When Selahattin Demirtaş, leader of HDP (People’s Democratic Party), started his election campaign in a speech to his party’s group in the parliament, he repeated one sentence which would later become a slogan among his supporters during the campaign: “We will not let you be the president”. Of course, Erdoğan is the president of Turkey but the word “president” here refers to the new presidential regime Erdoğan’s been arguing since around 2013.
Part one of a two-part article. Read part one here. There, we made a short summary of the milestones which brought Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to his current post-elections situation. We also looked into the economics, which we consider as the most decisive factor when it comes to voters’ choice. In this second part, we will analyse other factors and then briefly glimpse at what may happen in near future.
Later on, when a bombing occurred at HDP’s meeting in Diyarbakir two days before the election, Mr. Erdoğan said that he tried to reach Demirtaş by phone but he did not answer his calls. Suddenly a new hashtag, referring to the campaign slogan of Demirtaş mentioned above, became very popular in social media: #wewillmuteyou. The hashtag showed opposition’s strong will to ignore and push Erdoğan away from the daily politics arena. For a leader that appeared around three hours on TV daily, it must have been frustrating.
However, Erdoğan’s frustration started earlier. When the government and pro-Kurdish leaders made a declaration in March regarding the Kurdish problem which largely consisted of enlarging the civil rights, he was the first one to come out and angrily say that it was wrong and unnecessary. He supported his claim with stating a few days later that there was not a “Kurdish problem” in Turkey anymore. His popularity among Kurdish voters was on its way down after Kobane battle between Kurds and ISIS in Syria and how he reacted to that. Plus, there were these rumors that Turkey helped ISIS by delivering them weapons and other means of support. Now that he was turning his back to a peace process between the government and PKK, it was clear as crystal that he would lose even more votes among Kurds.
His plan was different, however. While trying to gain the nationalist votes back which had moved to MHP (nationalists), he would once more use Islam for damage control and to keep Kurdish votes with AK Parti. Pro-AK Parti media started a campaign about how Demirtaş was against Islam and that HDP was an atheist leftist party. Erdoğan picked up a Kurdish Quran and waved it as if it was a promotion object in his meetings in Kurdish cities. This two sided mind-game was difficult to play and it was surely too late to change people’s minds. Kurds were happily flocking to HDP for the chance of finally entering the parliament as an established, organized party, and nationalist Turks were still angry and thought Erdoğan spoiled the PKK and the Kurds a little bit too much. It was almost impossible to satisfy both sides and Erdoğan naturally failed to achieve that.
In addition, Erdoğan had always been seen as a straight-out, honest leader. He always spoke his heart, bravely and openly. But this time, trying to look neutral – which you can easily argue against – he was not frank and undiplomatic. This was not the Erdoğan in people’s mind. There was a difference between the man who told Shimon Peres in Davos in 2009 that they were murderers and this man, who struggled to speak for himself and tried to imply things.
On the other side, Davutoğlu’s AK Parti was hopelessly trying to follow their own agenda but they also failed to come up with anything new. In politics, sometimes one single sentence is enough to keep and gain votes and popularity – like Demirtaş’s “We will not let you be the president” – but AK Parti’s message was confusing. There were so many things they mentioned in their campaign: New presidential system, first Turkish passenger plane, Mursi, Gaza, external enemies trying to destroy Turkey, Islamic propaganda, and so on.
AK Parti supporters were confused and could not come together around a basic, understandable goal. The party was organized to accomodate Erdoğan. He always kept a small advisors team around himself and the core around that team was also small and effective. This inner circle could not properly carry Davutoğlu, it was clear that he needed additional intellectual and tactical support, but the sharpest ones had moved away with Erdoğan and there weren’t many left behind. The old and wise led by Bülent Arınç and Abdullah Gül were either out of politics or not joining the elections. Ahmet Davutoğlu, possessing a weaker charisma than Erdoğan, desperately needed a team and a clear program but he lacked both.
To be fair and honest, we should mention that AK Parti’s 40 % share of votes is still high enough for them to be the major actor in Turkish politics and the main partner of a possible coalition. However, it’s worth noting that opposition’s first goal of muting Erdoğan has been reached: He was off-air for almost four days after the elections, which was very unusual. He later gave a speech in an irrelevant meeting with students, stating that all party leaders should act responsibly and find a solution to form the government within forty-five days. Could this indicate a new Erdoğan, domesticated and one who know his place? It’s still too early to say.
He’s now trying to play a decisive role in the forming of a coalition and invited all party leaders for a meeting in his palace. An answer came rapidly from nationalist MHP’s leader Bahçeli, stating that he would not attend such a meeting and that party leaders would talk to each other, anyway. It’s obvious that other opposition leaders will follow the same road. Since any coalition with AK Parti involved will not happen without the principle of leaving Erdoğan outside, this leaves Erdoğan with one option: Wait and then push for early elections. Whatever happens, it’s sure that it will be a very, very hot summer in Turkey.