Municipal elections in Turkey have, according to political observers, reaffirmed Tayyip Erdoğan’s supremacy in the country’s political arena. One could even go as far as suggest that corruption allegations and other scandals against the Prime Minister had little or almost no bearing on the electorate. Erdoğan’s election victory has paved the way for him to claim the presidency, with very good prospects to achieve this objective. His election victory is widely expected to play a role both on the domestic front as well as on foreign policy. CNA has, for the first time, invited academics from both sides of the divide in Cyprus to comment on Erdoğan’s victory and assess its fallout on Cyprus and Turkey. Here is what they had to say:
Kızılyürek: Erdoğan has divided the country and taken half of it
If he wants, Erdoğan can surely be the next president of the new Turkey – as he himself calls it – in August, he is the absolute winner of the municipal elections, Niyazi Kizilyürek says, professor at the Department of Turkish and Middle Eastern Studies of the University of Cyprus, adding that it seems he will leave AKP to his close aides. He also believes that the CHP (Republican People’s Party in Turkey) has already entered a deep internal confrontation.
Niyazi points out that for the first time Erdoğan will govern without Fethullah Gülen, putting an end to an invisible coalition and will also launch a campaign against Gülen, as has already declared in his election victory speech. “Erdoğan is the powerful man and from now on he will try to make some openings abroad relating to his own image,” Niyazi tells CNA, and explains that this could involve some kind of cooperation with Israel.
Turkey’s EU course will open up now, he says, noting that Erdoğan laid emphasis on the Kurdish issue, saying that the solution process has won. PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan did express his support to Erdogan in his conflict with Fethullah Gülen, thus allowing the PM to move faster on the Kurdish issue.
Asked to explain how Erdoğan has managed to succeed after months of criticism and corruption allegations, Niyazi stressed that during his rule the per capita income in Turkey doubled, reaching 11,000 dollars, the economy in 2013 recorded a 4% rate of growth and people had more money in their pocket. In addition, Erdoğan gave credibility and identity to the huge conservative Moslem majority, which had been marginalized by the Kemalists, but now they assumed political clout.
“These people would not have abandoned their leader because of criticism and corruption claims. This is where CHP got it wrong, as it based its election campaign solely on these allegations,” he explained.
Patriarchic and autocratic tendencies which Erdoğan displayed do not concern the average conservative Moslem, Niyazi believes. Tayip Erdoğan divided Turkey in two and took with him one half, he said, noting that attacks against the Prime Minister will fade away and gradually twitter and youtube will be reinstated.
The elections in Turkey relate to Cyprus as well and this reality is reflected in the fact that the island’s two community leaders met the day after the municipal elections and not before, Niyazi Kızılyürek told CNA. The Turkish Cypriot leader, Dervish Eroglu, would act one way with Erdoğan as the winner and a different way with Erdoğan as the loser. “Now, nothing prevents Erdoğan from moving towards a political settlement in Cyprus, if he wants to go down that path,” he explains.
Erdoğan’s policy on privatization which it imposes on the northern Turkish occupied part of Cyprus and the multicultural campaign to alter the identity of the Turkish Cypriots will continue, he believes, noting that tension between the Turkish Cypriot community and AKP government will always exist, without however any substantive outcome as the Turkish Cypriot do not have the means to influence drastically AKP policy on Cyprus.
Moudouros: Kurds assume strategic importance in the election of Turkey’s new President
The result of the municipal elections is due to the fact that the election campaign was determined mainly by the crisis of the internal Islamic confrontation which culminated in December in the corruption scandal, Nikos Moudouros, expert on Turkish affairs, told CNA, adding that the fallout of all this is already reflected in the Gülen movement where cracks are evident. The unprecedented polarization is also seen in numbers, AKP garnered 19 million votes and the opposition parties (barring the pro-Kurdish BDP) 18 million. The government has won the elections but it faces hostility from the rest of society, the 50% of the population, he points out.
“This polarization will continue and war between Gülen and Erdoğan is not over. I believe it will culminate in August because the Gülen movement has not ceased to believe that the political reality in Turkey must continue without Erdoğan, who is trying to eliminate from the state what has remained from this community,” Moudouros says.
Another fundamental conclusion of these elections one can draw is the lack of an opposition, which much as it tries to stand against Erdoğan on principles, it helps Islamists, beyond Gülen to rally around AKP. As long as the opposition does not develop an alternative programme to solve the people’s problems, this set up will continue to exist, he adds.
Erdoğan survived the scandals because he has two characteristics of leadership, as on one hand people identify with him personally and not his party and on the other hand, through economic prosperity he has reached to Anatolia and to the more conservative and low income classes, in addition to state charity as opposed to state welfare.
Moudouros believes that this time the Kurds assume strategic significance ahead of the presidential elections, since they have maintained their share of the vote with a slight increase in Kurdish areas, where only AKP and the Kurdish movement are present. If Erdogan decides to run for the presidency, first he will seek alliances on the basis of a solution of the Kurdish issue, in exchange of perhaps more autonomy in south eastern Turkey.
The Kurds, for the first time, play a very big role in the election of a president because since the Gezi park incidents they have tried to stay out of the confrontation because they know this is the first government which has proceeded seriously with a dialogue with Ocalan. If Erdoğan goes for the presidency, he explains, he will have to come to an agreement with Gül, who wants to seek reelection, but also to settle the AKP leadership issue. Another scenario Erdoğan has in mind is to serve another term in office as PM, which would allow him to fight the battle against the Fethullah Gülen movement within the state machinery.
In terms of numbers, Erdoğan may not be elected president from the first round but through alliances he could succeed in the second round, Moudouros tells CNA, adding that the front of the deep state, having Ilker Başbuğ as its leader, may be revived.
He did not rule out the possibility of seeing former AKP MPs who have seceded from the party forming a new political front.
As far as the Cyprus problem is concerned, Moudouros said that the election result does not affect the current phase of the negotiations and Turkey’s objective for a comprehensive process leading to a result. He indicated that AKP government seems to be more focused and committed to the joint declaration the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot communities agreed on in mid February than Eroğlu, who is trying to slip away from it.
“I believe the AKP government will be more flexible with regard to the restructuring of the occupied areas and with a strict implementation of the financial protocol, which means strengthening Turkish capital in more sectors and marginalizing the Turkish Cypriots more from decision making centres in the occupied north,” he explained.
He also noted that there is no front opposite Eroğlu pressing him for a solution while there is the possibility to see the right being reunited to provide Eroğlu with support when it comes to pressure on the Cyprus issue. He does not expect Turkey to be a mere bystander in the next four months until the presidential elections, adding that if problems in the country’s political system are resolved once and for all through the presidential elections, then “Turkey immediately afterwards will take very quick steps on 3-4 foreign policy issues, including the Cyprus problem which is linked to a final agreement with Israel, that will include many topics, perhaps energy matters too, EU issues as well as Syria.”
Vural: AKP stance on Cyprus also depends on political stability in Turkey
The elections in Turkey demonstrated that voters still support the PM and the AKP government, and that the issues the opposition raised and in particular corruption allegations are not of much interest to AKP supporters, deputy chairman of the department of international and political sciences at the “university of East Mediterranean” Yücel Vural has told CNA.
“At the same time, this however does not mean that, because of this support, nothing has changed in Turkey. The fact that AKP, in spite of these allegations, got half the share of the vote is not sufficient to dissipate the tension between AKP and the opposition and the chaos which ensued in the country’s political stability,” Vural explained. He believes that such a relationship between the government and the opposition cannot help establish political stability in the country and maintain it.
He says that the deep uncertainty could continue in Turkey, adding that an opposition which can question the legality of the government with regard to foreign policy matters will assume initiative and can make things difficult, particularly in the Cyprus issue, when it comes to taking steps towards a solution. In such a case, it does not appear that the Turkish Cypriot side will have an active role in the negotiating process.
In addition to this, AKP and Erdoğan, in order to circumvent the crisis, will have to come up with new initiatives on two important issues: the Cyprus problem and the Kurdish issue. Prior to the elections the AKP government gave the impression that it can assume an active role in Cyprus, he said, and it is in this context that Ankara’s support of the joint declaration should be evaluated. If Turkey wants to make progress towards Europe, it has to continue its efforts to lift one of the most important obstacles it faces, the Cyprus problem.
In the past Erdoğan has given the impression that he can take radical decisions on Cyprus, he noted, adding that the direct contacts of the Greek Cypriot negotiator with Ankara have created very different opportunities for the Cyprus issue. “It is clear that the PM could probably apply to Cyprus the policy he has adopted in the Kurdish issue,” he remarks. Having said that, he pointed out, in order for Turkey to play a constructive and stabilizing role in Cyprus, it is necessary – to a large degree – to iron out the chaotic situation on its domestic front.
Tüzünkan: The Cyprus issue an important key for outside support for AKP
The big electoral victory of AKP, 46% amidst confrontations on corruption, a parallel state, the absence of meritocracy and the division between secular and conservatives, must be assessed very carefully, especially by the opposition in Turkey, the Vice Chairman of Near East “university” (YDÜ), Board of Trustees, Assistant professor Murat Tüzünkan says. Corruption allegations alone cannot diminish the strength of AKP, on the contrary they strengthen the party and Erdoğan, who has proved that he can exploit competition and confrontation to his benefit, he remarks.
These elections have highlighted the polarization of AKP supporters and AKP opponents, whereas in the past there was division between secular and conservatives, Murat Tüzünkan explains to CNA. “Leaks to the press of tapes have not affected the outcome as some might have hoped it would. On the contrary, as Erdoğan had said, there is a parallel state and this united AKP voters even more.”
Murat Tüzünkan believes that another factor which has played a role is AKP’s successful economic policy. The opposition had not realized this reality, it projected issues relating to corruption alone instead of outlining its positions on other topics such as the economy and its own policies and people interpreted corruption allegations as a conspiracy, he told CNA.
AKP’s campaign that the people must either support the state or give in to the parallel state created the impression among the electorate that they have to back the state and the party, he says. In Turkey’s history, anybody who argued in favour of protecting the army or the sovereignty of the party has won power and in these elections AKP influenced voters saying the party must be protected.
Now, he continues, AKP must act quickly to restore freedom of speech and the right to congregate, ensure the supremacy of justice, restructure the democratic institutions and complete the new constitution.
On the election fallout on Cyprus, Tüzünkan does not believe there will be an immediate effect, saying that AKP will be in power at least until 2015. Its policy on Cyprus will continue as set out and it will continue to contribute in a positive manner towards a permanent and viable solution.
AKP’s support to the UN-proposed solution plan (Annan plan) has managed to achieve the party’s legalization and get support from abroad, which he needs, he explained. “The Cyprus issue and the solution effort is an important key for AKP to regain this support from abroad. That is why I believe AKP’s vision for Cyprus will intensify even more,” he concluded.
ENDS, CYPRUS NEWS AGENCY