Waves of shock, followed by a lengthy trauma and mass depression. A grand disillusionment awaits Turkey’s opposition after a tumultuous election night. We will witness one more defeat, with far-reaching political consequences.
After yet another victory in his two-decade reign, it seems that Erdoğan will continue on his path to further transform Turkey into a country kept in leash by one man rule, beating an overenthusiastic and confident opposition and defying sociopolitical logic.
Turkey’s electorate did choose him once more. Despite the economic crisis he has created, it pretended to ignore the corruption which gnaws at the soul of the society, and the massive earthquake which exposed the government’s profound flaws.
Now, in the “days after,” against the backdrop of some complexities in the elections, we know what the majority wants to see for Turkey in its centennial and beyond: A republic with a stronger sense of Islamism and Nationalism, and pulling away from the sphere of secularism. A country where the Far-Right seems set to dominate the future.
What’s obvious is that the votes cast have given us tangible clues about where the country is headed. The Far-Right is more represented across the political spectrume. The fundamentalist “Welfare Again” Party (YRP) gained five seats, so did the pro-Kurdish Jihadist Hüda-Par party (an offshoot of Turkish Hezbollah), with three seats.
As my friend historian Alexander Clarkson tweeted the day after the elections that a shift to the far-right is being consolidated. He predicts a weakening of the AKP after Erdoğan, and the prominence of Alpaslan Türkeş, founder of the ultra-nationalist MHP and the “führer” of the Grey Wolves; and Necmettin Erbakan, father figure of the Islamist “National View” party (Milli Görüş):
“You can already see the outlines of a post-AKP politics. Right now it looks unlikely that the dominant force after the AKP would be religious conservatives, liberals, centrists or the left. Rather, it would be Alparslan Türkeş’s Turkey …You can see the Far Right building a position where it politically devours the AKP too. Maybe that will be Erdoğan’s legacy.”
Amazing how sharply things change overnight. Before the elections, the euphoria among the opposition segments was dazzling. Up to the day before the polls, if you were foolish enough to believe the theoreticians of an opposition victory, a slam dunk seemed inevitable.
Such was the confidence that anyone who had dared to ask critical questions about the potential of a pro-Erdoğan camp and his control over the state institutions and media, were censored, patronised and bashed on social media. Realism and skepticism had become taboos.
From the academic and journalistic flanks supporting the opposition, a barrage of quasi-scientific articles were published, both at home and abroad, about why Erdoğan was “finished.”
Overconfidence in the western, urban flanks of the country, and amongst Kurds, was phenomenal—a case study for social scientists. Worse was the way that the disgruntled parts of the electorate—a blend of secular, western-oriented, urban folks, women, youth and Kurds —perceived this. Strong rhetoric raised expectations. It is not hard to imagine the magnitude of the crash-landing on the following day.
But now, the notion of a “lifetime presidency” under Erdoğan is sinking in, leading to frustration and rage against Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, and a kind of mass depression based on the sense of being victimized under an aggressive , intolerant, perhaps decades long majoritarian rule.
In the other camp, which has injected more nationalism into the body politic, the sense of victory is reminiscent of a Hannah Arendt moment: the masses preferring submission to a patriarch and a blind unity around a holy cause. Erdoğan has reached the status of a Messiah, enjoying unshaken loyalty despite financial and literal earthquakes.
Will he win in the second round? It is nearly certain that he will, maybe even in a landslide.
There are several reasons for this. Some who voted for Kılıçdaroğlu may not go to the ballotboxes on May 28 out of sheer complacency. Others may go out to support Erdoğan, hoping for stability because he will control Parliament.
In addition, all the parties in the opposition bloc, except for the main CHP, will certainly be discouraged by Erdoğan’s strength and not really campaign for their candidate in the second round. What counted for them was to enter Parliament, and they did.
For five of the six parties, what mattered was to gain as many parliamentary seats as possible, and there is little hope that they will continue to support him in the second round.
Needless to say, the gloom and despair were extremely deep amongst my friends, colleagues and acquaintances on the day after.
But in truth I feel worse for those of my colleagues who chose to be cheerleaders for a campaign rather than reporting all possible facets of the truth by calling out the weaknesses of the democratic opposition and the pitfalls set by Erdoğan’s regime. Many chose to be deaf to the warnings coming from critical circles and skeptical individuals like myself.
But I am deeply compassionate toward others, especially Turkey’s younger generations, whose future is being devoured by doctrines of Islamism and Nationalism. I am also profoundly saddened for my friends who had invested their hopes in an alternative which they feel has deceived them.
Finally, I am lost in a deep gloom for my friends—like Osman Kavala—who are left to rot in prisons just for being themselves: for standing up to Erdoğan’s iron fists.
I am expecting an escalated exodus of the elite, the qualified, and the disillusioned, who will leave Turkey for good.
Objections to the result may go on for a while, but given the fact that Erdoğan controls the bulk of the Supreme Electoral Board (YSK), they will likely fade sooner or later.
What are his chances of winning the second leg?
Nearly one hundred percent. He has secured a clear majority in Parliament. With the rise of the Far-Right, he has weakened the CHP and the Kurdish bloc. He has also cornered the nationalist flank of the opposition, İYİP, and left its voters confused and dismayed. He has the lead on identity politics. It is highly likely that the voters of the anti-Erdoğan camp will feel discouraged enough not to go to the polls at all.
Once the YSK issues the final result, and if Turkey’s allies and the EU acknowledge his victory, he will enjoy the prospect of a lifetime presidency. This will come with a renewed license to transform Turkey into a hard-core autocracy, drifting away from its secular nature and practically replacing the republic Atatürk founded with a full-fledged non-democracy, in its centennial.
But is the game over? Nearly, but not fully.
Erdoğan may have destroyed the dream of a democratic future, but his real opponent is just around the corner: the spectre of economic collapse. He may have beaten or mutilated the political opposition—an easy task for him—but faces a solid challenge now. He may not know how to handle it.
Erdoğan has lowered the purchasing power, crippled the currency into bits, boasts a skyrocketing inflation and an empty state vault. He may have won, taking the election result as a renewed carte blanche for his continued autocratic engineering, but he is set for a road crash if he cannot manage the acute crisis.
All indications point to a Venezuelan playbook of social misery and upheaval. In other words, things will have to become far worse before they take a turn. This is what turns the Turkish centennial into a case for mourning for the anti-Erdoğan camp. We may hear a lot about 2023 as the year that Atatürk’s legacy was buried.