONDA poll, none expected such a high margin of %46.5 of the votes cast, which amounted to more than 20 million votes. Erdogan’s AK Party was economically successful with certain misgivings and shortcomings. People all over Turkey first and foremost considered their pocketbook and their economic future. Inflation was down, six zeros were deleted from the Turkish Lira, per capita income rose by leaps and bounds, balance of trade a staggering 250 billion US Dollars - a first all through Turkish history - Turkey started accession negotiations with the European Union. In one word Erdogan’s visible economic success commanded widespread confidence even by his harshest critics; his achievements promised hope for more of the same for people’s future. One must remember the dictum “it is the economy, stupid”. Electoral success always depends on economics more than anything else.

- Why did the main opposition party fair so poorly in the public eye?
Soylemez :

The secret of Erdogan’s success owes much to the failure of Baykal and his policies or lack thereof. In fact, the main opposition party did not lose ground, not only did they maintain their usual %20 party support but CHP increased their votes by a marginal %1.5. It is true that some among the educated, professional, bureaucratic, even military and mostly intellectual classes including some in the media hoped that CHP would gain ground even up to %30 and at par with AK Party and even take part in a coalition which was a hope against hope. CHP of Baykal not only as a recent phenomenon but since the last decades did not realize that they were falling behind the times and were not in line with the changing trends of the times. CHP in fact equals Baykal; the same is true for Erdogan and AK Party. Baykal bet and played on the nationalist chords and failed whiled Bahçeli has stolen his votes.

How could CHP win with strategy of anti-EU or EU with CHP conditions or with anti-globalization when Turkey is benefiting from globalization, how could Baykal hope to win when he stood against good relations with the US under a so-called nationalist banner. CHP lost its social democratic basis; it was no longer the political party founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The public impression was that CHP moved more to the right when it should have moved more to the left. CHP of Baykal egged on the popular fears of a possible loss of Atatürk’s secular tenets, gave the impression that it was sympathetic to militaristic sentiments, in favor of military intervention in Iraq against the PKK which the popular feel was against.

- Was not MHP of Bahçeli a great success?

Soylemez :

MHP had %8 in 2002 elections which kept Bahçeli out of TBMM. In this election MHP increased their votes by %100 and reached %16 of the vote. In that sense a numerical success of the nationalist banner. But I don’t know if %15 against %46 can be considered a victory of ethnic nationalism as opposed to democratic conservatism which embraces all ethnicities in Turkey as Erdogan did.

- Based on what you just said, has the election given a choice between ethnic nationalism and Erdogan’s multi-ethnic popular embrace?

Soylemez :

It is more than clear that judging with the overwhelming popular appeal Turkish people of all classes and ranks they chose the latter and Erdogan’s appeal won the day. So much so that AK Party votes surpassed the votes and the appeal of the Kurdish DTP in a most remarkable manner. This was a clear message to ethnic nationalism this was a message also to DTP that the Kurdish origin Turks do not opt for a challenge but are overwhelmingly in favor and in sympathy with peace and stability. This was the reason why DTP lost ground to AK Party even in the Southeast which was a phenomenal achievement. Nationalism for many is misleading and counterproductive ideology, a thing of the past and not the future. Ideologies of the 19th Century and even of the 20th Century are now considered deadwood. Nationalist ideology dividing them and us in the past led to fascism and now it the age of democracy in spite of all its misgivings and shortcomings.

- All in all how many political parties will be in the new TBMM?

Soylemez :

I would think 24 Kurdish independents will form a political party as a political group. Net to them 13 MPs which figured in the CHP list will maintain their identity as a distinct group. In that sense there may be some five political groupings plus the non-Kurdish independents. The great void is in the left as there is no grouping representing the left of the political spectrum.

- As you rightly underlined, this will be a Parliament of the different shades of the right. In that sense, how could the right be in opposition with the other shades of right?

Soylemez :

It remains to be seen how effective the opposition groups will be. Something like a total of 210 MPs if they can put their act together will challenge AK Party’s 342 majority. On thing is for sure, AK Party is 25 short of 367 votes, which is the quorum required by the decision of the Constitutional Court to elect a President. Therefore, for the election of the President of the Republic which will be the first priority of the order of the new TBMM, PM Erdogan obviously needs to consult and consult seriously and look for conciliation and reach a public consensus not only in the TBMM but in all over Turkey. A winner take all mentality has led Turkey to this early general election; too much self confidence may be detrimental to AK Party’s continued success. It was a welcome sign when Erdogan warned against this psychology in his much approved acceptance speech delivered lat at night on 22nd July. The selection of the presidential candidate should not be in the monopoly of the TBMM but should satisfy the centers of political power, it must command the approval of the general public, media, private sector, not to exclude the armed forces and civic organizations etc.".

- How did women rate in this election?

Soylemez :

It is a pity that PM Erdogan’s elections promise of one female MP for each of the 81 provinces was dismissed. Yet there is a %100 increase in their numbers from 24 to 48 seats. Certainly it is progress but perhaps not enough. Now let’s wait and see how many women ministers in the cabinet apart from one symbolic or token lady minister?

- Will there be a completely new cabinet of the new era or more of the same?

Soylemez :

The answer maybe yes and no. But I think there will be some changes because Erdogan included some 160 new faces as his hand picked MPs to replace the same number excluded from his lists for various reasons. Based on this and baring in mind that he may like to start his new term with a clean slate he may keep a number of old and successful ministers such as Gül, Babacan, Unakitan, Aksu and Tüzmen. On the other hand, as Sener and Coskun are out, there positions have to be replaced by new faces.

- What happened to DYP, ANAP and GP?

Soylemez :

These three parties two old and one new even all three put together could not reach the national ceiling of %10, an anomaly of the election system so unfair. DYP and ANAP paid the hard price of their own mistakes by not joining under DP. Even if they could, they were destined to fair as AKP was stealing their votes as a relic of the past. GP as a new contender fell much below of their 2002 percentage of %7 down to less than %3. All in all, their votes wasted yet in the next 5 years there maybe another right wing party to challenge AK Party under a new banner and a grouping

- What about the principle of fairness as far as political representation in the TBMM?

Soylemez :

In 2002 elections thanks to the electoral system so abnormally drafted AK Party had won %34.5 of the popular votes but had occupied %60 of the seats which was rightly criticized if not challenged legally for the legitimacy of AK Party power. Now in the new TBMM and with %46 of the votes however with reduced number if seats, AK Party can claim around %60 of the representation of the popular vote. Therefore these election results also put an end to that debate of unfair and unjust representation claim which was understandable.

- What can we expect from the TBMM?

Soylemez :

This historic election gave Erdogan powers to prepare a new constitution. Hopefully a new electoral law, a new law of political parties to remove the Parliamentary immunity escape clause from justice for the MPs and first and foremost elect a President for modern Turkey which the whole country would be proud of. Finally drop the national ceiling from %10 to at least %5 and solve the complex problems of the PKK, Cyprus problem, the Armenian issue and produce the political reforms which are required for Turkey’s EU membership just to name a few. Erdogan’s second term will be more than difficult and more challenging than his first.

- Final comment?

Soylemez :

In the final analysis, it was democracy that won the day on 22nd July.

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Source : TNA 28 July 2007

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