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The Turkish ‘tricolor’

Wednesday 13 August 2014

If on Sunday, Aug. 10, the residents of Eskişehir and Tunceli voted for Prime Minister / President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, instead of rival candidates and the residents of Bitlis in the southeast voted for Selahattin Demirtaş instead of Mr. Erdoğan, Turkey would have boasted a perfect map featuring three different countries in one: three regions physically separated from each other with full territorial integrity and without even a “foreign” spot in each one’s territory.

Turkey’s 2014 Presidential Election looked as if voters in three neighboring countries went to the ballot boxes on the same day to elect a common president for all three. And naturally, the candidate from the most populous country comfortably won the election. But the three countries within the same country have been cohabiting for decades, although they have only realized that more recently.

“The voting ‘map’ looks more like a real map with borders. It represents deepening divisions along ideological lines and fading chances of peaceful cohabitation. In simplistic terms, Turkey houses three socio-political types of non-reconciliatory citizens: autonomy-minded Kurds in the east, an alliance of conservative Muslims and liberals in the Anatolian heartland and secular Turks on the western and southern coastline. What’s more complicated is the fact that each zone hosts, in non-negligible quantities, minority groups from the other two typologies/zones.”

The preceding lines are from this column on Sept. 14, 2010, shortly after a Justice and Development Party (AKP)-sponsored referendum won 58 percent of the vote. (“Self-rule for eastern [and western] Turkey?”). On Sunday, the same map of three neighboring countries within the same country emerged – unsurprisingly.

The 58 percent (pro-Erdogan) vs. 42 percent (anti) picture in 2010 emerged as 52 percent vs. 48 percent on Sunday – less than four and a half months after a 43 percent vs. 57 percent breakdown on March 30.

From a statistical/socio-political point of view, the persistent/sticky conservative (I shall always vote for Mr. Erdoğan) vs. the persistent/sticky secular (I shall never vote for Mr. Erdoğan) divide appears to be, roughly speaking, at 35 percent vs. 25 percent in favor of the conservatives, with too little chance that these two faithful blocks can win from or lose to each other in the next few years.

About the 12 million-or-so registered voters who did not turn out on Sunday make Turkey’s third biggest political force, more than three times larger than the pro-Kurdish votes. But it will be more realistic to expect this no-name party to largely dissolve at the parliamentary elections scheduled for June 2015.

Most of the anti-Mr. Erdoğan voters who were asked by the two opposition parties, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), to “lend” their votes to a consensus candidate, but apparently abstained, will probably return to their respective party choices next year. That voting pattern will lead to a shrinking of votes for what is now Turkey’s third biggest party – the absentees.

Despite all the jubilation, which Mr. Erdogan deserves to enjoy after his ninth election victory, there is a bumpy road ahead for the AKP. If the party wins the same votes next year as it did on Sunday (less than 21 million), it cannot win the constitutional parliamentary majority it intends to win. Some 21 million voters, out of more than 53 million, could earn Mr. Erdoğan’s remotely-controlled AKP a maximum 300 members of Parliament, or at least 30 seats less than necessary to take any proposed constitutional amendment to a referendum.

Mr. Erdoğan should work harder. And harder. And much harder. He will probably win all the ballot-box battles he fights in his lifetime. He will lose, in his lifetime, the one war he has devoted his political career to: the Cause. He is too old to win over the hearts and minds of half the country he wants to uniform.



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