01 July 2018

Turkish Elections: How Did Erdogan Win?

Turkey's pugnacious president Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the most important election of his political career.
Erdogan Campaigning

And he did so decisively.

He became president in the first round and he preserved his majority in Parliament, albeit through an electoral alliance.

He achieved all that at a time when the Turkish economy was looking into an abyss with foreign currency and corporate debt and inflation are all at an all-time high.

Anyone else in anywhere else would have seen his wings clipped. Not him.

Erdogan's GOP Strategy

He was facing an elactoral alliance composed of:

a) Republican People's Party (CHP) a secular social democratic party,
b) The Good Party (IP), an ultra-nationalist party led by a charismatic and pious conservative woman,
c) Felicity Party (SP) an Islamist party led by a life-long political Islamist and an early collaborator of Erdogan.

What is important to note is the fact that the alliance removed the need for each party to clear the 10 percent threshold to get their votes turned into seats. This was done in order to encourage hard core Islamists to vote for SP without worrying that they might be wasting their ballot.

The idea behind bringing together a staunchly secular party, a conservative, ultra-nationalistic party and an Islamist party was to convince disgruntled AKP voters to consider voting for this new formation.

And it resonated with many of them. Poll after poll showed that Erdogan would be forced to go to the second round and he would very likely lose his legislative majority.

Herein lies a twist.

As I posted a couple of week before the elections, one opinion poll found that both Turks and Kurds were more inclined to support IP and its leader Meral Aksener than CHP and its presidential candidate Muharrem Ince.

In fact, that poll indicated that Aksener would force Erdogan to a second round and could then win the presidency.

While an outlier, the poll made sense because a very large portion of the Turkish electorate has always had an intense dislike for the CHP.

Some associate it with a zealous prosecution of Islamist population (it was illegal to wear a hijab or niqab until AKP came to power and women could not wear a headscarf of any kind in schools and universities or government buildings).

Others hate the party for its long association with the army (the only two times it formed a government were after military coups). And its tacit role in the country's four coups.

Others see it as a rigid and shallow agents of Western influence with no specific outlook or platform.

I can go on.

The fact remains that a significant majority of the Turkish electorate would vote for anyone before they considered CHP.

Hence the Erdogan strategy.

Muharrem Ince
He methodically ignored the nationalist conservative Aksener and IP and the Islamist Felicity Party. He solely focused on CHP and its candidate. Since he controls almost all the media outlets they followed suit.

You could see Ince on many talk shows on in the news bulletins, Aksener, not so much. Mind you, even then the balance between Erdogan - Ince media exposure was very much in favor of the former but Aksener was nowhere to be found.
In the May 1-25 period, the country’s two main news channels, NTV and CNN Turk, dedicated a combined 70 hours of coverage to Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its election ally, the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), according to a report by the two opposition-nominated members of Turkey’s media watchdog RTUK. The report was made available to Al-Monitor. The CHP and Ince got 22 hours, while the Good Party and its presidential candidate, Meral Aksener, got 17 minutes and the HDP received no coverage at all.
In other words, he transformed the elections from being between a coalition of conservative, nationalist, Islamist and secularist parties and Erdogan's AKP into a bipolar Us and Them race.

Us being the Sunni conservatives, Them being the Western-minded secularists.

Essentially, Erdogan was saying if it is between me and CHP, who you're gonna call?

And the electorate chanted "Ghostbusters" as they were expected to.

Erdogan's message contained the threat that if CHP came to power, despite Ince's reassurances, they would bring back all those anti-Islamist laws. They could force the removal of headscarves, reduce the number of religious schools and go back to Kemalist days of early republic.

And his base ate it up. After all, candidate Ince might be relatable with his mother and sister both wearing a headscarf, but he is not the leader of CHP.

Charismnatically challenged Kilicdaroglu
Since Ince committed himself to going back to the previous system of a ceremonial president with an executive prime minister, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of CHP could soon become prime minister in a new government.

He is an Alevi, which is an offshoot of Shia Islam and most Sunnis consider them heretic infidels.

That was Erdogan's message. I know Ince seems nice but you elect him, you will be governed by a secular Alevi. Me or them?

It is like the GOP telling their base if it is not them, then it is Nancy Pelosi, abortion at every clinic, socialist health care and probably another black president.

Who cares if Trump is a twice divorced, pussy-grabbing idiot. He is what stands between, conservative, evangelical and racist GOP voters and Pelosi at Co.

Erdogan has also used GOP's voter suppression techniques.

Many voting districts were redefined. They changed voting stations in the Kurdish region removing them from pro-Kurdish villages. This made voting for many rural Kurds very difficult.

There was also some evidence of ballot stuffing.
Officers resorted to firing their guns into the air to stop the threesome in the country’s southeastern province of Urfa from delivering four sacks stuffed with fake voting cards to the Bilge Primary School, which was being used as a polling station.
Ballot stuffing is not widespread in Turkey but this incident was not a one-off situation either. I assume ballot stuffing was part of Erdogan's Plan B or C or D, something that can be used, on a limited basis, to alter an undesirable outcome.

For instance, in the 2017 referendum, the Organisation  for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) alleged that up to 2.5 million votes might have been manipulated. Out of 55 million voters 2.5 million vote is not a big deal perhaps but if you won the referendum with 1.5 percent, it is a huge deal.

Which brings me to the other parties and especially the surprising MHP win.

Other Parties and the Mystery of MHP?

Kilicdaroglu, the beleaguered leader of CHP lost nine consecutive elections but has no intention to resign. In fact, he criticized Ince's performance and said that he did not get as many vote as he should have.

He is counting on the fact that, despite reducing the party's electoral support from 25.32 percent to 22.64 percent he was rewarded with more seats (146) than the previous election (131). Most of that was due to the fact that the number of MPs went up from 550 to 600.

In any event, Turkey's electoral laws and CHP's bylaws are such that it is almost impossible to remove a party leader through regular democratic means. To give you an idea, since 1923 the CHP has had only five leaders. Can you find another such example in the world?

Meral Aksener, the leader of the nationalistic and conservative Good Party (IP) passed the 10 percent threshold and will have 43 seats in the new assembly.

The case of her former party the proto-fascist Nationalist Action Party (MHP) is very interesting. Devlet Bahceli, the leader of MHP fought off Aksener's leadership bid tooth and nail and expelled her from the party. She went on to form IP and Bahceli entered into an electoral alliance with Erdogan and AKP.

Interestingly, between 1 May and 25 June only a single polling company placed MHP above the 10 percent threshold. Fourteen others predicted that it would never go over.

There is a good reason for that. The ceiling of MHP's support is around 5.5 to 6 million votes.  It once hit 7.5 million (for the June 2015 hung parliament) but contemporaneous opinion polls clearly showed that the additional votes came from disgruntled AKP supporters. And the next time around, in November 2015, the party's vote went back to 5.7 million.

But let's stipulate, for the sake of the argument that 7.5 million votes is the true potential support level for ultra-nationalistic parties in Turkey.

In 24 June 2018 elections MHP and IP, which share the same identical electoral base received 10,555,227 votes. That's almost double the regular MHP vote.

How could MHP get to preserve its share of the vote when half of its base went to support an offshoot party? Even the one opinion poll that gave MHP 10.5 percent found that IP was going to be stuck at 7.4 percent. Yet they received collectively 21 percent of the vote.

You could argue that since AKP's vote went from 49.5 to 42.5 percent, a significant percentage of AKP voters went to ultra-nationalistic parties.

The problem with that argument is that no opinion poll showed such a drastic move away from AKP to ultra-nationalist parties. And why should they?

With his Afrin excursion, his Syrian adventures in Al-Bab and Manbij and his genocidal tactics in Southeast Turkey Erdogan showed his bone fide as the most nationalistic leader in Turkey. Why would such voters desert him at this juncture?

In other words, there is no explanation for this 21 percent ultra-nationalistic vote either arithmetically or politically.

And curiously no one tried to explain this odd result.

Unless of course, these three guys caught with fake ballot bags were part of a larger effort to get MHP over the 10 percent threshold.

Where is OSCE when you need them.

1 comment:

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