Turkey heads for turbulent times

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The 7 June 2015 parliamentary election in Turkey will be critical for the country’s future. President Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) need at least 330 of the 550 seats in order to change the constitution from a parliamentary system into a presidential one. Erdogan scorns what he calls the ‘many-voiced’ parliament. The choice is between increased dictatorial powers, wielded by Erdogan and the state, and the democratic forces led by the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and the Kurds.    

The HDP combines Kurdish, socialist and democratic elements and is primarily Kurdish led. It must get a minimum of 10% of the overall vote to win a seat. This 10% barrier was introduced following the 1980 military coup to stop Kurdish representation in parliament. If HDP gets 10% or more of the vote it will be difficult for the AKP to get the MPs it needs to change the constitution. If HDP fails to win 10% then many of the seats it would have otherwise won will go to the AKP.

Since the Gezi Park protests in 2013 that spread across Turkey, the state has increased repression and censorship. More journalists have been gaoled; when it was revealed that the Turkish state had armed jihadists in Syria the government response was to ban reporting of the matter. The police and intelligence agencies have been given increased powers while those of the judiciary have been reduced as government loyalists are appointed to key judicial positions. By mid-May the HDP had been subject to 126 attacks during the election campaign, including the bombing of party offices. The home of HDP leader Selahattin Demirtus in Diyarbakir was raided by police on the pretext of looking for a drug smuggler and HDP rallies have been banned.    

Combined with the repression against HDP has been the state’s and the government’s rejection of the attempt by the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) to develop a peace process. The PKK declared a ceasefire to the 30-year armed struggle at Newroz (New Year) March 2013. On 28 February 2015 PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan presented a ten-point programme as the basis for negotiations with the government which, if agreements were achieved, would have resulted in a congress in April 2015 that would permanently end the armed struggle. The government has stopped all visits to Ocalan, placing him in isolation in the prison on Imrali island. Turkey’s armed forces have increased operations in Kurdish areas of Turkey and are preparing attacks on the PKK with reconnaissance flights and ambushes. In response the PKK Executive Committee has announced that the peace process is de-facto over.

The election takes place amidst a deteriorating economy. The Turkish lira has lost 40% of its value against the US dollar since May 2013 and is the world’s worst performing emerging currency in 2015. Corporate debt was $6.5bn in 2002 and is now $178bn. Erdogan called the central bank governor a traitor for maintaining what he considered to be high interest rates. With its currency falling and corporate debt growing Turkey faces the prospect of capital flight if foreign investors judge the country unstable. Youth unemployment is officially at 20%. Whether Erdogan gets the seats he needs or not, Turkey is heading for turbulent times.

Trevor Rayne