Erdogan’s civil coup


Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaks at the official opening ceremony of Istanbul’s new airport (Istanbul Yeni Havalimani) on October 29, 2018 in Istanbul. PHOTO/Burak Kara/Getty

Turkey’s recent election saw the ruling party’s control over Istanbul broken. Now, the regime wants a re-do.

On May 6, Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) decided by a seven to four vote to annul and repeat Istanbul’s municipal election. The original election, on March 31, saw Ekrem Imamo?lu from the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), win the mayorship by a margin of 13,729 votes.

The re-do election will be held on June 23. The YSK’s decision was substantiated by the claim that some ballot box officials were not civil servants. Considering all the irregularities that take place every election in Turkey (none of which have been annulled), this is a laughable rationale. Moreover, Istanbul voters simultaneously cast votes in three other elections: for district, city council, and mukhtar elections. These votes were collected in the exact same envelopes, and cast in the exact same ballot boxes, as the mayoral votes. Yet those three other elections were not annulled. Finally, previous elections also had ballot box officials who weren’t civil servants.

Why then was only the mayoral election annulled and not the other ones? The YSK’s decision, in short, has no “technical” or “juridical” justification. It should be named for what it is: a civil coup attempt by President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an and his allies.

In our earlier analysis of the local elections, we drew attention to the fact that the results — particularly in Istanbul — were still contested. The elections saw the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its People’s Alliance lose control over most major cities, including Istanbul, Ankara, Adana, Mersin, and Antalya. But particularly in Istanbul, the regime has refused to concede and is attempting to reverse the results. What is at stake is not just who gets to be the mayor of Istanbul. The future of the current regime, consisting of the official AKP–Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) alliance and others, is at stake. So is the future of Turkey itself.

The decision made by the YSK will probably lead the regime even deeper into crisis. The decision was made in an atmosphere already riddled with multiple crises, the most acute being the economic one. The official data, while unreliable, nonetheless shows the scale of desperation: the unemployment rate reached 14.7 percent in January, with youth unemployment over 26 percent. Depreciation of the lira has accelerated once again, and signs of recovery have failed to appear in manufacturing and other crucial industries.

There is also an ongoing struggle over the positioning of Turkey within the world system. Turkey’s decision to buy a stock of the Russian S-400 missile systems has, once again, severely strained its relationship with the US and NATO. This led to Mike Pence threatening that Turkey must choose between NATO and Russia. On top of it, Iran-style sanctions, from which Turkey has so far been exempted, now seem imminent.

The Kurdish crisis looms behind the others. On May 2, lawyers were granted permission to visit the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan. It was the first time in eight years he was afforded such a visit.

Öcalan and three other inmates issued a short written declaration, which was read out by his lawyers at a press conference on May 6 — by chance, only hours before the Istanbul election was annulled. Some interpreted Öcalan’s statement as a call for the Kurdish movement to return to negotiations with the government. The coincidence of the close timing between Öcalan’s declaration on the one hand, and the election annulment on the other, inspired widespread rumors. Many theorized that the PKK had made a deal with Erdo?an to partially withdraw Kurdish support for the opposition, allowing the regime’s candidate to retake Istanbul.

However, nothing of the sort was signaled in Öcalan’s message. In any case, peace between Kurdish forces and the ruling AKP seems impossible. Despite Öcalan’s request that PKK detainees end their hunger strike for his release, the inmates declared they would continue. For its part, the leftist Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) stated that their position had not changed since March 31, and called for a “common struggle against fascism.”

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