Turkish Elections: A Stunning Defeat for the Opposition

November 5, 2015

When the voting started last Sunday in Turkey’s parliamentary elections, the electorate had two choices: the prospect of a coalition government plagued with internal disputes or a Justice and Development Party (JDP) government which hopefully had learnt its lesson. None of these had much appeal but there was no third option

Thus, 50% of the voters cast their votes for the second option giving the JDP an enviable parliamentary majority under Turkey’s election law: 317 seats out of 550. As the picture became clear, I thought about newsrooms and editors discussing headlines. For me, no matter how one was to word them, headline options also boiled down to saying either “a stunning victory for the JDP” or “a stunning defeat for the opposition”. For this spot I chose the latter.

Political analysts and party officials will endlessly discuss the reasons which led the electorate to give the JDP the majority it had denied only five months ago. The losers would say that the competition was not fair; that the government silenced the media, put pressure on dissent; used government assets for party purposes. While recognizing that these may be valid arguments, one can nevertheless argue that the elections took place at an extraordinary time when:
• Turkish currency had lost 25% of its value since the beginning of the year,
• Our porous borders had dramatically upset our internal and external security,
• The country had witnessed the worst terrorist attack of its history in which Daesh claimed more than a hundred lives,
• Turkish armed forces and security services had somehow found themselves in renewed combat against the PKK,
• Waste of public funds had reached record levels, and
• Two million Syrian refugees had arrived in Turkey as a result of government’s misguided foreign policy.

Sadly for Turkey, the foregoing gave the opposition a unique opportunity to challenge the government and convince the electorate that they represented a better alternative. And they failed, miserably.

First order of business for the new JDP government should be preventing further polarization. Such an effort has to go hand in hand with political reform, energizing of the economy and “some” revision of our failed foreign policy though this seems most unlikely. Political reform is not just about writing a new constitution; it is more about a change of mentality. The JDP will have to choose between continuing to push its polarizing agenda in defiance of democratic standards and reaching out to the other 50% to tackle Turkey’s problems.

I continue emphasizing the need to revise our foreign policy. I admit, however, that for the electorate this was a non-issue. How else could the JDP be the first in the majority of provinces on our 900 km. troubled border with Syria?

One would not have to wait for long to see where Turkey is heading…

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