Saturday, June 11, 2011

Turkey's Election:Last Exit Before Toll

Note:: Because Turkey's election Sunday is of such huge importance, not only for Turkey but for the region as a whole, Western interests, Israel, and just about everybody, I asked a Turkish friend who is a keen observer of the situation to write a letter from Turkey. The author asked to be anonymous which I think makes perfect sense given what's going on in Turkey. I have edited it very slightly for grammar and clarity.

To summarize, a victory by the ruling AKP is likely that would give it tremendous power to reshape Turkey's future in an Islamist and more repressive direction. But that outcome is not inevitable as a number of constituencies may give enough support to the social democratic CHP to block the regime continuing or at least to keep its control of parliament low enough to stop it from unilaterally writing a new contitution for Turkey.

By Anonymous

On Sunday, June 12th, Turkish voters go to the ballot box to decide if they want to extend to Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP another four years in charge of the nation. The international media - though more hesitant to get behind Erdogan this time after watching the already flawed Turkish democracy turn into an authoritarian state with tens of journalists and even more opposition figures jailed in increasing numbers in the last three years - anticipates another easy victory for the AKP.

However, the Economist and several other publications have expressed their concern about Erdogan running haywire and turning into an unmanageable dictator if his party is able get a super-majority that would allow them to change the constitution without having any regard for others' perspectives on the issue. This will certainly be the case if the AKP indeed wins 367 seats (out of 550).

But not so fast. Facts in Turkey are not as they seem from the Cihangir cafes (all within 10 blocks or so) where the foreign journalists in Turkey hang out and think they then know everything about Turkey because they interview the same fifteen (approximately) people over and over again - nearly all of them pro-AKP. The same goes for the so-called experts at U.S. and European think-tanks who regard themselves as such because they have read the pieces by those international journalists in the trendy neighborhood of Cihangir in Istanbul.

I believe Sunday's elections are, though not guaranteed, ripe for a, not huge, but sufficiently significant upset that will change the political balance in Turkey. For many Turks, these elections represent the last exit before toll since, after seeing the uncontrollable behavior of Erdogan and the AKP in the last two years in particular, another Erdogan victory means real commotion on the horizon.

First, Erdogan appears afraid and thrown off balance all of sudden.His usual swagger is gone. Instead anger toward all segments of the society dominates his rally speeches. He is even flustered at times: He froze for almost a minute without any ad-libbing - not a single word - when his teleprompter stopped working in Antalya and then while in Bingol said  he was in Diyarbakir - not just once, but four times in a row. He has become overly aggressive, making him seem the aggressor and not the oppressed as he successfully claimed to be in the past.

Secondly, the sex tapes that were leaked against the MHP (nationalist opposition party) in May appear to have worked in favor of the MHP, which according to Metropoll - a pro-AKP polling firm, seems to have gone from 10% to 15% in May with the AKP, dropping five points to 35% prior to allocating the undecided votes. As the AKP was trying to attract the MHP votes via nationalistic and anti-PKK (Kurdish leftist nationalist group that fought a terror-laden war with Turkey) talk lately.

People appear to have held the AKP responsible for the dirty tricks pulled and also gained the impression that the Gulen (a separate Islamist movement with much power in the police force) movement is behind it, following the imprisonment of two writers apparently for writing books exposing the infiltration of the Gulenists into the government including the police force and the judiciary.

Third, the main opposition party, the CHP (social democrats), has gone through a serious makeover and has surprised everyone including me with the hard work they have been putting into their campaign. The CHP and its leader Kilicdaroglu has come up with numerous quality ideas and projects - 41 clearly defined projects in all, which if the media was not either controlled by pro-AKP outlets or intimidated by the ruling party (see the journalists in prison and taxes imposed upon an adversary, the Dogan Group) would normally dominate the headlines.

The CHP's executive team has appeared to be extremely deft, and Kilicdaroglu's command of his speeches has improved considerably. The CHP leader has had rallies in 81 cities and visited 200 smaller districts while Erdogan has had 72 rallies and the MHP's Bahceli 40. In comparison, in 2007, it was 59 for Erdogan, 19 for the then-CHP leader Baykal and 11 for Bahceli. An experienced businessman, Inan Kirac, of the traditional business elite reportedly expects - and he says he will even bet on it - that the CHP will come up with an upset and emerge as the top party. Erdogan has confronted Kirac and warned him of risky consequences for his prediction.

On the other hand, while Erdogan has a loyal mass of supporters who will vote for him no matter what he does or does not do, some cracks may have emerged in the alliance of the Islamic brotherhoods that support the AKP. The prominent Iskenderpasa cemaat of the Nakshibendi tariqat - to which Necmettin Erbakan, Turgut Ozal and Tayyip Erdogan himself among other important political figures all belonged - have recently declared their support for the MHP instead of the AKP, possibly due to their unhappiness with the dominance of the shady Gulen movement in the AKP.

Concerns over the possibility of voter fraud have emerged, unfortunately, as hundreds of voter records belonging to dead people have recently been discovered. The printing of a total of 69 million ballot forms when there are a maximum of 52 million possible voters including those living abroad is another matter people are questioning. The dirtiness of the election campaign by the AKP and its supporters has rendered cheating a serious probability against which the opposition parties will have to take precautions and the CHP has confirmed its readiness to do so. There have also been cases in which the AKP municipal governments threatened their constituents with fewer services if they vote for any other party.

With the three wild cards being the extent of the break-down of the Islamic brotherhood alliance behind the AKP, possible voter fraud and the final preference which the swing-voters (see below) will make, a map similar to the 2009 local election results ( ) is likely to emerge with the CHP tightening the race in most cities won and likely to be won again by the AKP, challenging the past dominance of the AKP in the two biggest cities Istanbul and Ankara and possibly overtaking the AKP in some other smaller cities.

In the most recent local elections in 2009 when Kilicdaroglu emerged as the CHP's last-minute mayoral candidate in Istanbul, the AKP received 39% of the vote, the CHP 23%, the MHP 16% and the Kurdish party (who will run as independents in these general elections) 5%. The CHP with its new leader Kilicdaroglu is destined to increase its votes by 5-10% while the MHP is likely to stay in the 13-18% range. The Kurdish independents will get around 5-6% capturing the same cities and possibly a couple more. The difference will be in how the rest of the votes, from 11 to 22%, will be allocated between the AKP and the CHP.

Looking at it from a totally different angle is also interesting. Kilicdaroglu is both Kurdish and Alevi (a religious group paralleling the Druze, for example, that tends to support secularism and are strong CHP voters), which means he will attract the majority of the Alevi votes (Alevi population - not the number of voters - is estimated at around 15 million) and may also get some Kurdish votes - certainly more than what the CHP received under Baykal, a conclusion Adil Gur, the president of the A &G Research polling firm has stated on TV.

The neglect of the retired population by the AKP and the resulting economic hardships in the last nine years will bring an overwhelming majority of their 9 million votes to the CHP as well. At least half of the 3 million university students have grown to be anti-AKP as have at least a segment of the agricultural sector (easily over 12 million people), which has been devastated by the AKP's preference for imports. When we add up the traditionally CHP-voting coastal areas and highly-educated urban districts, it is (not easy but also) not out of the question for the CHP to receive over 15 million votes.

If we assume the turnout to be high somewhere around 80-85% as in the last two elections, we come up with 41-44 million votes. Nevertheless, the importance of these elections could produce an even higher turnout and about 45 million voters. If the MHP and the Kurdish independents receive their usual 5-7 million and 1.5-2 million votes respectively and we assume the rest of the parties total about 10% and 4 million votes, we come up with a tally of 26 million votes which would leave the AKP with 19 million votes 3 million more than it has ever received and with a percentage of 42%.

To reiterate, nothing is a foregone conclusion as people make it out to be. Anything can happen but an upset may also be in the making if the Turkish people happen to be on a good day with a clear mind and take the last exit before toll.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.