The End of an Era: Censure of Neutral Politics in Turkey

By now we’ve all heard of the most recent bout of witch hunts in Turkey, this time rooting out “supporters” of the July 16 coup attempt.  Campaigns in the past have almost always targeted extreme liberals and Gulenists (former supporters of President Erdogan tossed out of favor in a power struggle/split within the AKP a few years back). But this time it’s different.

Up until yesterday I was working part time editing news and articles for a politically-neutral internationally-oriented think tank based in Ankara. I was going to pick up payment for editing (and visit everyone with the baby) after her one month checkup at the nearby Gazi University hospital on July 19.  But after hearing fighter jets screeching overhead all right and moving our plane tickets forward two weeks I decided to bring her to the local family clinic instead of Gazi (Dikmen doesn’t have anything interesting enough for anyone to bomb and certainly I wasn’t going to run into any government-orchestrated street protests on my way past chatty grandmothers sitting on their stoops while walking to the clinic) and asked them to transfer the money to my husband’s bank account.

The last piece I edited was a brief condemnation of the coup intended for the website.  I didn’t receive anything last week, but I was too busy running around (and catching up on sleep) to really take much notice.  I assumed the head editor assumed I was busy with crossing continents, or the organization had become very busy with something following the coup attempt.  But payment was pretty late, so yesterday I e-mailed asking what was happening and saying that I was settled in and ready to start editing again.

But apparently USAK was shut down by the government last week: their bank accounts seized, the USAK house seized by the police.  A ten-year organization headed by a former ambassador, staffed by experts who also act as advisors to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, focused on international/Turkey-external affairs, and committed to taking a pragmatic neutral stance working for the interests of Turkey and giving Turkey a greater stake in international dialogues.  This was not a partisan organization: regardless of the views of individuals working within the organization or howevermuch anyone might have wanted to criticize (or praise) the reigning government, they took great pains to remain objective and neutral.  This also wasn’t an organization examining Turkey’s inner politics (or really Turkish politics at all); while some research concerned Turkey’s involvement in international affairs or relation to external actors, and certainly some dialogue pushed to create a space for Turkey at the international table (such as hosting panel discussions on the roles of Turkey and the EU in relation to the Syrian refugee crisis), the people working at USAK never strayed into internal politics.  So an organization unrelated to the Gulenist movement holding a neutral-party stance and not even focusing on internal issues or Turkish politics in any form was shut down by the government in an anti-terrorist supporter sweep.

This is what actually scares me.  More than fighter jets flying overhead, more than protesters being tear-gassed on the streets, more than Gulenist schools being closed and graduates of Gulenist schools being fired from their jobs, more than closure of news outlets taking a stance critical of the government or having police armed with assault weapons and bulletproof vests sipping tea and giving directions with a smile on every downtown corner.  Because if the government will go after an organization that has not been but might, possibly, be slightly critical of it by being neutral  – if taking a neutral stance in and of itself is viewed as criticism – then I have very, very little hope for the political recovery of the country.

 

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Tete-a-Tete with Turkey and Iran

This morning Google News popped an interview that occurred between the Tehran Times and the current Turkish ambassador to Iran in my inbox.  While the rest of the interview is insipid, evasive and defensive – as might be expected from a representative chosen by the government that just lost its footing following failure at the ballot box – the first response stood out as perhaps particularly barbed in a country where majority rule has not taken full effect, and where the majority might not support all aspects of the current government in power.  While this was denied later on, the response could also be hinting at troubled relations between Iran and the new government to be formed in Turkey.

Full interview here.

Q: What were the reasons that the AKP failed to win the majority in the parliamentary elections?
A: This is the will of the people. As in all democracies, people give their votes based on their evaluation. The AKP has been in power for 13 years without any coalition partner but now if they want to be part of the government they would need a coalition partner; if not the other parties might form a coalition. We don’t know yet. It is too early to tell. I cannot speculate on the reasons why the election resulted in this way. In all countries, the party in power after certain time can lose. People can have a natural way of trying to see a new choice. It is the choice of the people and we have to respect that. Our president [Erdogan], made a written announcement in which he said the will of people is above anything and we have to respect that. He called all the parties to make a healthy and realistic assessment of the result of the election and we have to move forward that way. So we will see how things will evolve.

Not quite the party’s tone pre-election, when protesters were villianized, but…If you can wade through paragraphs  of nothing-say and political tip-toeing, the sentiment is repeated near the end:

Q: Iranians are sensitive when it comes to declining number of votes in an election. So in our Iranian perspective we think something has changed in Turkey. Do you agree?

A:
The changes are the reality of our life and political life. Nothing can stay frozen. In any democracy, some parties rule for a certain period of time and if the will of people realizes the way they need another option there will be changes. We have to see it as a healthy side of the society. Otherwise it would not be a democracy. We don’t expect that one who was elected at one point should be reelected all the time. Of course, if that is the people’s choice we respect that. But people’s choice can change. I don’t think we have to be concerned about that. The important thing is the reflection of people’s will to the governing of the country. If we don’t reflect on that then we have a problem. But if we reflect that will on the government, I don’t think there would be a problem. We have a culture of democracy in our country and we have been going to free and fair elections since 1946, so the governments at certain times have changed. And this party AKP has been the longest ruling party in Turkey in our democratic period, 13 years. Who knows? Maybe they will continue by a coalition by a minority government. So yes, changes occur, but we don’t have to worry about these changes. In Turkey, elections reflect the will of people and we have to respect that.

…which is also interesting considering that, just before the elections, Turkey’s president was trying to get a super-majority (66% of seats in parliament) so his party could push through constitutional changes giving the president extensive executive powers, and thus allowing him to not just retain, but also expand, his influence over the country.  Needless to say there hasn’t been a peep of this since his party got 41%.  I do love how the ambassador later stated, “Erdogan is not the leader of the AKP party. He is technically a neural president.” While the first sentence directly contradicts Erdogan’s relentless campaigning for the AKP prior to the elections (Turkish TV Stations Air 44 hours of Live Erdogan Speeches in One Week; “I will not be an impartial president”; Erdogan criticized by election board for role in campaigns), it is cute how the ambassador had to throw “technically” into the second.  It seems even he can’t carry out the full facade. 

A lot is still to be decided in the next few weeks (will there be early elections? a coalition government? an AKP minority government?), but already things are starting to shift.  On Thursday 37 judges and prosecutors appointed in 2012 (under the AKP) had their licences revoked after a probe discovered that their unusually high scores were the result of cheating (though 20 judges with previous AKP ties suspected of cheating on the same exam were not removed), and an article titled, “Erdoğan attends wedding of foul-mouthed troll, causes outrage” popped up in a leading newspaper. I don’t think this could have happened a week ago on the eve of the elections, though with the judges – it’s not clear how much maneuvering the party can still accomplish in the government, i’t not clear how much power they will try to retain.  Let’s see.  For now it’s interesting to see how the possibly-incumbent government is trying out their footing on newly risen terrain.

When Tragedy is Politically Convenient:

On Tuesday Mehmet Selim Kiraz, the prosecutor in charge of the Berkin Elvan case was shot dead while held hostage at an Istanbul court house.  Two members (or three? reports seem to differ) of the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) demanded police confession for the shooting of Berkin Elvan (a fifteen year old who died after being shot by police manning a protest – on his way to buy some bread at a neighborhood shop, though later the government washed him as a “thug” with “ties to terrorist organizations”; more here.).

Photoshopped image that shows the 14 yr old boy as a protester

...and the real photo on the R

…and the real photo on the R

The policeman who shot and ultimately killed the teenager is supposedly known by the state, but no names have been publicly released, and Erdogan continues to make statements like

“What is it? They wanted to hold a ceremony to commemorate Berkin Elvan. Will we perform a ceremony for every death? He died and it’s over.”

Continue reading

The Tragedy of Irresponsible Political Talk: Özgecan Aslan

“Media exaggerates. Violence against women is just about selective perception.”

Fatma Şahin, AKP family Minister

On February 11th a twenty-year-old university student in the coastal city of Mersin was raped, murdered and burned by a public bus driver, his fifty-year-old father, and an acquaintance (story here).  The girl was returning home from classes and shopping with a friend; it appears she did nothing to provoke the attack and was merely going through what should have been an ordinary day when it happened. Turkey is in shock.  Domestic crime is not uncommon in Turkey (statistics report averages of 20-30% across the regions). Women get called out in the streets (not unlike in the US…).  But violent public crimes are rare – crime rates are far lower in Turkey than in most American cities or countries in Western Europe – and until yesterday, when the girl’s body was found by a rural creek, few females would have feared boarding a public bus.

But things are changing in Turkey, thanks to the leading AKP and Erdogan’s insistence on the inherent separateness and secondary status of women.  While others are still gasping at the brutality of this apparently random act, one Turkish-German twitter user pointed to the irresponsible ideas spouted by the AKP that have together created a climate when such a crime could occur (full article here):

To understand how 3 men find the courage to rape, kill & burn a 20yo girl like , here are some quotes by AKP-officials

1. “I don’t believe in gender equality anyway.” Tayyip Erdoğan / in his meeting with women’s associations.

2. “Those who say ‘My body, my decision’ are all feminists.” Tayyip Erdoğan / on abortion.

3. “Raped women shall have the baby anyway, the state will take care of if necessary.” Recep Akdağ, Min. of Health

4. “I consider abortion as murder.” Tayyip Erdoğdan / on abortion.

5. “The raper is more innocent that the victim who has an abortion.” Ayhan Sefer Üstün, AKP deputy

6. “If the mother is raped, so what? Why should the child die? Let the mother die.” Melih Gökçek, AKP Mayor Ankara

7.“Media exaggerates. Violence against women is just about selective perception.” Fatma Şahin, AKP family Minister

8. “Isn’t domestic work enough?” Veysel Eroğlu, AKP Minister of Forestry and Water Affairs

9. “Unemployment is high because women seek for jobs.” Mehmet Şimşek, AKP Minister of Finance

10. “When girls study, men are not able to find girls to marry.” Erhan Ekmekçi, AKP, member

11. “A non-covered woman is like a house without curtains. A house without curtains is either for sale or for rent.” Süleyman Demirci, AKP

… 13.”Women should not laugh loudly in front of all the world and should preserve her decency at all times,” Bülent Arinc, AKP deputy PM

14. ‘Equality between men and women is against nature’ Recep Tayip Erdogan, President…. (and more, and more, and more…)

Regardless of your personal views on any of the more sensitive issues (like abortion), what should be shocking is that government officials and ministers are speaking out against longstanding laws and expectations built into the government’s framework. A political party is criticizing the political foundations of the country they rule.

How and why exactly the crime occurred is still in question.  It might have been random.  It might have not – the victim was Kurdish-Alevi (two groups dis-favored by the AKP), and there is some speculation that the perpetrators were “ultra nationalists”:

Either way, from the quotes above (a small sampling of many such public proclamations, unfortunately) it is clear that the current party’s actions have created a climate where crimes against women are both ‘less serious’ (because, apparently, the women are partially to blame) and more likely to occur.  I understand that they are making statements for political effect, to polarize voters or take a hard stance against ‘moral laxity’, but it apparently never occurred to them that their words might have this effect, and it certainly hasn’t occurred to them that they bear responsibility for their speech and for the implications of the ideas they intend to implant in Turkish society. That ideas have consequences. That words have consequences. In short, these politicians are incredibly irresponsible people.

The change in women’s status has crept up rather slowly over the past fifteen years.  Turkey is a secular republic.  Women have enjoyed the right to vote since 1930 (that’s 15 years before the same right was given to women in France). Long-time Turkey journalist and author Hugh Pope has noted that Turkish women never recovered from having their rights given to them (book here). The dictated secularization and equal rights of the early Turkish republic effectively halted any civilian-led feminist (broadly defined), secularization or human rights movements. People have always expected these rights from the state; because they didn’t have to be ‘won’ there was no struggle, no popular movement. It’s only been in the past decade or so that assumed rights and respect of women have come under direct threat (along with freedom of press, freedom of association, secular education, and a host of other fundamental civil issues – though the latter have been threatened for brief periods under different regimes).

In early years, Turkey had a secular government and conservative society; secularization and modernization were dictated to the Turkish population under the rule of the first state leader, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Turkey didn’t enjoy a gradual or grassroots transition. And perhaps because of this, there has always been some tension between more secular urban dwellers/western and coastal Turkey, and the more conservative inner Anatolian and eastern populations.
Now the government is far less secular than society (‘smart religious conservatives’ often revile the AKP even more than the secular opposition, as they understand that the AKP is truly neither truly religious nor truly conservative, but rather using this angle to gain votes and consolidate power). Since Erdogan’s ‘decisive victory’ in last year’s presidential election (elections some questioned, and some still question as certain ballot sheets and ballot boxes were never made public) the party has actually moved to destroy some of the secular foundations of the Turkish Republic – a move that could be interpreted as Islamic or (more likely) a desire to micromanage and consolidate power.

Also in the news today, government-ordered police forces fired water hoses against crowds of students and teachers protesting the de-secularization of school curriculum in Izmir, and one man was arrested for “insulting the president” (which was counted as threatening his person).
These issues are not unrelated. There is a government in power that believes the founding principles and the country’s constitution do not bind them, a government that has little real respect for its citizenry, and a government apt to make irresponsible remarks or push policy without thinking through all possible implications simply in order to gaol a certain portion of the population.
What happened in Turkey on February 11th was tragic, unthinkable. But a government that does not respect its citizens cannot expect citizens to respect each other.

In the past, when the government in power moved too far from the republic’s secular ideas, the army came in and cleared out the house with a coup. A popular movement has never toppled the contemporary government; people have often looked to the army to tilt Turkey back to center.  A little over a year ago Erdogan jailed almost all top army generals, effectively cutting a potential coup in the bud. This time there will be no army coup; civilians can’t expect a savior. Civil society has to grow its own opposition, frame its own demands, and make a determined persevering stand for what rights they refuse to cede.

Ozgecan Aslan

Hopefully this will happen.  Hopefully this tragic crime will spurn more people to act. Even now thousands of women across the country are calling for the dismissal of the “Family” minister (who made the revolting statement in No. 7).  Hopefully they will persevere.  Hopefully this won’t die down, like so many street protests have in the past.

Update on the case: Tragic. The girl was killed when she used pepper spray against her attackers to deter rape.

A quote from her mother:

“She had goals. She wanted to graduate and open a clinic to treat patients…I cannot comprehend that she got on a minibus to come home and was murdered. Was it a mistake? Getting on a minibus to come home?”

Decoding Pro-Family Policy in Turkey

(From Jan 9)
Turkey has one of the lowest rates of female participation in the workforce among OSCE nations, at just 26% of all of-age women. The number fluctuates a bit depending on what statistics you look at, and whether you count women working in agriculture or just female workers with contracts and wages, but regardless of the source it’s always low.

Despite having a host of other free or reduced-price social services, such as free education to university, heavily subsidized health care, and functioning pension funds, the state offers no public child care, which makes returning to work after childbirth a huge decision for most mothers. If they live in close proximity, retired relatives often look after children (which is partially how all of E’s female relatives have been able to pursue careers). But for women who don’t have that option, returning to work brings a financial burden.

The current party has proposed policy they claim will ease this burden on working women: all working mothers will work half time but receive full salary until their children reach five years of age (and enter state schools).
At face value this is a great policy – for those already employed, especially in government offices where they have limitless contracts. But if we actually look at this policy, it bodes terribly for women who want to enter the workforce or don’t currently have such contractual security. Unless the policy covers both mothers and fathers, private firms (which understandably wouldn’t want to lose profits by paying for absent workers) would reduce hiring women of child-bearing age. (On a related side-note: government offices are increasingly filled with loyal party members, which would ensure that working mothers would be disproportionally represented by members of the current – supposedly conservative, pro-staying-at-home – party). This would in turn effectively halve the incomes of families where both parents currently work, and make families fully reliant on adult male salaries, thus possibly diminishing women’s economic power. Obviously a policy that covers only women is also sexist – it assumes that, despite sexual equality granted in Turkey’s original constitution, child-rearing is ‘women’s work’, and not a responsibility in the realm of men, that men and women are fundamentally different and deserve differentiated legal preferences and protections.

This policy could still be good for women who wanted to work *if* it was accompanied by a stipulation that a certain percentage of all employees *at each pay level* be women (if the stipulation didn’t specify a quota for each pay level, women would most likely only be hired at lower pay-levels to mitigate the company’s financial loss when they took half-time), and neutral for companies if the government offered some financial compensation or incentive. But it’s fairly easy to see that paying two people to look after ten kids (or establishing large-scale preschools, either in neighborhoods or attached to workplaces) would be far more efficient and cost-effective than having all working mothers commute back and forth to work for half-time work days.

The true aim of this policy is to bar women from the workforce and force them to stay home and take care of children, which the current president has stated is the ‘natural occupation of women’. Regardless of how it’s packaged, this isn’t a woman-positive or pro-family policy. It’s meant to push the population into a mediocre middle class and keep women from larger participation in the workplace or civil society.
Apparently E’s relatives and I aren’t the only ones to come to this conclusion either. For further reading, see:
Bloomberg The world bank blog
And an earlier, rather jumbled piece with more labor statistics: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/women-employment-in-turkey-shows-high-rise-but-low.aspx?pageID=238&nID=58384&NewsCatID=347

De-Coding ‘Pro-Family’ Policy in Turkey

Turkey has one of the lowest rates of female participation in the workforce among OSCE nations, at just 26% of all of-age women. The number fluctuates a bit depending on what statistics you look at, and whether you count women working in agriculture or just female workers with contracts and wages, but regardless of the source it’s always low.

Despite having a host of other free or reduced-price social services, such as free education to university, heavily subsidized health care, and functioning pension funds, the state offers no public child care, which makes returning to work after childbirth a huge decision for most mothers. If they live in close proximity, retired relatives often look after children (which is partially how all of E’s female relatives have been able to pursue careers). But for women who don’t have that option, returning to work brings a financial burden.

The current party has proposed policy they claim will ease this burden on working women: all working mothers will work half time but receive full salary until their children reach five years of age (and enter state schools).
At face value this is a great policy – for those already employed, especially in government offices where they have limitless contracts. But if we actually look at this policy, it bodes terribly for women who want to enter the workforce or don’t currently have such contractual security. Unless the policy covers both mothers and fathers, private firms (which understandably wouldn’t want to lose profits by paying for absent workers) would reduce hiring women of child-bearing age. (On a related side-note: government offices are increasingly filled with loyal party members, which would ensure that working mothers would be disproportionally represented by members of the current – supposedly conservative, pro-staying-at-home – party). This would in turn effectively halve the incomes of families where both parents currently work, and make families fully reliant on adult male salaries, thus possibly diminishing women’s economic power. Obviously a policy that covers only women is also sexist – it assumes that, despite sexual equality granted in Turkey’s original constitution, child-rearing is ‘women’s work’, and not a responsibility in the realm of men, that men and women are fundamentally different and deserve differentiated legal preferences and protections.

This policy could still be good for women who wanted to work *if* it was accompanied by a stipulation that a certain percentage of all employees *at each pay level* be women (if the stipulation didn’t specify a quota for each pay level, women would most likely only be hired at lower pay-levels to mitigate the company’s financial loss when they took half-time), and neutral for companies if the government offered some financial compensation or incentive. But it’s fairly easy to see that paying two people to look after ten kids (or establishing large-scale preschools, either in neighborhoods or attached to workplaces) would be far more efficient and cost-effective than having all working mothers commute back and forth to work for half-time work days.

The true aim of this policy is to bar women from the workforce and force them to stay home and take care of children, which the current president has stated is the ‘natural occupation of women’. Regardless of how it’s packaged, this isn’t a woman-positive or pro-family policy. It’s meant to push the population into a mediocre middle class and keep women from larger participation in the workplace or civil society.
Apparently E’s relatives and I aren’t the only ones to come to this conclusion either. For further reading, see:
Bloomberg The world bank blog
And an earlier, rather jumbled piece with more labor statistics: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/women-employment-in-turkey-shows-high-rise-but-low.aspx?pageID=238&nID=58384&NewsCatID=347

Turkish Politics: A Coming Split *within* the AKP?

What will happen, what will happen?

From Payvand (Google News Alerts is the best thing to happen to me since Christmas – for I actually get a variety of outlooks in one news stream, in stead of combing through the myopic Western Media…)

Erdogan’s attempt to ban social media may have finally severed his relationship with Turkey’s current president, fellow AKP leader Abdullah Gul. Gul had been a close Erdogan ally, who served as Turkey’s prime minister from 2002-2003 when Erdogan was banned from participating in Turkish politics, and then as Erdoğan’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister before assuming the presidency in 2007. However, during the height of the Gezi Park protests Gul emerged as a voice of opposition to the police crackdown, and more recently he opposed Erdogan’s Twitter ban and directly challenged Erdogan’s assertions that an international conspiracy is behind the allegations against his government. Gul has said nothing about his plans, but he is eligible for a second term in office, and while there has been talk of him assuming the role of prime minister while Erdogan becomes president (with expanded powers), the possibility of AKP’s two most prominent figures running against each other cannot be ruled out.”

Turkey: The Development of Democracy?

After election results came out for the mayoral elections across Turkey late Monday night E was flabbergasted. How could how could Istanbul elites, how could Ankara educated, how could Antalya beachgoers vote for the pro-Islamic, proven-corrupt, increasingly dictatorial government in democratic elections? For those not familiar with Turkish politics, this would be akin to George W. Bush winning a third term after not just Halliburton and issues with Iraq, but also Watergate, a Lewinsky scandal, dismissing supreme court judges, meddling in army affairs, firing on protestors, and shutting down social media outlets across the country (click here for a short list). I mean, who would vote for this guy? To urban intellectuals and professionals, it doesn’t make sense – how does a party controlled and headed by a man like this get elected in a democratic contest?
But people did vote for them. The AKP (Erdogan’s party) won mayorship in almost every major city, sweeping the country with 44% of the vote. In some (eastern, conservative) cities, their share was over 60%. And the votes didn’t all come from illiterate, religious-conservative country bumpkins and recent internal immigrants from Eastern villages. And why? As one Istanbul resident interviewed by Al-Jazeera summed up her decision to vote for the AKP:

I’m going to vote for [Erdogan’s] AK Party. I can’t think of any better option than AKP. There isn’t any.
They built hospitals, roads and invested in the eastern region of Turkey, which was ignored before the AKP took over.
We are very pleased with AKP’s assistance on social issues. The country developed a lot under AKP rule… they inaugurated many hospitals and addressed health issues.
There is progress in education. Turkish people are enjoying more income now. You can see even the poorest ones using mobile phones worth $1,000.

The article below outlines it pretty well: delivery of promised economic development and structure, stability, pork-barelling (giving jobs to constituents who would then lose those government jobs if the AKP fell from power), and lack of real vision and leadership from the opposition:

What Do Local Election Results Whisper About Future Of Turkish Democracy – Analysis | Eurasia Review.

By Dr. Ulas Doga Eralp
Local election results confirmed that Turkey is going through a belated, yet organic democratic transition. In absence of Turkish military’s looming shadow, the liberals and social democrats are learning to own the process rather than merely follow.

According to the unofficial results, the pro-Islamist AKP in Turkey has scored around 44% at the local elections that took place over the weekend. This could easily be interpreted as the beginning of a long decline after 12 years in government. Many among Turkey’s democratic opposition hoped for a clear defeat for the AKP. However the election results indicate that the decline will be much slower and painful. There are a number of reasons for the slow pace of political change in Turkey.
Lack of a viable alternative

Over the years, the AKP has managed to build a functioning social security infrastructure along with an efficient and mostly free healthcare system. The lower middle class Turks who try to make ends meet, naturally are scared of a change that they fear could threaten their meager benefits. Many find employment opportunities through patron-client networks in the city governments. In the possibility of a change of government, those who maintain such positions are scared of losing their jobs. Similarly the recent tape leaks about a corruption scandal including his son, Bilal Erdogan and Reza Sarrap, an Iranian businessman did not make any significant impact on the choices of the lower middle class masses in Turkey. Many either chose to ignore or simply not believe the graft allegations.

Promises of Stability and Pro-Sunni stance in Syria
Erdogan is a great manipulator; over the years he mastered the technique of public polarization to his benefit. In the wake of the Gezi protests Erdogan has managed to portray the Gezi protestors as vagabonds and consolidated his base with the promise of keeping the public order. Furthermore, the developments in Arab Spring countries – especially the instability in Syria and Erdogan’s tough pro-Sunni stance in the conflict – allowed him to receive support from the conservative voters in central Anatolia. Risk averse voters chose to gather around Erdogan against any looming uncertainty.

Future direction of Turkish Democracy
Local elections’ results are the start of a steady and long decline for the AKP. Compared to an earlier vote in 2011 where AKP received 50% of the general vote, there is a 6-7% drop in the overall votes. This is a considerable decline considering that Erdogan banned Twitter and Youtube and introduced strict control over the mass media. Still 56% of the general electorate voted against the AKP. This itself indicates the limits of authoritarianism in Turkey. Another outcome is that polarization politics are not a winner in Turkey. Risk averse voters prefer stability, but do not buy into polarization politics.

There is a growing disenchantment towards government institutions including the judiciary and official news agency. There was a great discrepancy between the results announced by the government controlled official Anadolu News Agency and Cihan News Agency, that is close to the Gulen movement. There was a lot of noise among twitter users on election results throughout the night, especially in the very tight race in Ankara and Istanbul. The activists protected the ballot boxes from police and other government officials in order to prevent election rigging. 56% of the population have lost their trust in state institutions. This is a clear crisis of political legitimacy. Next two years will be very critical for Turkish politics as Erdogan will prepare to run for presidency. AKP without Erdogan is bound to lose even more votes as the coalition of conservatives under the party banner will continue to crumble. It would, therefore, not be wrong to expect further turmoil in Turkey.

Consolidation of the Kurdish Vote
Kurds also consolidated their votes in the eastern and southeastern provinces. This region has developed into a powerhouse for a pro-autonomy Kurdish political movement. The southeast provinces of Turkey operate in their own political reality. It should not be surprise to anyone if the Kurdish political movement pushes for autonomy more vocally in the coming two years. This of course will very much depend on the continuation of the peace talks.

Overall, local election results confirmed that Turkey is going through a belated, yet organic democratic transition. The AKP government will continue to step up its authoritarianism while the civic opposition will continue organizing across different urban areas. In absence of Turkish military’s looming shadow, the liberals and social democrats are learning to own the process rather than merely follow.

Dr. Ulas Doga Eralp is a scholar and practitioner of international conflict, human rights, development and democratization. He has a PhD from the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University, and currently works as a Professorial Lecturer at the International Peace and Conflict Resolution Program of the School of International Service (SIS) at American University in Washington, DC.

And, of course, there are still claims that the election results were imperfect, or may have been tampered with (which would have swung the balance in the opposition’s favor in Ankara):
http://www.worldbulletin.net/turkey/132606/turkish-opposition-party-contends-local-election-results-updated
http://www.nationalturk.com/en/turkey-election-resultsturkish-police-are-attacking-to-people-who-claims-they-votes-breaking-news-48996
http://blogs.aljazeera.com/blog/europe/turkey-elections-and-cat