After 15 years in power, Recep Tayyip Erdogan will serve another 5 years as president of NATO member Turkey. TRNN’s Ben Norton speaks with activist Aral Balkan about the AKP’s victorious coalition with the far-right extremist MHP, and the implosion of Turkish democracy
BEN NORTON: President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has further solidified his iron grip over Turkey as opposition leaders warn democracy no longer exists in this key NATO member. Turkey held a snap election on June 24, a vote that Erdoğan himself had called early in order to expand his powers and the new presidential system he created. This newly granted authority gives Erdoğan unprecedented control over Turkey’s legislature and judiciary. For the snap election, The Turkish president’s ruling right-wing Islamist Justice and Development Party, known by the acronym AKP, formed a coalition with the fascist far-right National Movement Party, or MHP.
On the day of the vote, the government cracked down on dissent and numerous critics of Erdoğan were imprisoned. And still, in the end, Erdoğan’s coalition only got just over fifty-two percent of votes. This is a loss of the share of the vote Erdoğan had in 2015, yet this victory will still grant sixty-four-year-old Erdoğan, who has been in power for fifteen years, five more years in power, and he could now run for another term. The Real News spoke with Turkish activist, Aral Balkan, who warns that the few remnants of democracy that remain in Turkey are on the verge of extinction.
ARAL BALKAN: One-man rule. It is basically one-man rule. But this has been something he’s been constructing for the last ten, fifteen years. It’s just the icing on the cake for the sort of autocratic regime that he has been building. And, yeah. I mean, this was, as I see it, this was the last chance in a while for actually protecting democracy in Turkey, whatever semblance of it is left, because you have to remember going into this election, this is not a fair election. Muharrem İnce, the CHP, the head of the party, was running against him in the presidential elections. You know, he said this as well. He said, “I accept the results of the election because they had their own independent count and it pretty much matched. There was some ballot stuffing going on, but he said it wasn’t enough to sway the election, that he’s convinced it wasn’t enough.
But he said it wasn’t a fair election, that’s how he began. And these things are not mutually exclusive. It wasn’t a fair election. You don’t go into an election under a state of emergency, having imprisoned over one hundred thousand people following a coup, which may or may not have been a coup, which really played into his hands. You know, he couldn’t have orchestrated it better if he had orchestrated it. And you know, having the greatest number of journalists in jail in the world, over a hundred media outlets that have been shuttered or put into state-controlled- like with full control of the media. This is not a fair election. The very fact that, I mean, one of the opposition candidates was able to drum up so much support within such a short amount of time maybe is a reason for hope for the future.
BEN NORTON: Erdoğan’s main presidential opponent, Muharrem İnce, from the centrist, secular Republican People’s Party, or CHP, got thirty-one percent of the vote in the presidential election. In response to the results, İnce declared, “Turkey has cut off its links with democracy.”
Meanwhile, the leader of the left-wing, pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, known by the acronym HDP, ran for president from inside a Turkish prison. Selahattin Demirtaşas was arrested in 2016 along with other leaders of the HDP, when Erdoğan launched a massive purge of tens of thousands of his political opponents. Despite this repression, the HDP still earned twelve percent of the parliamentary vote in the election, putting it at just over the ten percent threshold needed to stay in Parliament. Aral Balkan spoke about the Turkish government’s brutal oppression of the Kurdish minority.
ARAL BALKAN: One of the presidential candidates is running from prison. I mean, I don’t know how much more it takes to become a banana republic. But yeah, Selahattin Demirtaş, a person that I have utmost respect for, if you’ve ever watched any of his talks, it’s just the complete polar opposite of Erdoğan. You know, here is an educated man here is someone who is- you can see that he cares, you can see that he has progressive values. But that’s something that I see in the Kurdish population in general. And you have to remember, I come from a Turkish background, and this is an issue in Turkey. this is a really big issue.
So, I wasn’t brought up there, but I did study, I went- we went back and that was a culture shock- but I studied high school in Turkey and I was indoctrinated, you know, they attempted to indoctrinate me in kind of the Turkish way of thinking about things. And you’re kind of, there’s rote memorization in the educational process and you learn about Atatürk’s- his program for change. And during the whole process, it’s a latently kind of racist curriculum in a way, where you don’t think about- I wasn’t thinking about it back then, I was just kind of accepting that, you know, Kurds? Probably terrorists, yeah. You just don’t think about it. and I do come from a privileged background, having been a third culture kid growing up Malaysia, et cetera.
So, I was a brat as a kid as well. But I never really thought about it. I just kind of assumed, yeah, Kurds, terrorist organization, PKK. You just kind of hear these things and you don’t necessarily think about them. But it creates this this horrible, kind of latent and maybe not so latent, racism and xenophobia against Kurds. And now, kind of looking in and having experienced, having had relations with Kurdish people- like I go to Berlin, and every time I have a great conversation with someone who speaks Turkish, it’s usually a Kurdish person of the Kurdish community. And I really start to see the difference.
And Selahattin Demirtaş kind of preaching tolerance and democracy and feminism, along with the other members of his party, it’s just so inspirational. It makes me feel terrible as well, because I know where this is taking place. I know where Rojava is, I know where- you know, it’s this kind of little, tiny flame of hope within a lion’s den. And so, I have a lot of feelings around this issue, but it’s been, for me, a personal journey as well, to come to its realization over many years. So yeah, I’m very, very- I don’t know if I have a right to be proud of him, but I’m very proud of him and I’m really glad that he exists.
BEN NORTON: Erdoğan’s fascist coalition partner, the Nationalist Movement Party or MHP, also won eleven percent of the seats in parliament. Its leader called this a “historic success.” Aral Balkan warned that this is reflective of a larger global surge in fascism and that the right wing racist authoritarianism dominating Turkey is symptomatic of not just domestic, but also international problems.
ARAL BALKAN: I’ve been looking into the news around the votes that MHP got, the national, the fascist party. And a lot of people were saying that it’s inexplicable, really, how they managed to get that number as part of the elections. But it’s, I mean it’s not a good thing, right? I mean, we’re talking about a coalition between a fascist party and an Islamist party. And that’s like a fascist party and fascist party. I don’t see the difference there really, to be honest. They have different shades of fascism. I don’t know, is it “Fifty Shades of Fascism?” You know, none of this is good. This is not a progressive movement in any way. And so, what can I think about it? It’s the worst possible outcome, it’s the outcome we have.
I watched the press conference that Muharrem İnce held on the morning, and he says he’s going to fight on. And I think that’s all anyone of us can do. Things aren’t looking good in Turkey, but things aren’t looking good in the U.S. Things aren’t looking good in the UK. Things aren’t looking good in a lot of places. So, maybe this is our opportunity to say, “Well, okay, you know what? This is what we have to work, with so let’s make the best of it, let’s resist, let’s do whatever we can to change this going forward.” There’s no place for hopelessness here. If anything, we should have an invigorated fire in our bellies to go forward and change this, because this is not acceptable.
BEN NORTON: Reporting for The Real News, I’m Ben Norton.