Erdogan’s winning hand

No one in their right minds could have predicted the election outcome in Turkey on 1 November. The pollsters got it wrong again.

There may or may not have been a kind of fraudulent victory, but Erdogan’s gamble worked. His party is back with an overall majority, and his own future as the president with greater executive power whose legacy is virtually secured. Erdogan wants to outshine Atatürk. He may just do that now.

What happened? Many in the west predicted more of the same – that is, no overall majority and the almost certain outcome of a hung parliament followed by a collation government. Instead, the AKP got almost the same share of the vote it had in 2011. The HDP lost 30 seats but still made it into parliament with just over 10 per cent of the national vote. The MHP, the ultra-nationalist suffered the most. They are Turkey’s fourth party, after the AKP, CHP and the HDP.

Erdogan had since the June election to plan this. With all that has gone on in relation to terrorist attacks, and the focus on the Syrian crisis and the conflict with the Kurds, Erdogan’s view was to put fear into the hearts of Turks and to draw on their ultra-nationalist fervour. By doing this, reluctant Kurds who voted HDP but were AKP voters before June came back to the AKP. The constant attention given the ideas of there being ideological and political links between the PKK and the HDP swayed them. The ultra-nationalism this generated created the means to attract wavering MHP voters who felt increasingly dissatisfied with their party, and especially with a lacklustre campaign.

Given that Turks get their political insights from the television and news media, but through various controls exercised by the AKP, including closing down television stations just days before the election, continuing to jail journalists and by putting the frighteners up others thinking about writing critically, it is no surprise what people ultimately felt. Nationalism in Turkey is always aroused by ideas of the ‘enemy within’ and the ‘enemy without’. Erdogan played his cards expertly.

AKP Turks are ebullient. Neutral Turks want growth, stability and security in their nation. What direction Turkey takes from here onwards will emerge through a sharper political vision, this is for sure. But what it will mean for Turkey and its people is still unclear.