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Reflection on elections in Turkey: there is no short-cut to defeat the AKP-MHP alliance and Erdogan for the working class.

Canan Sahin

May 30, 2023
The run-off presidential elections in Turkey on May 28th ended with the victory of the incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with the 52.16 % of the votes. In the first round on May 14th, Erdogan’s People’s Alliance had already won the majority of the seats in the parliament by securing 322 spots out of 600. 
The Nation’s Alliance, the six-party platform in opposition whose presidential candidate was Kemal Kılıcdaroglu from the center left Republican People’s Party (CHP), won 213 seats in the same round. With its failure in run-off elections, the Nation’s Alliance neither has the majority in the parliament nor the Presidency today. 
Turkey, a country with a population of 85 million, has 64 million registered voters and the turnout in the first round was almost 90% and in the second one, just slightly lower. The high participation rate shows how much people invested in the electoral competition. 
The HDP, the mass party supported by the Kurdish people and radical Turkish left, entered the elections under the name of the Green Left Party due to the court proceedings threatening to close the party. They formed the Labour and Freedom Alliance with some small leftist parties in Turkey and the total number of seats they secured in the parliament is 65. In the presidential race, on the other hand, Kurdish people supported Kemal Kılıcdaroglu in both rounds en-masse despite a lack of vocal defense of Kurdish people’s rights. 
While Kemal Kılıcdaroglu, an Alevite politician from the non-sunni minority, challenged the official position of his own party on the issues of headscarf and, in a rather limited way, on the Kurdish issue, political and economic vision of the Nation’s Alliance was based on a consensus on a strengthened parliamentarianism and economic neoliberalism proper. Despite all his shortcomings, his victory would have created a space where the working class, Kurdish people, women and the LGBTQI+ community would gain some confidence and morale. 
Western media coverage is mostly centered on Erdogan as a charismatic populist leader with increasingly authoritarian politics and little is known about the shifting alliances that took place since the end of the peace process in 2015 and in the aftermath of the coup d’etat in 2016. 
Since 2016, Erdogan’s AKP has been ruling the state and the society in a coalition with the fascist National Movement Party (MHP), which received over 10 percent of the votes in this election and the Great Unity Party (BBP), a much smaller fascist party with an awful record of violence. Calling themselves the People’s Alliance, AKP and MHP collaboratively endorsed the regime change to presidentialism in 2017. 
It must be remembered that AKP was a party, in whose election brochure in 2011, LGBTQI+ rights were given space, and which initiated a peace process with the Kurdish leadership, officially starting a dialogue with Ocalan in 2013. AKP and MHP were on the opposite poles of the political spectrum for a long time. Although the merger between religion of Islam and Turkish nationalism constituted the founding identity for the modern Turkey, we saw a relatively long period during which AKP’s political direction did not endorse Turkish supremacism. It is a widely held idea on the left that AKP’s authoritarian turn is a natural outcome of its neoliberal agenda. Although this explanation holds, it eschews accounting for the political shifts that characterized AKP’s authoritarian turn and nature of the alliances this authoritarianism is built around. 
While the first ten years of the AKP rule saw this party’s constant conflict with the “deep state”, dubbed as Ergenekon, the post-failed coup d’etat period saw a close alliance with the same political currents. In this period, the peace process with the Kurdish movement was replaced with aggressive military strategies in Northern Syria and Turkey.
Furthermore, municipalities run by the major players from the HDP were jailed with accusations of terrorism, belying every notion of democratic governance. Selahattin Demirtas, who was leading the HDP during the 2015 elections, a party which won 13,2% of the votes back then, has been kept in jail since November 2016. 
The People’s Alliance, which was born with a rigid nationalistic political consensus, grew further with newcomers in the 2023 elections. The Islamist New Welfare Party (YRP) with a solid anti-LGBTQI+ and sexist rhetoric joined Erdogan. Also, HUDA-PAR, a party which was borne out of the Hizbollah organization that was used by the Turkish state in its counter-guerrilla warfare against the Kurdish liberation movement during the 1990s, was put on stage against the HDP in the Kurdish populated region.
While the fight against the Kurdish autonomy in Northern Syria and Kurdish movement in Turkey became the central pillars of their campaign, the People’s Alliance also used an increasingly polarizing language around women’s and LGBTQI+ community’s rights. The AKP government had already withdrawn from the Istanbul Convention, an international agreement designed to protect women’s and LGBTQI+ community’s rights, and defended this position to polarize the society further.
Their homophobic, transphobic and sexist rhetoric solidified over the last four years, and it has been used to consolidate the conservative votes in his constituency. Combined with the MHP’s central tenet around the anti-Kurdish hatred, the atmosphere in Turkey’s political space got poisoned with a polarization formed by the hate speech against the LGBTQI+ people as well as an anti-terror campaign aiming to suffocate the Kurdish political representation. 
From the alliance described above, it is easy to discern that there has been a crisis of hegemony for the AKP over the last decade, combined with the crisis of the state in geopolitical terms. However, this is not the only crisis in Turkey. 
In 2018, the economy in Turkey went into a currency crisis, followed by a spike in inflation, which still marks the economic sphere. One US dollar was 3.17 Turkish Lira in 2018 and it is just below 20 today. The inflation rate was below 20% in 2017 and it is over 100% now. Turkey has one of highest inflation rates on food in the world according to the World Bank, with just below 70%. 
While the gap between the working class and the ruling class is growing at an unprecedented pace, the rate of unemployment with relaxed definition is currently at 21,8%. The rate of youth unemployment, which was the trigger for the revolutionary upheavals in the Middle East in the 2010s, is currently over 20%. 
By the time the earthquake hit 10 cities in Turkey, causing more than 50 thousand deaths according to the official statistics, the economy had already been in shambles. Having seen the utter failure of the AKP government to provide rescue support and relief for the people in the region, the opposition grew optimistic about the elections, with a plan to bury Erdogan’s rule in the ballot box. This sentiment became prevalent in the labour unions and among the leftist organisations. 
Based on this expectation, the strategy to defeat the AKP-MHP coalition was to form a broad alliance of parties from different ideological currents with a single purpose of winning the elections. This prompted the CHP to ally with the Good Party (IYI Party), an offshoot of the fascist MHP. Also, some small parties formed by the former AKP leadership were included in the Nation’s Alliance. 
Basically, the working class was made to choose between the two bourgeoise platforms with similar economic agendas to each other. Sadly, although political emphasis of Kemal Kılıcdaroglu was mostly focused on ending the one-man rule, his platform used anti-refugee and anti-terror language a lot in their campaign to appeal to nationalistic voters, who direct their anger at the economic crisis towards the most vulnerable populations in the society. 
The more the People’s Alliance of Erdogan emphasized the significance of anti-terrorism in the second round, the more the Nation’s Alliance emphasized the significance of sending the refugees back to their countries, condemning Erdogan for bringing over 10 million migrants into the country.
The electoral race was almost like a competition between anti-Kurdish racism and anti-refugee racism. Anti-refugee politics in Turkey is so electorally exploitable that there was an independent candidate in the first round who gained 5.2 percent of the votes solely based on an anti-Syrian campaign. Therefore, the opposition ran a highly nationalist and anti-refugee campaign to gain the votes of the resented ‘citizens’ who would normally vote for the MHP or AKP. 
The electoral opposition in Turkey forgot that it was the BLM movement that created the conditions for Trump’s defeat in the US; similarly, it was the mass movement against Bolsonaro that made it possible for Lula to be released and re-elected in Brazil. 
In Turkey, it is obvious that there is no short-cut to defeat the authoritarian neoliberal regime whose coalition with the most reactionary racist forces will introduce a new set of austerity measures with a poison of nationalism going forward. 
Today, the last thing we need is a spineless coalition which is far from articulating the politics that working class needs for unity. We are entering a period of struggle in which building an anti-capitalist bloc within the working class which can show solidarity with refugees, Kurdish people, LGBTQ+ community and women. 
The working class in Turkey is still deeply divided and this is what we need to overcome. Without a massive working-class movement that refuses to pay the price for this economic crisis and challenge divisive reactionary and nationalistic politics of the ruling coalition, we cannot bury the AKP, Erdogan or its oppressive, nationalist, homophobic, misogynistic, and militaristic alliance.  
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