I need some time to absorb today’s election results and think about them more thoroughly, but a few brief points in the immediate aftermath.
I certainly will not pretend to have foreseen this result. Had someone predicted to me yesterday that the AKP would replicate its 2011 parliamentary victory, I would have laughed at the idea and dismissed the person as naive or a Turkey neophyte. I know of no serious Turkey analyst, either Turkish or otherwise, who saw this coming, and the polling whiffed entirely, so both I and everyone else need to figure out where the gap is between the polling/analysis and actual results. I will, however, take credit for writing on the day after the previous election that it was not a loss for the AKP, that Erdoğan was still going to control the direction in which Turkey moved, and doubting the analysis of a liberal wave or new era in Turkish politics. At least I got something right!
Assuming that these results are accurate – and I’ll get to why that may be a question in a minute – Erdoğan and the AKP’s strategy has been vindicated beautifully. After the June 7 election, Erdoğan took the gamble that introducing some instability into the system, linking the HDP to the PKK and Kurdish terrorism, turning even more nationalist and polarizing, and arguing that not handing the AKP a parliamentary majority was a recipe for further chaos, would all result in a second election that would net the AKP a larger vote share. A lot of people, including me, thought that this strategy spun out of the AKP’s grasp and that the AKP would end up either in the same spot or even lose some ground given the violent clashes between the army and the PKK, terrorist attacks inside Turkey that were almost certainly carried out by ISIS, the introduction of Russia into the Syrian civil war in a direct way and on Assad’s side, and an economy that is not improving. As has been the case repeatedly over the last decade and a half, Erdoğan’s political instincts are better than everyone else’s, and while the preliminary results do not have him getting the supermajority he has so craved in order to install his beloved presidential system, the AKP is back to a majority of seats in parliament.
How does something like this happen? After everything that has gone on in Turkey over the past five months, how is it possible that the AKP increased its vote share in every single city? How is it possible that the AKP is only a few seats short of its 2011 victory despite a worse economy, a foreign policy that has blown up, terrorist attacks in Turkey’s streets, renewed fighting with the PKK, and far greater political polarization? Looking at the results that have been released, the AKP has picked up seats from the nationalist MHP and from the Kurdish HDP, and turnout overall is up. That says to me that the nationalist positioning worked exactly as it was supposed to, since nationalist voters figured that they may as well vote for the suddenly ultra-nationalist party that will be the largest party rather than the ultra-nationalist party that will come in third. In terms of the loss of vote share for the HDP, it’s probably a combination of the AKP’s constant allegations tying the HDP to the PKK and some HDP voters getting fed up with the system since the HDP’s historic success in June did not translate into any increased power for the party or an increased voice for Kurds, and some of the voters who cast their ballots for the HDP last time but are historic AKP voters returning to the AKP fold. People who pay attention to Turkish politics spend a lot of time reading the Turkish press online and conversing with each other on social media, but the vast majority of Turkish voters get their information from Turkish television, and last week’s seizure of Koza Ipek television stations reinforces that if you get your news from Turkish television, you are getting a relentless pro-government message. So in hindsight, it is easy to see how the AKP’s message that instability was the result of not giving the AKP a majority in June and that the only way to restore things was to correct course today, and drowning out every alternative argument to the contrary, could have produced the desired result.
Of course, there is also another possibility, which is that what seems to be impossible actually is. As of this writing, the AKP has received an additional 4.3 million votes over what it received in June. Also as of this writing, the Turkish Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) has not released any official results and the YSK website is down, and it has been ever since voting ended. I’m an Occam’s Razor kind of guy, and quite frankly, the prospect of the AKP doing so much better five months later despite things being so much worse seems like it should be statistically impossible. The central elections website is down, votes were counted hours faster than they were last time, the ban on broadcasting results was lifted before it was supposed to…I’m not in a position to make accusations of fraud, but there is definitely some unusual stuff going on. The bottom line, however, is that even if there turns out to be nothing irregular at all about the actual vote tally, the facts are that the AKP spent five months harassing opposition politicians, arresting opposition journalists, shutting down television stations and newspapers, accusing the HDP of supporting terrorism, and warning the entire country that the instability that has wracked the country would look like child’s play if the AKP were not handed a majority this time. Whatever you want to call the sum total of those tactics, they do not make for a free and fair election. Welcome to the era of competitive authoritarianism, Turkey.
More to come…