Turkish opposition fails to gain votes when gov’t is losing
Turkey, Diyarbakır-based Dicle Social Research Center (DİTAM), hosted Konda Research Company General Manager Bekir Ağırdır at its online meeting “The Effects of the Pandemic and the Economic Crisis on the Kurdish Issue – Is A New Peace Process Possible?” on June 10.
The debate on the declared title soon turned into a search for the answer to the question of why the Turkish opposition bloc fails to increase its votes at a time when the ruling alliance is losing votes?
Ağırdır explains the issue with a highway metaphor. Some vehicles are now hesitant to continue in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lane but instead of steering to another road, they pull over and wait. Is the economic problems only reason why voters lost their old bond with the AKP, or is it the corruption, nepotism allegations and administrative incompetence? Or why don’t they join the bloc of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and İYİ Party (Good Party), or other lanes?
According to Ağırdır, one of the reasons for this is the inability of the opposition to clearly explain to the electorate what they will do and what they won’t when they come to power. Opposition parties have come a long way in giving the government a hard time for its deficits. The outbursts of opposition leaders, especially CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and İYİ Party leader Meral Akşener, pushed President and AKP leader Tayyip Erdoğan into a defensive position. Ağırdır told journalist Murat Sabuncu on T24 on June 9 that Erdoğan and the AKP’s administration’s way handling of problems “hurts” society. One example was Erdoğan’s words against the CHP’s criticism that there are hungry people in the country: “If so, then let them [he CHP] feed those people,” Erdoğan said.
Fugitive mob leader Sedat Peker has been airing Youtube videos that contain serious allegations about the government figures and Erdoğan’s close circle. However, for example, Özer Sencar, the general manager of MetroPoll Research Company, told journalist Ruşen Çakır on Medyascope that there is not yet any concrete indication that the Peker videos have resulted in vote flow from the AKP to the opposition.
Erdogan still has a powerful weapon: The discourse that can be implemented as “If I leave the seat, they will take revenge on the religious people.” Kılıçdaroğlu recently started to express what they will do and what they will not, by saying that “There will be no revenge, only those who commit corruption will be prosecuted”. Will Kılıçdaroğlu and his allies be able to develop this rhetoric and persuade the voters “on the right side of the road” to switch from the ruling lane to the opposition, and will they be able to build trust to gain the floating voter? That’s an issue.
Pandemic sharpened class-based inequalities
This issue is closely related to the Kurdish issue, which was the main topic of the DİTAM meeting. Erdoğan stance on the Kurdish issue changed when jailed Selahattin Demirtaş, then-co-chair of the Kurdish-issue-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said in 2015 that “We will let you become the president.” Erdoğan then started to say that “There is no Kurdish issue in Turkey, there is the PKK terrorism issue”
Some speakers at the DİTAM meeting complained that the PKK interpreted the votes to the HDP as approval of its violence.
In fact, CHP Deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu explained with examples that Kurdish activists are frustrated with the current line of struggle that constantly condemns them to oppression and defeats, and that they want to have a share in the administration of Turkey instead of taking separatist line. Sezgin wants to say that the voters in the east and southeast are tired of doing politics or voting “on the verge of losing”. All opposition parties have a role to play here.
Ağırdır made an important statement: The Covid-19 pandemic and economic troubles increased the inequality gap, and shifted the contradictions to a class basis due to the problems of households such as health, livelihood, education, and housing. With figures, Ağırdır stated that 30 out of every 100 households live their daily lives in negative terms and that 2.8 million students had to skip their lunch meals because the schools were closed. These are very serious problems. This is why he says the identity problem has dissolved in concrete problems.” He says this not because he underestimates the identity problem, but to point out that the weight of other problems brings millions closer on a class basis, regardless of their identities as Turks or Kurds. We are now in an environment where it is not enough for the HDP to say that “We are developing policies for the whole country” as identity politics alone does not make sense.
The Covid-19 epidemic had accelerated the shift, which was embodied by the 2019 local election defeat of Erdoğan and his AKP. It is neither realistic nor correct to say that the components and actors of the Kurdish problem have not changed – evet that they have remained the same for forty years, and will remain the same until the PKK achieves its goals in a country and in a world that is changing rapidly.
If what we understand from the word “peace” as a legitimate parliamentary solution to the Kurdish issue, one of Turkey’s most important political problems, this has an impact on society.
But if we understand that the resumption of behind-closed-doors negotiations with the PKK, which has been tried many times, this does not have such an impact or a current basis, considering the developments in Iraq and Syria. Everyone should learn a lesson from the last “dialogue” to which Erdoğan started with the understanding of “As long as I stay in power”, and the PKK entered with a perspective of maximizing its own interests in Syria through cooperation with the U.S. against ISIL.
If we go back to the beginning, the opposition’s campaign on the weakening of the government only makes the government lose votes, but it cannot steal those votes. They need to explain concretely what they will do and what they will not when Erdoğan leaves power.