Amid the backdrop of intensifying war in neighboring Syria and increasing political tensions internally, voters in Turkey devastated the hopes of moderate and progressive reformers—some of whom clashed with riot police on Sunday—as news spread the nation’s much-maligned rightwing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had reclaimed power as his Justice and Development Party (AKP) had received enough support to re-establish single-party control over the government.
As the Guardian reports:
The high-stakes vote, Turkey’s second in five months, took place in a climate of mounting tension and violence following an inconclusive June poll in which the conservative, Islamic-leaning AKP failed to secure an outright majority for the first time since coming to power in 2002.
The result could exacerbate divisions in a country deeply polarised along both ethnic and sectarian lines; Erdoğan is adored by supporters who hail him as a transformative figure who has modernised the country, but loathed by critics who see see him as an increasingly autocratic, even despotic leader.
With 97.4% of votes counted, the AKP had won 49.4%, the state broadcaster TRT reported, giving the AKP at least 315 seats in the 550-member parliament, more than enough to form a government on its own.
The prime minister and AKP leader Ahmet Davutoğlu tweeted simply “Elhamdulillah,” or “Thanks be to God,” before emerging from his family home in the central Anatolian city of Konya to tell crowds of cheering supporters that the win was “a victory for our democracy, and our people”.
Describing the results as a disaster, the main secularist CHP opposition saw its share of the vote slip to 25.4%, some 134 seats, while support for the nationalist MHP party fell sharply to 12% or about 40 seats, compared to 80 in June’s election.
The leftist, pro-Kurdish HDP party gained a small crumb of comfort from passing the 10% threshold it needed to secure seats as a party in the new parliament – less than the 13% it scored in June, but enough to deny the AKP a so-called “supermajority”, the 330 MPs a ruling party needs to be able to call a referendum on changes to the country’s constitution.
Sunday’s unexpected results in Turkey will be viewed as devastating for Erdoğan’s numerous critics and as Reuters notes, the “results could aggravate deep splits” within the country. According to VICE News:
His authoritarian streak has increased since his recent rebuke in the polls: Courts have prosecuted journalists responsible for critical coverage, dozens have been jailed for “insulting” the president, and members of the HDP have been arrested for alleged terrorism links.
In the election run-up, police raided a number of opposition media groups. The crackdown on dissident voices will likely be encouraged still further by these strong results, and Erdogan is now expected to attempt to transfer executive powers to his office, further tightening his grip on Turkey.
“I’m horrified. I don’t want to live in this country anymore because I don’t know what is awaiting us,” Guner Soganci, a 26-year-old waitress in Istanbul, told Agence France-Presse in the wake of the results. “We missed our only chance to end Erdogan’s dictatorship.”
Meryem Bahar, a banker, told AFP she was having a hard time believing the results. “They must have cheated,” she said, “because there is a big difference between what the opinion polls suggested and what we got today.” Now, she said, “we are expecting the worst.”
Ahead of the poll results, critics of Erdogan had elevated hopes that after being wounded in the June elections, the AKP would finally be swept from power. However, even as he appeared politcally vulnerable, many charged Erdoğan with waging a sinister ploy to consolidate power by sowing internal divisions—namely by targeted and antagonizing his strongest opponents and most outspoken critics, including journalists, youth activists, HDP members, and pro-democracy champions.
In the Kurdish “capital” of Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey, police fired tear gas and water cannon at Kurdish youths who set tyres ablaze in protest at the AKP win.
The clashes erupted outside the headquarters of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which in June became the first movement representing Turkey’s biggest minority in parliament.
In an analysis published in the Independent/UK on Friday, Ranj Alaaldin, a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics and expert on Turkish politics, said the AKP government during Erdogan’s rule has reversed hard-won strides towards democracy and peace previously achieved by Turkey and “returned the country to levels of violence and instability not seen for decades. Widely criticised for his strongman authoritarian rule and his suppression of liberal and progressive values, Erdoğan wants to modify Turkey’s constitution so that it gives him, as president, more powers.”
While disappointed by the AKP’s overall victory, some did take mild solace in that the left-leaning, pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic party (HDP) was able to surpass the 10 percent threshold it needed in order to maintain seats in parliament. Meanwhile, reporting by the Middle East Eye‘s Arwa Ibrahim, poor showing by the hard-right MHP led commentators to suggest “its supporters had shifted to the AKP.” In a tweet, Vijay Prashad, a professor of international studies at Trinity College, characterized the implications of those specific results this way:
AKP looks poised to be able to form govt in Turkey. HDP holding to its 13% margin. Fascist Right vote seems to have drifted to Erdogan.
— Vijay Prashad (@vijayprashad) November 1, 2015
Offering a possible example of the repressive atmosphere that now pervades Turkey under Erdoğan, the “Most Read” story on Hurriyet Daily—even as the election results dominated the front page on Sunday—was an article about two child cousins, ages 12 and 13, who are now facing more than two years in prison after they were arrested on charges of “insulting the Turkish president” after allegedly ripping down posters of the AKP leader. Many journalists and political activists have been arrested on similar charges.
“It is devastating to see two children being tried for tearing down a poster of the president,” Ismail Korkmaz, a lawyer representing the cousins, told the newspaper as he reportedly slammed the current “illiberal” justice system in Turkey.
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