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Turkish Election Analysis and Insights

This article is gathering my initial thoughts after the election and aims to share my early analysis with the readers. We have months and years ahead of us to discuss the first and second round elections of 2023. It is already certain that these elections will be a milestone in Turkey. I observe that people are experiencing the shock of the results to the core of their being. It is a natural consequence of having gone through a process where hope preceded reason. In this text, I will try to explain, in my own way, what is happening behind the veil of uncertainty. My goal is to invite people to a paradigm where reason takes precedence over emotions.

Let me list my observations. The first and perhaps the most fundamental observation is that these elections were not about voting for the regime. The opposition targeted Erdogan, not the regime itself. Therefore, there was no comprehensive critique of the regime as the subject of the elections. Secondary issues were discussed, partial steps towards democratization and improvements were mentioned. A complete criticism of the regime, the rejection of its discourse, was not on the table. That’s why in my pre-election articles, videos, and social media posts, I referred to this opposition as the lesser of two evils.

Another observation will be that the elections were not fair and free. These elections were not democratic. Period! I’m not saying this only after the elections. I reiterated this observation years ago, months ago, weeks ago, even hours ago. As a political scientist, I believe I fulfilled my objective duty objectively. The issue is comprehensive and detailed, but let me summarize. Both serious question marks about vote counting and systematic problems present in the campaign and voting process exposed the unfairness and lack of freedom in the elections. The media, Supreme Election Council (YSK), Anadolu Agency (AA), judiciary, bureaucracy, law enforcement agencies, and intelligence were all part of the regime’s apparatus and worked for the continuation of the regime. The hybrid Turkish regime, characterized as a competitive authoritarian system, utilized all the classic election manipulation tactics and declared itself victorious. The opposition made a serious strategic mistake by not declaring their non-recognition of the election results at the end of the first round.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, they had chosen not to oppose the regime. This situation repeated itself in the second round. The votes secured by Sinan Oğan in the first round, designed to be around 5%, enabled Erdogan to steal the election in a seemingly democratic manner. Why did Kılıçdaroğlu and the leaders of the Hexagon Table accept the election results? This issue, like the events of July 15th, like pledging allegiance to the regime discourse in Yenikapı, like dividing the regime’s victims based on their clans and neighborhoods, will probably remain a difficult matter to be comprehended within the chain of logic.

To be honest, if Kılıçdaroğlu and the Opposion had declared that the election results were manipulated and had refused to accept them, Erdogan could not have declared victory. The acceptance of the election results by international actors and the celebration of Erdogan are related to this. If the opposition had successfully shared their concerns with international actors and, more importantly, had taken a clear position by strongly stating that they did not recognize the results, Erdogan and his circle would be experiencing a serious legitimacy crisis today.

Another observation is the state of division in Turkish politics. Especially the issue of the Kurds, which has been ongoing since the establishment of the state called Turkey, was glaringly evident in this election. Yes, the Kurds participated with great turnout and political awareness and voted for the candidate against Erdogan. But they did not go to the ballot box with a “everything will be fine” type of mentality. They faced the worst and the bad. I am not referring to Kılıçdaroğlu here. In my opinion, Kılıçdaroğlu was the most unifying and calm opposition candidate under the current conditions. What I mean is the anti-Kurdish position within the components of the Nation Alliance, or rather Kurdish phobia. Turkey has not been able to rid itself of the psychosis it fell into after the Treaty of Sevres.

A large Turkish-supremacist segment, which labels the just and reasonable demands of the Kurds as “separatism” and “terrorism,” constitutes the majority of society. This majority is not limited to the Cumhur Alliance, which is centered around Erdogan. Especially İYİ Party has been against the HDP and the Kurdish Political Movement from the very beginning. They made the alliance difficult with various types of hindrances. Following this, they advised Kılıçdaroğlu to adopt a more hawkish stance in the second round, even exerting pressure. Of course, it was not only İYİ Party that exerted this pressure. More than İYİ Party, the nationalist hardcore wing within the CHP imposed this flawed tactic. This reflex is not limited to CHP and İYİ Party alone. The DNA codes of Turkey already encompass anti-Kurdish reflexes. The doctrine of assimilating the Kurds – and people from other ethnicities – within Turkism is present in the genes of the state and permeates to the deepest levels of political parties. In Turkey, which has passed a century with these policies, the opposition has not criticized this paradigm in the slightest. Nonetheless, the alliance formed with the Kurds, even on a tactical basis, was positive. However, it was not enough.

The straightforward reality I am trying to emphasize here is the sociological fault lines. The deepest of these undoubtedly pertains to the Kurds. I classify Turkish politics as Turkish parties and the Kurdish political movement. Although Turkish parties entered the election with two different alliances, their reflexes regarding the Kurds show great similarities. The regime gains significant power from this situation. Of course, the majority of society, who are unaware of this, are inadvertently playing into the hands of the regime. The key words here are the unitary state and its opposite, the federal state. This is a political relay race that passes on this problem to future generations in Turkish politics. In fact, this constitutes the essence of the Turkish problem. Do I need to mention here that this is the most significant obstacle to Turkey’s democratization and becoming a rule of law?

Another issue is that Turkish politics is based on an ideological background completely disconnected from the world. The categories we use to classify political orientations in the world, such as left-right, socialist-conservative-liberal-green, disintegrate and lose their form like watercolors painted on wet paper in Turkey for some inexplicable reason. CHP is not a left-wing party. This observation is based on a phenomenon that should have been acknowledged since 1980 but has been consistently ignored.

CHP’s mission was nation-state building. It chose to do it not on a geographical basis but on a racial basis. It is a disease inherited from the Unionists. Consequently, the state also denied the Armenian Genocide, the Greek Genocide, and the Assyrian Genocide. I don’t think I need to write that CHP is synonymous with the state equation. Don’t be fooled by the fact that they are not in power. These ideas have been in power for 100 years – even today! Paradoxically, we are talking about a political tradition that is “in opposition” but has its ideas in power.

Other parties are also based on two fundamental ideologies: Turkism and Islamism. Over a century has passed since the Three Ideals of Politics, but the narrow political ideological background has remained stuck in this framework. Islam is the essence of Turkism. İbrahim Kafesoğlu and the Turkish-Islamic Synthesis ideology officially shaped the state architecture of this country in 1980. Erdogan and his team are the product of this.

One of the fundamental issues was the secular state. It is Atatürk’s most unique project, to create a secular state from a predominantly Muslim society. Of course, the rigid implementation of policies that seem to be efforts to instill secularism in society will be questioned, and should be questioned, in terms of human rights concerns. However, it is necessary to acknowledge here how right the founder of the state was in insisting on a secular state from an ideological perspective.

The instrumentalization of Islam in politics is the most serious handicap of Turkish politics after the Kurdish issue. The most valuable experience that Turkey could offer to the modern world in terms of administrative-political context was a Muslim-majority society establishing a secular state and successfully developing it. Without delving into the issue of why it failed, which is the subject of another article, I wanted to make this observation. The biggest loser of these elections, after the Kurds and the victims, is the idea of a secular state.

Instead of concluding words: Any opposition that does not reject the discourse of the regime is not a genuine opposition. Delaying structural problems is a great injustice to future generations. They should be approached with bold reform proposals rather than superficial (transitory) solutions to the problems. It is time to write and discuss these issues. “We need to say new things now.”

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Dr. Mehmet Efe Caman is a Scholar of Politics at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). Dr. Caman’s main research focuses on Democracy, democratization and human rights, Turkish politics, the Middle East, Eurasian politics and post-Soviet regions, the European Union. He has published a monograph on Turkish foreign policy, numerous book chapters and scholarly articles in English, German and Turkish about topics related to his research areas.

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