Turkey: how Erdogan held on to power

On Sunday 24 June, Turkish voters were called to the polls by President Recep Erdogan to confirm his rule. With 52.6 percent of the total votes, Erdogan was re-elected as president of Turkey in the first round.

But in the parliamentary elections, which took place at the same time, his conservative AKP missed winning an absolute majority, getting 42.6 percent of the vote. Together with its ally, the right-wing MHP, however, it managed to garner 53.7 percent of the vote and will take up a comfortable majority of the seats in the new parliament.

This was not very important for Erdogan, however, because the new constitution he forced through last year has rendered parliament more-or-less irrelevant, concentrating enormous powers in the hands of the presidency. President Erdogan will be able to sleep reasonably well for the first time in weeks in his luxurious 1000-room palace in Ankara – at least for the immediate future.

The empty boom

The first part of Erdogan's presidency was marked by massive economic growth. On the back of the world economic boom before 2008, Turkey’s economy took huge steps forward, in particular in the backward Central Anatolian areas, which were modernised and industrialised to tap into the cheap labour of millions of poor workers and peasants. The economic boom was the basis for the relative stability of the Erdogan regime.

Although general economic growth is still high, with forecasts of over 3 percent this year, the current boom is based on a huge speculative bubble in the Turkish economy. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, the regime has relied increasingly on speculative growth and an expansion of credit. Construction has been one of the key bubbles propping up the economy, also backed by historically low interest rates and high government spending, without any corresponding income. The consequences of this are skyrocketing public and private sector debts as well as a very weak currency. Thus the Turkish economy has shown serious signs of an impending crash – which is one reason why Erdogan called the elections 18 months earlier than planned!

Despite the present growth, however, unemployment stands at over 10 percent, and around 25 percent among 16-25 year olds. In addition, there is a constantly rising inflation (now about 12 percent annually) putting unbearable strains on living standards. That the discontent at this situation is increasing, was evident in the vote in the constitutional referendum last year, in which Erdogan lost a significant amount of support in his strongholds.

Propaganda and election gifts

To speak of Erdogan's ‘free’ and ‘fair’ electoral victory in this situation would be to completely ignore reality. Erdogan pulled out all the stops to ensure victory. Since the failed coup attempt of almost two years ago, Turkey has been in a state of emergency. Over 100,000 civil servants were dismissed, while tens-of-thousands were arrested.

Over the last few years, the press has come under the almost complete control of Erdogan and his cronies; with almost all opposition newspapers, television stations and news agencies being shut down, expropriated or forced to sell to Erdogan-friendly capitalists. The entire election campaign was therefore marked by an absolute dominance of the public sphere by Erdogan and the AKP. Erdogan's election campaign speeches were broadcast live on public television every day and the whole state apparatus was set in motion to guarantee his victory.

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At the same time, the entire state apparatus is being rebuilt ‘in the spirit of Erdogan’ and aligned to his personal rule. As in the elections of 2015 and the constitutional referendum last year, this time, nationalist war hysteria was fomented in the form of a military operation against the positions of the Kurdish PKK in Iraq and the invasion of Syria’s Afrin governorate, which was concluded a few weeks ago.

Also for the mobilization of the foreign Turks, as usual, theatrical clashes were provoked with Angela Merkel and other governments in the west. The Austrian government deserves an honorary medal for election campaign assistance for its ceaseless, racist demagoguery about “poorly integrated Turks”. These leaders were only too happy to play along, in silent agreement with Erdogan, in a ping-pong game of allegations – to distract the working class from the real issues in both countries!

Of course, we can also be sure that apart from this this type of electoral manipulation, millions of votes were also moved around via direct vote rigging through the state apparatus. Although the exact extent will be more and more difficult to determine, it is clear that vigorous action has been taken. Significantly, the results of the elections were not announced by the official electoral authority, but the state news agency!

The opposition was no alternative

However, one should not forget that Erdogan continues to feed on the support of bygone days. To counteract its falling support, the AKP announced a series of substantive pre-election bribes. For example, the minimum wage was raised and two, one-time payments of 1000 lira per person (just under €200) were announced for pensioners. In total, about $6bn more will be spent. At the same time, the government scaremongered about a horror show of instability, unrest and consequent economic collapse should Erdogan not be re-elected.

Although many Erdogan supporters have increasingly lost faith in him, they were also unable to see any alternative. None of the opposition parties had an answer to this Gordian knot tied by the Sultan, which in reality could be cut only by revolutionary and socialist measures. Instead, before the election, they fueled the illusion that a normal, bourgeois ‘democratic’ resignation by Erdogan was a real option, if only there was sufficient mobilisation and the election was well monitored.

No such thing happened, and the Sultan did not retire early. He could – and will – continue to use the concentrated power of the state apparatus to secure his power. From his point of view there is no alternative. For him, and the wing of the Turkish bourgeois that is backing him, it is all or nothing. On the other hand, even the capitalists, who might prefer to see a more ‘sober’ and controllable person at the head of the state, do not want to mobilise the masses, whom they fear more than Erdogan.

Muharrem İnce Image Yıldız YazıcıoğluCHP presidential candidate, Muharrem Ince, despite the obvious fraud, recognized Erdogan's electoral victory the day after the election / Image: Yıldız Yazıcıoğlu

This was very clear in the reactions to the election result. CHP presidential candidate, Muharrem Ince, despite the obvious fraud, recognized Erdogan's electoral victory the day after the election. Prior to this, for the first time in a generation, the CHP leaders dared to mobilise millions of people in the pre-election period. They had even spread rumours that if the elections were lost, they would mobilise against the fraudulent outcome. It was this boldness that roused many of the previously demoralised CHP ranks. But when it came to the time for action, these liberal leaders would rather give up than risk setting in motion a potentially revolutionary movement, which they could not guarantee they would be able to control.

For mass mobilizations against Erdogan!

The party that had to shoulder the bulk of Erdogan's attacks was the left-wing pro-Kurdish HDP. Its presidential candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, has been in jail for a year-and-a-half, while Erdogan's henchmen and fascists have unleashed countless attacks on party activists. Meanwhile, polling stations were moved from larger settlements to known right-wing villages. There was also a strong military presence, which made fraud easier to carry out.

Under these circumstances, the result of 11.7 percent for the HDP is remarkable and shows that it still has the potential to become a focal point of the fightback against Erdogan. Unfortunately, however, the HDP fell into the trap of countering the ‘ideal of democracy’ to the cruel social reality, when they also conceded defeat and refused to combine the legal struggle with mass mobilisation and revolutionary action – for which there is a basis, at least in the Kurdish areas.

Peoples Democratic Party electoral rally 2015 HDP Image Salih TuranThe HDP conceded defeat and refused to combine the legal struggle with mass mobilisation and revolutionary action / Image: Salih Turan

Thus, the growing displeasure of the masses in general is being directed down a path that poses no real threat to Erdogan. In this situation, the hopelessness and indecision of the opposition is an important in guaranteeing that Erdogan can continue to play the strongman, at least for the immediate future. His increasingly dictatorial measures are evidence of a regime that is preparing for the social upheavals that will inevitably arise in future. Rather than via bourgeois-democratic channels, Erdogan should be overthrown by a revolutionary movement of the broad masses, the working class and the youth. In so doing, the fight against dictatorship and the struggle for democratic rights must be linked to the struggle against Turkish capitalism as a whole.

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