Turkey’s Election Campaign: Clashing Manifestos

Co-authored with Yusuf Buluç (*)

May 31, 2018

With the publication of political parties’ election declarations Turkey’s election campaign has gathered steam.

In Turkey, political parties’ election declarations/manifestos are much longer than those of Western parties. For example, UK’s Conservative and Unionist Party Manifesto 2017 and Labor Party Manifesto 2017 were 84 and 123 pages respectively. US Democratic and Republican party platforms were even shorter, only 51 and 58 pages.

JDP’s Election Declaration is 360 pages long and those of the Republican People’s Party (RPP) and the Good Party (GP) are 226 and 134 pages respectively. They are so voluminous as to discourage even keen followers from perusing these texts in their entirety. At best, they may serve as speaking notes for campaigning party candidates.

The JDP has been in power for sixteen consecutive years and its Declaration, unsurprisingly, is a combination of success stories and promises. It commends itself for a closer study not for what it pronounces but rather what it omits. Those which have been pronounced as “successes” sadly fly in the face of bitter current realities in both the political and economic fields. Conversely, what has been omitted are exactly those failures that have prompted the JDP leadership to call for snap elections with undue haste.

More importantly, referring to Turkey’s new presidential system it’s Declaration says:

“Without a strong parliament it is impossible to speak of a strong government, an independent and impartial judiciary and an advanced country… Through the constitutional amendments the way for the parliament to operate in a stronger environment has been paved. Under the new system, the parliament and the government will become stronger and dualism in statecraft will disappear… under the leadership of the president equipped with executive power, decisions will be taken in timely fashion, the state will function with speed and the parliament and government will work in greater harmony… With a strong governmental system, we shall also play a more potent role in regional and global politics. Thus, we shall make a greater contribution to regional and global peace and security…Experience shows that without a strong government and an effective parliament the judiciary can fall under the influence of different groups and negatively impact the functioning of the democratic system…”

Firstly, had the JDP remained on the democratic path during the last decade, none of the foregoing would have figured in the Election Declaration. With a strong democratic record being sustained, constitutional issues that today have become so acute would have been a thing of the past.

Secondly, while the Election Declaration speaks of a strong parliament, a strong government and an independent judiciary under the “new system”, democracy’s progressive journey as a regime shows that this is possible only under the principle and the vigorous execution of separation of powers; whereas, “the ending of dualism” and “greater harmony between the parliament and the government” referred to in the Declaration signal the opposite.

And thirdly, it should be underlined that the JDP has commanded absolute majority in the Turkish parliament since 2002, the exception being the four-month period between June 2015 and November 2015 elections. In June they lost the majority, called snap elections and won a majority in November. Today it has 316 seats in our 550-member parliament. Has the parliament ever challenged the government during those sixteen years? Just once: On March 1st, 2003 it rejected a government motion for full cooperation with the US in the invasion of Iraq.

This was a remarkable episode of our parliamentary democracy which earned us international as well as Arab peoples’ respect. And, five years later Americans elected a President who had been a vocal critic of the invasion. This was a golden opportunity to put behind the lasting disappointment in Washington but, unfortunately, the JDP squandered it.

Opposition parties’ election declarations, equally unsurprisingly, promise the restoration of the principle of separation of powers under a new and democratic constitution. In other words, they pledge to reverse the result of the constitutional referendum of April 16, 2017 when Turkish electorate approved, albeit with a narrow margin, a presidential system “alla Turca”. As the record of the past sixteen years shows this requires, as a minimum, a strong performance on the part of the opposition bloc on June 24 to create a common platform large enough to secure such transformation.

Foreign and security policy “successes” listed in JDP’s Election Declaration do not merit in depth scrutiny. The current picture speaks for itself. Suffice it to say, the decline of our democracy and our foray into the Syrian conflict with ideological and sectarian undertones, have proved to be a disastrous combination resulting, unavoidably, in a Turkey that is much less secure and undemocratic.

Regardless of who wins the upcoming elections, what Ankara needs to do is amply clear: Turkey needs to extract itself from the Syrian conflict; restore confidence with her allies and regional partners; seek to propagate stability to its broad neighborhood; stop treating foreign policy as a tool of internal politics; prioritize national interest over ideology, diplomacy and cool-headedness over unnecessary defiance of the world, not forgetting that diplomacy and foreign policy have their own vocabulary best employed by professionals.

RPP’s and GP’s Election Declarations contain promises along these lines. A commitment to revitalize the EU accession process is shared by both.

Understandably, the main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (RPP)Election Declaration challenges JDP’s foreign policy record on a wide range of issues. It pledges to end adventurism, hubris, opportunism, sectarianism and bravado in foreign policy.

It specifically commits to establish Middle East Peace and Cooperation Organization (MPCO/OBIT) with the participation of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. A Middle East version of the Organization for Security and Cooperation (O.S.C.E.) is not a new idea. In fact, it is a concept spearheaded in the 80s and early 90s by Turkey. Despite our energetic pursuit, the project could not gather the political momentum for it to overcome the multiple obstacles it faced from several corners. Not surprisingly, the verdict then was that the Middle East did not have the political attributes to emulate what has been achieved in Eurasia. That verdict, if anything, has been reinforced and confirmed because of what has transpired in the intervening period and what is currently unfolding in this complex geography today. Fulfilling this promise will be a huge task.

On Syria, the GP is more specific. It promises to,

  • ensure, through independent efforts to bring peace to Syria, the return of the Syrian refugees to their country;
  • support Syria’s territorial integrity and respect Syrian people’s choice of government;
  • establish refugee camps in Afrin with Syria’s agreement and the support of the international community;
  • cooperate with Syria regarding the repatriation of Syrian refugees;
  • grant the parents of Syrian children born in Turkey not citizenship but temporary residence;
  • reject new asylum and refugee applications.

Moreover, the GP pledges to stop Turkey’s “Middle Easternization”.

The foregoing shows that Turkey’s foreign and security policy will remain high on the national agenda beyond June 24 not only on its own merits but for being closely linked to the country’s economic woes as well.


(*) Yusuf Buluc is a retired Turkish Ambassador to the O.S.C.E. and a former Head of NATO’s Department of Defense Plans and Policy.


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