Articles > > DIVISIONS AND GAPS

Articles - Addostour - Date: 2019-04-03
By: Oraib Al Rantawi

Nothing happens in Turkey without provoking divisions and differences in stances and assessments, even when it pertains to a local event entrenched in local concerns, such as the latest [March 31st] municipal elections," writes Jordanian commentator .
 
Such divisions arise and gaps between stances widen not only inside Turkey, but at the regional and international level as well. I believe this happens for two reasons:
 
The first is due to Turkey's growing influence and status in the region. It has a strong presence in all the region's crises, and any internal developments in Turkey will impact how these crises may progress and develop. Turkey also exists in a 'grey area' between Moscow, Washington, Tehran, Tel Aviv, and between Iran and Saudi Arabia. I can think of no other local elections that have received as much attention and invoked as much commentary and congratulatory messages as the recent Turkish elections.
 
The second reason stems from how closely various countries, entities, and movements monitor the particular Turkish experience of a country undergoing disputes between two main currents: The nationalist-conservative current (under an Islamist authority) and the secular-civil current, which is an extension of the Kemalist creed. Arab Islamists and secularists alike are monitoring the Turkish experiment with great interest, and they all have different stakes in it. It is as if they were waiting for Turkish answers to the same questions and dichotomies that they have long been preoccupied with, and that have sowed divisions among the Arab popular movements: Islam versus secularism, Islam versus democracy, whether the Islamist path to democracy is a one-way street, and so on. 
 
The most prominent feature of the Turkish local elections was their 'political' nature above all. Both sides succeeded in imbuing their stance with an excessively political dimension. This may have accounted for the high turnout by all standards (83 percent). Another reason for the high turnout is the division (almost by half) between the ruling party and its charismatic leader's supporters on the one hand, and its opponents, including secularists, leftists, liberals, and minorities, on the other. It is as if we were facing a bone-breaking battle between two currents that have reached peak polarization, and as if the entire country was on the edge of its seat awaiting the outcome of this major rivalry.
 
Unless the elections results are overturned and appeals and accusations of electoral fraud are used as a means to attack the results and undermine their integrity and validity, Turkey will have survived a further experiment in its democratic journey, which has weathered much turbulence in recent years, prompting the EU to express a lack of confidence in the conditions under which the elections were held, consequently casting doubt on their integrity.
 
Regardless of how the debate and conflict over the major cities' results in particular (Istanbul and Ankara) will end, the elections have sent the following message, to the letter: Erdogan and his party, which has been in power for some two decades, remain at the forefront of Turkish public opinion (almost 52 percent renewed their support for the AKP/MHP (Justice and Development Party/ Nationalist Movement Party) alliance, with over 44% of Turkish votes going to the AKP alone). This is a truth that must be faced by those who privilege wishful thinking over rational analysis backed on facts and figures. 
 
However, this time around, Turkish support for their ruling leader and party was limited, and perhaps even conditional. It marks the final warning for the party, which will celebrate the Republic's centennial in 2023.   Regardless of the appeals' outcome, Istanbul and the other major cities have now said something, and have refused to grant the AKP a blank check.
 
I believe this development is beneficial to Turkey, as all peaceful democratic change is beneficial for the purposes of enhancing and reinforcing the national experience. If the ruling party fails to consider the implications and significance of the latest results carefully, there can be no guarantee that the trend of grand electoral victories will continue. Lucky for Erdogan and the AKP, Turkey will not hold general elections again for another four or five years, which gives them sufficient time to correct course, or else face the disastrous consequences.
 
It is worth noting that the Kurdish-affiliated HDP (Peoples' Democratic Party) suffered a crushing loss in the elections in favor of the AKP, despite the intense strife between Ankara and Syrian Kurds and the transformation of large areas of Southeastern Anatolia into a battlefield with the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party). Such a development could be interpreted as a green light to continue the same policy inside Turkey and in Northeastern Syria. Here we must consider what President Erdogan meant carefully when he said during an election rally speech: 'Action to resolve the Syrian crisis will begin directly after the elections.