In the Wake of the Turkish Elections

The coming period will be a test for the AKP government. The workers and toilers in general, who voted for the AKP seeing in it a hope for salvation, need to draw important lessons from this coming period of government on the basis of their own experiences. The truth has to be explained and the advanced layers need to be organised. This task falls on the shoulders of revolutionary Marxists.

The Election Results

In the early elections of November 3 in Turkey only two parties, the AKP and the CHP, received enough votes to get past the 10% threshold, and thus get into parliament. All the other parties fell below the threshold and therefore got no MPs. The number of registered electors was 41 million of which around 9 million did not bother to vote. Hence the lowest turnout (78 percent) of the last two decades.

All those parties that were not able to go beyond the threshold, between them won about 45 percent of the total vote. Having called early elections, without first changing the electoral system, the government parties fell into the pit that they themselves had dug.

But this was not the only problem. More importantly, the Democratic People's Party, DEHAP, got no MPs with its 6.2 percent on a national scale, despite having gained a high vote in the Kurdish provinces of around 50 percent. If the threshold had been 5 percent the DEHAP would have got 46 seats.

The pseudo anti-imperialist rhetoric of those left parties that do not oppose the capitalist system in a consistently revolutionary manner was overshadowed by the Young Party - an upstart party set up by a media baron - that used nationalist anti-IMF language in its big mass rallies. At the end of the day the Young Party received 7.2 percent, while the ÖDP and TKP who claimed to stand for the interests of the toiling masses obtained only 0.4 percent in total.

As we noted in our appraisal (Elif Çağlı, Seçime Doğru) before the elections, a significant voice of opposition, although it limited itself to raising only general democratic demands, was emerging in the form of the DEHAP, which is essentially a Kurdish party. The election results have proved this analysis to be correct.

Some political commentators immediately after the elections were saying that this parliament was facing a crisis of representation due to the low turnout and the high threshold. But now they all accept the results as an accomplished fact. Having won 34.2 percent of the votes cast, the AKP now has a majority and can form the new government by itself. It has 363 seats out of 550, which means a 66 percent representation in the parliament. The CHP, with its 19.3 percent of the votes, has achieved a representation of 178 seats (34 percent). There are also nine independent MPs elected.

This result is no surprise to us. The opinion polls before the elections had hinted at more or less the same result. We already dealt with the reasons for this in our appraisal prior to the election. As we noted in that article, it was highly likely that the government parties (DSP, MHP, ANAP) would fall below the threshold and that was exactly what has happened. In the grips of a severe economic crisis, the masses have dealt a blow - within the limits of the current electoral system - against the government parties which they see as being mainly responsible for unemployment, the high cost of living and poverty. Not only did they push them below the threshold but they also nearly swept them completely out of the political scene. When the results were confirmed, the MHP leader Devlet Bahceli announced that he would call a party congress and resign from his position as party chairman. And long worn-out Ecevit had already decided to leave the party chairmanship even before the elections. The chairman of ANAP, Mesut Yilmaz made a statement announcing that he would give up his position as party chairman and withdraw from active political life altogether. This is the first time this kind of thing has happened in Turkish politics.

The masses did not only send a clear message that "we don't want you anymore" to all the parties that were part of the outgoing government by giving them an unusually low vote. The True Path Party, DYP, which had been in the government in the past, also received a low vote below the threshold, despite the populist propaganda it had carried out in the run-up to the elections, especially in the rural areas. Due to this election defeat the leader of this party, Tansu Ciller, has also announced that she would resign from the party chairmanship. The New Turkey Party, YTP, which was expected to gain some popularity, was also in a mess with its tiny 1.1 percent vote. And the end has also come for the Felicity Party, which is the party of political Islam in Turkey. It is the latest creation of that bourgeois right-wing current, the "National Tendency", which was originally organised under the patronage of US imperialism to stem the shift to the left during the 1960s.

What the results signify

Analysed carefully the election results have clearly brought to light some significant developments. For instance, the masses can no longer be fooled by simply inserting the label "new" in front of the names of the old bourgeois parties. These parties are now discredited in the eyes of the population. The massive defeat suffered by the YTP is proof of this. In fact the bourgeoisie had attempted to create an alternative with the "centre-left" which they thought would have a significant impact. They sought to give the impression that a new "social-democratic" formation had emerged from the old parties at a time when the desire of the Turkish bourgeoisie to join the EU had reached its peak. But simply white-washing the oldest state party, the CHP, or trying to reinforce it with Kemal Dervis, was not enough to instil new hopes among the masses. That explains why the total vote of the centre-left parties in this election was well below 35 percent, which had always been the traditional percentage the centre left could expect to get. The votes received by the CHP do not reflect a move on the part of the toiling masses towards this party, but on the contrary it reflects the traditional attitude of the Ataturkist, secularist sections of the population in the big cities. And it is a matter of doubt whether Kemal Dervis, who had gained a certain popularity as an influential figure recently responsible for the economy, increased the vote for the CHP or made it lose votes. One thing is clear: having been hit by two successive economic crises the toiling masses are furious with all the politicians who they blame for the catastrophe.

This anger that has accumulated among the masses is not limited to the consequences of the last economic crisis. It goes far deeper. This reaction against the bourgeois parties, that are regarded as belonging to the old system, is a reflection of the justified anger against the oppressive state system installed during the military regime of September 12, and, against the politicians who have not changed this system. What the elections demonstrate is that the overwhelming majority of the masses can no longer tolerate the continuation of the old period and the oppressive state system.

However, we should not make a mistake and exaggerate things. The reaction of the masses is still being channelled within the limits of the bourgeois system. This explains why some bourgeois commentators, that are opposed to the old party system, have expressed their satisfaction that the reaction of the Turkish electorate has been limited to the ballot box. They console themselves with the idea that "Turkey is not like Argentina; the social explosion has taken place not on the streets but in the ballot box." The propaganda of the bourgeois is now praising the toiling masses for having given a good lesson to certain bourgeois parties, but not to the bourgeois system itself. If you look at the comments in the bourgeois press you see that they are praising the public for having created a big earthquake in the ballot box and having started a completely new period. As is always the case in such situations, the bourgeois strategists are content that the accumulated pressure among the masses, due to the current political system and the economic crisis, has been channelled without jeopardising the bourgeois system itself. Of course they will do everything they can to try and keep the consciousness of the working masses at this level and will seek to channel the general reaction of the masses through the ballot box and the parliamentary system.

24 percent of the population abstained in the elections or cast a blank vote. This was a passive reaction which is explained by the fact that the situation in Turkey is not yet a revolutionary one and it has not yet reached the point where it can go beyond the limits of the present bourgeois parliamentary system. This kind of reaction has failed to create a political impact. Also significant is the vote of the DEHAP. This party has its electoral support mainly among the Kurdish people, but it only managed to get around two million votes nationally. This shows that the overwhelming majority of the Kurdish population voted for the mainstream parties. There is nothing surprising about this, because being Kurdish signifies only a national identity. It does not reflect a political preference. The oppressed, exploited Kurdish masses spread across Turkey still have illusions in the present bourgeois system, in the same way as the Turkish toiling masses. Moreover, if we remember that DEHAP means basically HADEP, as we stated in our previous article, we can easily understand why this party received a lot of votes in the Kurdish provinces where the Kurdish identity is strong.

This is not the first "Electoral Earthquake"

As the election results showed, the masses are prone to being mislead and tend to tail some of the new parliamentary options as they do not yet understand that there cannot be a real way out within the confines of the bourgeois system. This kind of electoral earthquake has happened before, demolishing the old rotten bourgeois parties and clearing the way for the new ones to rise. If the masses had a mean by which to direct their reaction against the bourgeois system then they would create a real earthquake. Instead their reaction is thwarted because within the present system all they can do is to bring a new bourgeois party to power. This is not the first time this has happened and will not be the last. For instance, this was the case in 1950 when the Democratic Party organised against the one-man, one-party dictatorship of the CHP and came to power alone with an overwhelming majority. Also in the first parliamentary elections following the September 12 military coup, the ANAP came to power as a result of a well-prepared scenario by big business circles. Turgut Özal who put up a mild opposition to the military dictatorship achieved a substantial majority with his new bourgeois party, ANAP. At that time the masses had illusions about this bourgeois party. Echoing the "neo-liberal" tendencies of the time, Turgut Özal's "restructuring" program in actual fact coincided with the expectations of high finance. However, the working class and the toiling masses in general had placed high hopes in this political movement, hoping that it would reform the economic and political system under which they were suffering.

Instead the Turgut Özal period paved the way for profound turmoil in the economy, which hit the working masses hard. After a period of time the masses saw through the ANAP and punished it in the ballot box by not giving it enough votes for it to govern alone. Towards the end of that ANAP government Turkey had been dragged into an unstable parliamentary road of coalition governments, without at the same time doing away with the burden of the anti-democratic constitution and practises installed by the military regime of September 12.

The road to the defeat

Let us remember briefly how the psychology of the masses changed in this period of coalition governments. Day by day, the mainstream centre-left and centre-right parties of the bourgeois system had been losing face in the eyes of the masses. Their anger against the discredited bourgeois politicians was growing and the working masses were realising that there was no significant difference between the different political parties that had come to power. Nevertheless, unable to find an alternative to these parties, the masses were losing hope and their expectations were directed towards a so-called "honest political leader". That was why Bülent Ecevit was able to win the general elections in 1999. It also explains why the fascist-like MHP, Nationalist Action Party, (which had been disgraced in the past) was able to enjoy a new revival (following on the death of Greywolf Turkes) under the leadership of Devlet Bahceli who was regarded as "honest and moderate". This party then became a coalition partner in the last Ecevit government. In the same way as Tansu Ciller, the leader of the True Path Party, the ANAP, the third partner in the coalition, has also lost face and has begun to decline due to allegations of corruption involving the party chairman, Mesut Yılmaz.

Although the coalition government under the leadership of Ecevit did a lot to pass some new laws to comply with the EU regulations, it lacked the dynamism and homogeneity needed to meet the expectations of the organisations of big business like TUSIAD. For instance, some urgent measures were supposed to be introduced in order to get a date for the start of official membership negotiations from the EU. But the coalition government was paralysed. It was almost as if the bad health of the prime-minister Ecevit were an embodiment of this paralysis. And this at a time when the big bourgeoisie desperately needed a rapid change. That explains why that government had to be removed and why the elections were called early. This was the result of the political crisis and had the aim of removing the government.

When you look at the picture after the elections it is clear that the decision to call early elections was political suicide for the coalition government. This was also expressed by Ecevit whose party collapsed from the 22 percent it had achieved in the 1999 elections to a mere 1.2 percent now. On the other hand, the MHP leader, Devlet Bahceli, who had pushed for the November 3 early elections, was thus specifically responsible for this "political suicide". He had in fact expected to get a majority that would allow them to govern alone. That was a serious miscalculation as they only managed to get 8.3 percent.

The political psychology of indifference, the prime example of which was the attitude of Bahceli, flowed from the illusion that extreme nationalism and hostility to Europe would achieve big gains. Having whipped up rabid Turkish nationalism during the Kurdish national liberation war, the MHP hoped that its extreme nationalist rhetoric on the questions of EU membership and Cyprus would carry them to power. Yet what happened was just the opposite. The election results show that the majority of the population does not give much credit to extreme nationalist propaganda on such questions as the EU, Cyprus or even on the Kurdish question. Contrary to the expectations of parties like the MHP, the masses seem to lean towards the liberal-reformist agenda on such questions. They want these problems to be resolved without causing unnecessary disturbance or pain to society. As a matter of fact, the main desire of the working masses is for a substantial reduction in the levels of unemployment, an increase in living standards and a general improvement in the economy. And above all they want an end to the never-ending state repression. The ordinary voters believe that some radical reforms have to be introduced both in domestic and foreign policy if Turkey is to achieve these aims. To them some structural changes that will clean up the bourgeois system seem quite reasonable, and this is also what big business wants. Accordingly, there are no points in the program or propaganda of the AKP that contradict this. On the contrary, the main factor that brought them to power is not the religious one, but their success in giving the impression that their party is a clean and honest party capable of bringing about the necessary reforms.

The rise of the AKP

Tayyip Erdogan claims that they want to clean up the centre right and place the AKP at the centre of bourgeois political life. He has taken a moderate stand on the Kurdish question in line with the liberal bourgeoisie. The same goes with the questions of the EU and Cyprus. The program of this party, both on these questions and in relation to the IMF shows that at the moment it is the rising star of the bourgeoisie. Therefore we must not allow the frenzy raised in the name of secularism to hide this fact. The AKP claims it is a conservative-democratic party and it refuses to be labelled as "Islamist" or even "moderate Islamist".

The fanatical Ataturkist sections of the ruling class, and above all their high-ranking allies within the military, seem not to want to believe these statements and constantly accuse the AKP of having a hidden agenda. The truth of the matter is that there is no danger of radical Islam in Turkey. But the spectre of political Islam, which is repeatedly put forward by certain circles, is clearly present. High-ranking military officers and Kemalist circles, who regard themselves as the real custodians of the bourgeois state in Turkey, are the ones who have spread this idea. Their main concern is not to lose their vested interests, privileges and political authority. These flow from that political regime which rests on the overwhelming role of the military, which put its stamp on the foundations of the Turkish Republic. They have always abused the principle of the "secular state" for this purpose. Putting to one side their idea of the separation of religious and state affairs, they have an Asiatic-despotic tradition that can be expressed in the idea that "I am the state, I do everything, and I regulate religion as well!" On the one hand they have stepped up the pressure on religious people especially over the recent years in relation to their clothing, banning students with turbans and scarves from entering universities. On the other hand they pushed the judiciary into taking action to close down the Welfare Party which appeared to them as an upstart that was trying to share the power. This action on the part of the National Security Council to regulate the political regime is known as the February 28 coup in Turkish political history.

When the forces behind the military coups in Turkey are analysed, the role of US imperialism becomes evident. However, the military coup of February 28 had the aim of liquidating the traditional role of political Islam, unlike the other military coups whose primary action was to suspend the parliamentary regime.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, US imperialism felt the need to restructure its Middle East policy. Now they no longer needed a political Islamic card in the form that it had acquired. In the past this had been organised as a kind of "green belt" against that "communist threat" that might attract the toiling masses. Moreover, in this new period they felt the need to soften and reform political Islam, because of the uncontrolled radical Islamic organisations that were emerging. Turkey has always been considered by the imperialists as being different from the Muslim Middle East countries. They see it is a "secular bourgeois republic". Thus Turkey has been selected by the USA as a model country that could serve as an example in the region.

And yet there was a time when US imperialism was financing and helping to promote political Islam in Turkey. But now times have changed and thus also their calculations. Now they need to limit this growing current and liquidate the old MSP-Welfare-Virtue-Felicity tendency. But the US do not want this to happen in a drastic manner the way the Kemalist circles would want. The US prefers to have a reformed and moderate government party with some Islamic background in Turkey. They see Turkey as a "strong" power in the region that has a role to play in the "regime changes" which the US is contemplating for the Muslim countries of the Middle East. The US has advised big business circles in Turkey to support a party which can achieve mass support by leaning on the religious faith of the people and thus creating a barrier against the prospect of any upsurge of the left. The AKP was formed out of an opposition within the Virtue Party, by a wing that was in contact with the US. For instance, Abdullah Gül, who is expected to be the candidate of the AKP for the premiership, is one of the bourgeois politicians who was working towards the undermining of the representative of the old political Islam, the Felicity Party, in collaboration with the US establishment.

In line with this, the AKP has been chosen to play the role of reformist priest, the same role which was played by the social-democratic parties in Western Europe. That is why the election results were not actually a surprise for the capitalists. For instance, the chairman of the TUSIAD, the organisation of big business, immediately congratulated the AKP and, commenting on the results, said that "steps in the right direction should be encouraged". Sakıp Sabancı, one of the most prominent figures of Turkish finance-capital, expressed his great pleasure saying that his long-desired two-party system has now been realised and the AKP has now got a majority to govern alone.

We know that the real religion of capital is money. Whatever they may be saying about the AKP, implying that it is still an Islamist party, although "moderate", and that it would unbalance the political set-up, the pleasure of the capitalists at the election results is clear. As soon as it became clear that a stable bourgeois government was possible the stock exchange began to rise. And immediately after the elections the AKP leaders declared in haste that they would put the "reform" package of finance capital into effect. The AKP thus sent the message to the capitalists that they wanted to hear. This party is now working to create an atmosphere of "social consensus" in the same manner as the social-democratic parties of the West. Although the victory of the AKP is presented by certain circles as the "rise of political Islam to power" due to the symbols they used in their election campaign, the truth of the matter is that the AKP will not be the government of political Islam but that of big business.

The illusions of the masses

Turkey is not a Middle Eastern country like Saudi Arabia. Even in the period when the US was organising and fostering political Islam in the Middle East the MSP, which came to power in Turkey, did not fool the bourgeois regime, on the contrary they fooled the oppressed masses and strengthened the regime. So-called Islamist parties exploited the religious feelings of the wider toiling masses, exploiting their traditional faith. They skilfully used religion in the interests of the Turkish capitalist system without at all threatening the system. So this is not the first time a party like the AKP has come to power in Turkey, a country which is regarded as a secular and modern power within the region.

Again, as in the past, the rise of the AKP once more reveals the same feature: the more this party is attacked by the Kemalist circles because of its religious colouring, the more it fulfils its function. In the eyes of the oppressed masses it appears as "a pious and just party" that can represent them. They can easily embrace such a party, which skilfully uses the religious factor, seeing it as "one of their own" and identifying the repression against this party with their own suffering. All the attacks against this party - the ongoing court case on the part of the Constitutional Court in a bid to ban the party, the postponement of the verdict to the period following the election as a card to be used against it, the banning of the party leader Erdogan from running for parliament - have not had the effect of reducing its vote. On the contrary have had the effect of increasing it. Seeing the AKP and its leader as part of the oppressed, suffering state repression just like themselves, the workers and toilers largely cast their votes for this party.

The AKP takes up the mission

Now official procedure is at work following the elections. The Ecevit government has handed in its resignation to the President. President Sezer will appoint one of the AKP MPs as prime minister (because the AKP chairman Erdogan cannot be an MP due to the ban). Although there is some speculation about the future of the AKP government and there is uncertainty about the situation as a whole, neither Erdogan nor the party leadership have the slightest intention of coming into conflict with the President and the military. Also, the fact that big business circles are piling praise on the future AKP government comforts the heart of the military chiefs.

In point of fact, unless some very important domestic and foreign policy issues - like the Kurdish question, the problem of Cyprus or a possible war in Iraq - are brought to the fore by the imperialist powers in their endeavours to achieve hegemony in the region, the military has no intention of waging a campaign against the AKP. As can be seen by the position of OYAK - one of the biggest finance capital conglomerates in Turkey, which is owned by the army - the heart beats of these top officers respond more to the ups and downs of the stock exchange than to sound of 'azan' [the call for prayer]. Moreover, ignoring the frenzy of the Kemalists, the capitalists have already embraced the AKP as a new alternative that represents to them the end of the old type of Islamic parties and opens up a new era within the bourgeois parliamentary regime. And the AKP party leadership is zealously trying not to abuse this trust. They have already made it clear that they want to continue and consolidate the positive relations so far established with the US and the EU.

The AKP leadership have declared that they will not change economy policy and that the fundamental priority would be given to the measures required for EU membership. They declared that their other priorities were improvements in relations with the IMF, measures that would encourage foreign capital, and some necessary reforms in education and health. Now the finance circles do not need to be worried about the fact that the 'IMF Prince' Kemal Dervis has failed to become the minister for the economy. New princes are now queuing up! The pro-EU bourgeois are also sleeping comfortably. Erdogan and the other AKP leaders have already proved themselves worthy of the hopes placed in them on these issues.

The Greek prime minister Kostas Simitis immediately phoned Erdogan, congratulated him and invited him to Athens. Gunter Verheugen, who is the member of European Commission responsible for the enlargement process, has rejected speculation that the AKP would drag Turkey down the road of fundamentalism. And he reminded everyone that even in the European Union there were parties based on religion. Comparing the AKP to the Christian-Democratic parties in European countries, Verheugen stated that they expected the new government would now release prisoners jailed for their opinions, including Leyla Zana (the ex-MP of the ex-Kurdish party DEP), stop torture and punish the torturers. The US Deputy foreign secretary Marc Grosmann stated that they hoped Turkey would get closer to the West through good relations with the EU, and that they had faith that the new government would introduce measures on the question of Cyprus on the basis of good relations with Greece.

Although some domestic and foreign commentators have noted the difficulties awaiting the AKP government, reminding everyone that politics is the business of the National Security Council, the dominant circles of capital want to silence such comments. In fact the comments of the more optimistic bourgeois commentators are just the opposite. They salute enthusiastically the coming AKP government, regarding it as the stable one-party government that Turkish capitalism has longed for. Although the AKP will proceed cautiously, it is expected that it will eventually put on the agenda some legal amendments that will put an end to the dominant role of the army in politics.

The attitude of the army chiefs against these developments can no longer be determined purely on the basis of domestic balances of forces within Turkey itself. It is impossible for the army to take a road outside that of the bourgeoisie itself at a time when it is about to take upon itself a new role in the region under US patronage. Invited by the US chief-of-general-staff Richard Myers, the Turkish chief-of-the-general-staff, Hilmi Özkök, went to the US immediately after the elections. The issues discussed are said to be the developments in the region in general and the Iraqi operation in particular. If we take into account the enthusiastic welcome of the US authorities for the AKP government, we can see that they are seeking to reduce tension between the AKP and the military because of its interests in Iraq and get both sides to cooperate.

Raise the banner of struggle

Although the blow inflicted by the toiling masses against the rotten bourgeois parties is welcome, we understand that, unless they are organised, the masses cannot reform this system. Nor can they resist the attacks of the capitalist system, whatever bourgeois party they bring to power. The task of communists, contrary to the propaganda of the bourgeois liberal priests, is to transform the anger of the working class into a conscious opposition to the system. Their task is to organise the struggle effectively, and prepare the way for the underlying opposition to the system to express itself clearly and prove itself on the streets. Now the broad masses are expecting jobs, democracy etc., from the AKP government. And they see the AKP as their own representative, similarly to the way illusions are placed in Western European social-democratic parties. The coming period will be a test for the AKP government. The workers and toilers in general, who voted for the AKP seeing in it a hope for salvation, need to draw important lessons from this coming period of government on the basis of their own experiences. For this to happen they need to make a leap in their understanding. The truth has to be explained and the advanced layers need to be organised. This task falls on our shoulders. In a bid to save its morale, the bourgeoisie is presenting the AKP government as opening up a new period where its own interests can be defended. A new period also opens up for us, in which we need to step up the struggle in the interests of our class, the working class.