Myths, lies and legal cases blot post-election Turkey

Caleb Lauer looks at power politics in Turkey after the country's recent parilmentary elections

There has been a tendency to interpret Turkey's election result through the blow it dealt to Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In analysis after analysis we have read that the electorate blocked Mr Erdogan's ambitions to transfer executive power to his office.

There is no doubt that the result serves to check his ambitions. The AKP’s loss of its parliamentary majority is a big change. And yet, this narrative is often overstated.

There is another tendency to portray Mr Erdogan’s “defeat” as a victory for the 2013 Gezi Park anti-government protesters. This certainly feels correct, although I suspect this view obscures something more complicated.

The party closest to the Gezi Park protests was the Republican People’s Party (CHP). Despite appropriating Gezi motifs and even the pictures of the victims who died during the protests for its campaign material, the CHP demonstrated, once again, it is a stalled party.

The “Gezi spirit” was most enthusiastically expressed through the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), whose entry into parliament guaranteed the AKP’s minority position. How this shift of the Gezi spirit from the CHP to the HDP happened deserves deeper analysis. Still, the Gezi “effect” remained somewhat small.

Two key movements within the electorate had a much greater impact. One-time AKP supporters turned to the National Action Party (MHP), angry at the government’s negotiations with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). And one-time AKP-voting Kurds turned to the HDP because of Mr Erdogan’s ambivalent Kurdish policy. Emphasising Mr Erdogan’s defeat and Gezi reinforces a narrative that the new power-seekers themselves have adopted.

CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu has claimed the election result represents a 60 per cent block of the electorate unified in its opposition to the government. Though technically true, and rhetorically useful, such statements are, in the end, mythmaking. The CHP is seeking to leverage its second place, 25 per cent election return by claiming to speak for three-fifths of the electorate. Partly, this is a trial balloon to test if there is any real grounds for meaningful cooperation among the CHP, MHP and HDP.

Partly, this is a bargaining tactic. As the CHP negotiates to form a coalition with the AKP, the CHP wants to put the maximum amount of pressure on the AKP in order to gain as many as concessions as it can. It seems everyone wants some form of a coalition, rather than a return to the polls. Except, perhaps, Mr Erdogan.

Turkey has been in an election cycle since the lead-up to local elections in March 2014, through presidential elections in August 2014, and few have any desire to prolong what has been a period of extraordinary tension.

All three opposition parties (that is, the potential coalition partners) have indicated a basic condition of joining a coalition that Mr Erdogan step back within the president’s constitutionally-defined, “above politics” role. Perhaps not surprisingly, the AKP probably wants this as well. Prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu openly declared the election results meant the end of the prospect of an “executive presidency”.

They also want a set of corruption cases against close affiliates of Mr Erdogan to be reopened. This is less a principled stand and more the use of a key pressure point with which to hold him down.

Reducing Mr Erdogan’s power and pursuing justice in corruption cases are lending a very principled aura to Turkey’s opposition, well in line with rhetoric promising a “restoration” in the country.

But fundamentally this is a contest for power and the opposition’s struggle to get a foothold within the state machinery. The final form of a coalition or, failing that, early elections, will reflect the distribution of power possible given the current conditions, not the falling action of the morality play we are being encouraged to perceive.

Caleb Lauer is a freelance journalist who covers Turkey