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The Turkish elections
11 June, 2015
Turkey’s elections may not mean much of a change in Turkish-Georgian relations but they have some interesting lessons for Georgia.

The party with the most votes, the APK, was the party that president Erdoğan built and the one he campaigned for, despite the presidency in Turkey traditionally being impartial. Erdoğan himself is an islamist and his support tends to be from the Sunni center of the country or what is sometimes dramatically referred to as the Anatolian heartland. In its
early years and in its winning campaign during 2002, when it came to power, the party promoted tolerance rather than the persistent bickering of the past. Unlike the militantly secular CHP supporters, they were tolerant towards pious Muslims. Unlike the nationalistic MHP, they were relatively tolerant towards the Kurds. They fixed the economy and promoted stability in general.
But gradually they became less tolerant and more divisive. The military has always been powerful in Turkey, too powerful, and they successfully removed it from its traditional powerful role in Turkish politics. But without its oversight, the party and Erdoğan developed the confidence that leads to isolation, more corruption more aggressiveness, and less comfort with criticism. There were more and more giant property development projects going to his cronies. He began harassing journalists and media outlets. He argued with a religious leader in the U.S. who was instrumental in bringing him to power, Fethullah Gulen. After the international banking crises, the economy has slowed down considerably.
The real turning point came in 2013 with protests in Gezi Park in Istanbul’s centrally located Taxim Square. This began as a broad based green campaign to save some of the only green space in central Istanbul and prevent a giant shopping center from being put up over a historically significant park. As is the case in Georgia and so many other places, the authorities wanted to build something in public space and the public didn’t want it built. It was a clear and easy issue to organize around. In this case there were small quiet gatherings of people that were violently put down by the police. The videos went viral and the square was filled with the growing number of individuals with concerns about Erdoğan and the AKP and all his aggressive new laws and initiatives. The crackdown continued and brought more supporters to the protests. These protests turned many against the AKP.
The second party, CHP, received 25 percent of the vote. This is the party started by Ataturk. It is aggressively secular, and because it is so secular it is very much against the growing use of Islam in politics and favored position of Islam in Turkish society under the AKP. The party has traditionally had close ties to the military, and has a reputation of petty bickering among its leadership. It doesn’t feel like a party with many answers for today’s problems. On the other hand, it is a perennial in Turkish politics and for those who support a secular state, it is a safe vote to pass Turkey’s unusually high 10 percent barrier to receive parliamentary representation.
The third party is the MHP, receiving 17 percent, it is a nationalist party, with fascist roots. It doesn’t have the imbedded secularism of the CHP and is more willing to see Islam having some role in society within limits, but doesn’t have the Islamic background of the AKP. But it has a “Turkey for the Turks” view and has serious difficulties addressing Kurds, which are a majority in the south east of the country and overall a powerful electoral block. This party has been very much limited by its nationalistic rhetoric.
The most interesting party with the most inspiring leader is the HDP which received 12 percent. This party’s current popularity grew directly out of the Gezi Park protests. The police and the army have been treating the Kurds horribly for many decades, but few Turks saw this directly. But then in the middle of European Istanbul, the police are beating up and arresting the kind of people who are not used to being treated like that. A new coalition was born between very European educated progressive forces in Istanbul and coastal cities and the Kurds. The Kurds had always supported HDP but they never got enough votes to get over Turkey’s high 10 percent barrier. After Gezi Park the party became not just a pro-Kurdish Party but a pro-tolerance party. Their party policy towards women was particularly progressive. They have a 50 percent leadership rule so all their district offices are overseen and run by equal numbers of men and women. This gave them many votes from women worried about the dominance of men in other parties and the situation of women in society. They do not believe in prejudice against gay people and have put forward openly gay candidates. Many of the Kurds in the South East of the country are very religious, but as Kurds, they too feel victims of the anti-tolerance forces. Demirtaş, the party leader, is young and an excellent speaker, many compare him to Obama. Like Obama he is constantly bated, but always comes forward with unifying rhetoric rather than the AKP and other parties that tend to try to divide the nation and electorate and to choose wedge issues.
The AKP can not govern without a coalition. The most likely partner is the MHP but if the MHP joins them, they will suffer in the next elections. The other possibility would be all the non-AKP parties joining, but again, the MHP would have difficulty with the a party so friendly with the Kurds so the outcome is not clear but the future will be interesting. At least in these elections, the winners were the uniters, often bringing together groups that would not at first seem as natural allies. The losers were the negative campaigners, those who spent their time with aggression against other political or social groups. There are probably many who didn’t vote for the HDP because the didn’t think they would pass the barrier, but they did and will likely do even better next time. And any party that allies with the AKP will likely lose votes. It seems that women in leadership can bring in votes and and so can a very broad message of tolerance for all.

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