As President Erdogan was re-elected on Sunday to lead Turkey, we spoke to Ahmet Tarik Celenk, a prominent political analyst, who explained what Erdogan's victory implies in local and geopolitical contexts.
The Republic of Turkey went through a major historic democratic process as it successfully conducted both presidential and parliamentary elections in a single day on June 24. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been re-elected with a decisive 52.6 percent vote share.
On the parliamentary front, Erdogan’s party, the AK Party, apparently lost some support, but Erdogan’s political partner and election ally, Devlet Bahceli, who is the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), garnered a significant vote share of 11.1 percent from its traditional nationalist base. The party will support the AK Party in the parliament.
Bahceli will have a strong influence in the parliament with 49 parliamentarians on the governing parties' side.
We spoke with a prominent Turkish political analyst, Ahmet Tarik Celenk, who knows key politicians in both the AK Party and the MHP.
Why did Erdogan and his alliance with the MHP win both presidential and parliamentary elections?
A. Tarik Celenk: The distance between the AK Party and Erdogan is increasing in every way. It’s an interesting situation which calls for interpretation. The AK Party and Erdogan have created a new identity with a new lifestyle, a consumption process, economy and social life in the last 16 years. This identity continued as a perception relation and as an economic relation as well as a trust relation. There formed a connection between the AK Party, Erdogan and the masses, which was never before been seen in the history of the Turkish republic.
This connection is not a connection to be severed by any economic conversion or an alternative leader coming from opposition ranks. This connection is likely to continue in Turkish politics for a long time. One of the most important links of this connection is the trust factor, which in a sense has been shaped by the government's longstanding will to fight against terror.
Turkey’s investments and geopolitical assertions have helped Erdogan have a psychological advantage in Turkey and overseas. These processes define the relationship between him and the masses who want to see him as the leader in Turkey. This definition got even stronger [after the elections]. It’s not possible to think that this definition will easily be damaged or severed.
Why do you think about the voter confidence when you compare what the AK Party has gained with what Erdogan himself has achieved in the election results?
ATC: The people whom we call nationalist or Kemalist in Turkey, who were against Erdogan in 2002 or in 2006 – even they now see an assertive leader in Erdogan. These people are now able to separate Erdogan and the AK Party [mentally]. In this separation even if these people voted for Erdogan [for president] they may have voted for the MHP as a party [for parliamentary elections]. You have to see that.
The MHP currently has 11 percent of the electorate. The AK Party has about 42 percent. Actually, that shows a significant support to the alliance by the MHP. The Turkish society finds Erdogan’s leadership important, especially when it comes to international relations and in guiding the economy and in taking risky decisions.
How do you rate the importance of the MHP leader Devlet Bahceli’s support to Erdogan and the AK Party?
ATC: First of all, I think the election results created a landscape that Bahceli wanted. We see that whatever Bahceli has wanted politically he has pretty much achieved them. Erdogan was elected, but he is dependent on MHP support and will have to have them on board.
How was Bahceli able to protect his votes? The nationalist electorate seems to have acted more for the longevity and security of the state than economic reasons, which is what Erdogan also emphasised. Bahceli’s approach is: 'I don't care about certain people criticising me; What I care about is the state, the continuation of the state.'
Bahceli’s stance attracted the nationalist electorate, more than Aksener’s. Aksener was smeared as a FETO supporter – and while that was not true – this affected the election results. Moreover, standing with the AK Party would benefit the MHP’s ranks and create job opportunities – the hope generated by being a partner in the government.
Apparently, the Iyi (Good) Party was not able to pull a lot of votes from the MHP base, though the founders of the party originated in the MHP. How do you define the Good Party voting base?
ATC: We can say that it consists of MHP and CHP voters. There is a nationalist voting base that doesn’t identify with Erdogan’s nationalism. Aksener’s speeches targeted this voter.
Secondly, Aksener chose to stand forward on her own without bringing along the nationalist politicians she set up the party with and this distanced her from the nationalist voters. No doubt Muharrem Ince’s unexpected popularity also played a role in Aksener’s weakening.
Aksener’s oppositional stance lacked a clear picture of the future, and she lacked the cadres to set up the future she envisioned, which resulted in voters mistrusting her. The sum of Iyi Party and MHP votes reach 21 percent, which is higher than the nationalist voter base in Turkey. That means that Aksener received at least 3 percent of her votes from the CHP.
The nationalist voters may also have been intimidated by a possible future flirtation between Aksener and Kurdish voters or the HDP and scared them away to stand alongside Bahceli.
You mentioned the People’s Democratic Party (HDP). According to results, the HDP seems to have protected its voting base, even increasing its share compared to the previous elections. The party is the third biggest bloc at the parliament, also occupying third place in terms of the popular vote. How do you interpret their performance?
ATC: Kurdish voters, contrary to expectations, did not withdraw their support from the AK Party. There is nothing missing about this issue. The operations [in Syria] did not negatively affect Kurdish voters’ views of the AK Party. I think that the critical support for HDP to pass the [10 percent minimum] threshold came from CHP voters. I think at least 3 percent came from CHP. I don’t think that HDP’s 12 percent consists of purely Kurdish voters.
What do you think about the HDP’s presence at the Turkish parliament? How will it affect Turkey tackling the Kurdish question?
ATC: I think in order to solve the “Kurdish issue” in Turkey it’s an advantage having the HDP in the parliament rather than outside. Solving the Kurdish issue not via means of terror but democratically via the parliament would strengthen Turkey’s national and international arguments both.
Whether the AK Party-MHP alliance will be able to come up with a new solution process (peace process) is difficult to know at this point. We can say that HDP’s existence as a result is an advantage to those governing Turkey.
You talked about the distance between Erdogan and the AK Party. The election results also demonstrate that there is a distance between Muharrem Ince, the CHP candidate, and the CHP in terms of what Ince received and what the CHP received. What do you think about that particular distance?
ATC: We can say that Ince encouraged CHP voters to get out of their summer houses and into the voting booths. This is an important factor. Even though some of the CHP votes went to the HDP, Ince was able to get these numbers. CHP voters were motivated along with Ince; they believed. CHP voters saw the potential in Ince to be a popular leader for the country. With his outspokenness, this and that.
This election has brought out Ince as an alternative leader out of the CHP. But how much further Ince would go from his 30 percent voter base and how much he can improve himself to do that, it’s difficult to say something precise about that.
To sum it up, I think Ince will be a propelling force in the CHP.
Do you think the Good Party will have a long-term presence in Turkish politics?
ATC: I don’t think so.
What do you think about the high voter turnout which almost reached in the levels of 87% in the June 24 elections?
ATC: After the coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and the whole FETO (Fetullah Terrorist Organization) ordeal [plotting the coup] people want to establish a new relationship with their state. They want to show they exist. Along with their concerns, of course. When there is a 50-60 percent voting rate, the general view of the people is nothing will change even if they were to vote.
The opposition also encouraged voters that they could take part in the decision-making process. You have to keep Ince in mind at this point.
But those supporting the AK Party also went to the polls to prevent existing gains from being lost, I think. The masses supporting AK Party in Turkey thought it was important to go to the polls because the gains were important to them and they were a matter of faith and sustenance for Turkey.
As a result, both sides showed up at the polls. As the president said in his latest balcony speech, this rate of voting should be seen as a gain in Turkish democracy.
What do you think about Turkey’s post-election process? Do you think the emergency rule will be abolished?
ATC: I think Erdogan will make an announcement about that soon. I believe it will be over soon.
How will the election results affect Erdogan’s decision making on the country’s foreign policy front? Will he be tougher or softer after the elections?
ATC: Nobody will want to take on Erdogan overseas. They will want to shake his hand again and want him by their side. I believe Erdogan will also act realistically. I think Turkey will keep the balance it struck with the United States, Russia and Iran. The operations he has carried out for the sake of safety – for example the latest Afrin and Qandil operations – are partially successful.
At this point, Turkey may reanimate relations with the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government. Another important issue that remains to be solved is the extent to which Turkey will be a part of EU processes.
There will be new opportunities [post-election] for Turkey to reconcile within and outside the nation. Foreign powers will extend their hands to Turkey again. Turkey will extend its hands to them in return. At this point, Bahceli’s decisions will play a critical role in establishing Turkey’s political direction.
I don’t think Turkey will give up on its current policies that prioritise security. Of course, I don’t know how much the country can persist with this economically.
Are you surprised by the election results?
ATC: Yes, I am a little bit surprised.
I thought Erdogan would win the presidency, but I thought the AK Party’s parliamentary position would be more difficult. It didn’t turn out that way. I can also add that the number of votes the MHP received was a surprise for me [because I expected a lower percentage].
Usually, the governments in countries experiencing serious economic problems, no matter how successful they are, are exposed to a certain amount of wear and tear. As a result, coalition governments come to be. That’s what we observe in Europe.
But the AK Party government successfully came through the elections. They may have suffered losses that might be criticised. However, in the end, this is a success. Erdogan came through the elections as a stronger [leader]. So I don’t think there should be a discussion of a loss.
All facts considered, I think the MHP’s unexpected performance will form a new political equation in Turkey.