Turkey after Erdogan’s victory and the tasks for the Left

Nihat Halepli

The elections of May 14 and 28 were considered as the most important in Turkey’s history. The results have shown that the bourgeois opposition bloc around Kılıçdaroğlu is at this stage unable to defeat the Erdoğan regime, despite all the latter’s huge contradictions and weakness. 

On the other hand, the forces of the Left around the Labour and Freedom Alliance (LFA) have a number of important tasks ahead: to organise the resistance against the regime and to show a way forward. Furthermore, socialists, who have already elected a number of MP’s in parliament through the LFA, can and should unite in a socialist parliamentary group as a first step to lay the foundations for a new mass socialist political force in these new challenging times. 

In the parliamentary elections on May 14, 2023, the People’s Alliance, which represents the regime’s bloc around AKP and MHP, won a majority in the 600-seat parliament, with 323 seats. Erdoğan won the second round of the presidential elections on May 28 with 52.18%. Thus the regime, which is sick in every respect, has extended its rule for another term. 

The opposition Nation Alliance (centered around the Kemalist CHP) had a strong belief it could defeat Erdoğan. That created high expectations in parts of the population. Therefore, this result has caused great disappointment and demoralisation. The optimistic pre-election expectations have been rightly questioned by many. Although the controversy over massive vote-stealing after the first round was settled with the assumption that the opposition parties took the necessary measures to avoid stealing in the second round, doubts remain over if they were able to closely monitor all the ballot boxes. 

It is clear that the corrupt, anti-democratic nature of the current regime leaves no doubts that they did all they could to rig the ballots. However, as long as there is no concrete evidence of mass vote stealing, all evaluations must be made on the basis of the available data. 

The results of the second round of the presidential elections show that Kılıçdaroğlu, the candidate of the bourgeois opposition bloc, won in the overwhelming majority of the Kurdish provinces (14 out of 17) and came first in Turkey’s most densely populated provinces such as Istanbul (16 million – about 20 percent of the total population), Ankara (5 million), Izmir (4.5 million) and Antalya (2.5 million). Erdoğan, on the other hand, found support mainly in Central Anatolia and the Black Sea regions.

While Kılıçdaroğlu was supported by the more secular provinces, Erdoğan was supported by the more conservative ones. 

Considering that the average rent in Istanbul is already over 10,000 TL (around 465 euros at present rates) and above the minimum wage, the fact that Kılıçdaroğlu came first in crowded cities, where the rise in the cost of living is clearly noticeable, shows that while the state of the economy played a big role in these elections, it was still not the deciding factor over the whole of the country. We also have to take note of the fact that the economic conditions in the countryside and smaller cities are not as acute as in big cities. 

Another fact confirmed by the election results is that Turkish society was strongly polarised. While the difference between the two candidates across Turkey was 4.3 percent, there were many provinces where one of the two candidates was ahead with 60 percent or even more.

How did the opposition lose?

The sole ‘programme’ of the bourgeois opposition bloc was a return to orthodox bourgeois policies, in order to solve the problems of inflation, the devaluation of the Turkish lira and increasing poverty. Kılıçdaroğlu promised an independent central bank if he came to power, which would mean raising interest rates. Erdoğan, on the other hand, is pursuing a policy of economic growth by keeping interest rates low. In this way, he tries to maintain a “controllable” poverty level through a relatively low unemployment rate. 

Because of the fact that the opposition’s proposals did not sound convincing to popular layers, many voters opted for a “strong” head of state with a hope to solve economic problems through political intervention rather than letting “market forces” decide. It is clear that Erdoğan’s propaganda that the problems in the economy were the result of “foreign intervention” had an impact. 

Moreover, it is clear that nationalism and the polarisation between conservatism and secularism were  decisive factors in the elections. 

Nationalism was the main policy of the regime on the campaign trail. It was accompanied by the propaganda of a “strong state”, highlighting things as the first aircraft carrier for the Turkish navy built in Turkey, the first car designed and produced in the country, the extraction of natural gas in the Black Sea, etc.. Erdoğan accused the opposition bloc of collaborating with terrorism because of HDP’s support to Kılıçdaroğlu. These slanders included showing fake videos of Kılıçdaroğlu allegedly addressing PKK guerrillas. 

The opposition bloc fell in this trap and campaigned on the terrain set by Erdoğan, trying to prove every time that they were even more nationalist than Erdoğan himself. Thus Erdoğan‘s tactic of diverting attention from economic problems to nationalism was successful. 

Neither free nor legal

Elections in Turkey have for long been neither free nor legal. It is an uneven battle between the state with all its institutions, including the judiciary, on the one hand, and the opposition on the other. The regime uses all state resources in the broadest sense of the word in order to get re-elected. In these elections, for example, all ministers who were also candidates for parliament did not resign from their posts in the pre-election period, as they should have according to the law, but instead used the full resources of their offices for their campaigns. 

Almost all mainstream media are under the control of the regime. This was a very important factor, not only because the regime had an advantage over the opposition bloc when it came to reaching the masses, but especially because it was a means of spreading the regime’s unlimited campaigns of lies and slander.

The Labour and Freedom Alliance’s mistakes 

What is actually prolonging the life of the regime is the absence of a mass socialist force that addresses the real problems of the masses from a class perspective. It is more correct to say that the election result is foremost a defeat of the bourgeois opposition bloc rather than a victory of the Erdoğan regime.

The Labour and Freedom Alliance has, in our opinion, made two fundamental mistakes. First, it did not stand its own candidate in the first round of the presidential election, and second, it worded its call to vote for Kılıçdaroğlu so uncritically that it was almost taken as a political endorsement. 

With this mistake, the LFA did not utilize the opportunity to reach the masses with an independent political and ideological line in the most critical elections of the country, when all the ears of the working class were open. 

Despite all the shortcomings, these elections produced results that can provide important opportunities for building such a force. In the elections, the Labour and Freedom Alliance won 66 parliamentary seats. This figure includes the elected deputies of some small socialist parties which stood on the HDP/YSP list, as well as 4 deputies from the Workers Party of Turkey (TİP). TİP was part of the LFA but stood under its own name and won 1.73% of the vote.

A socialist parliamentary group – an opportunity that must not be lost

During the formation of the Labour and Freedom Alliance, the constituent parties always emphasised that this alliance was not limited to elections, but that it would continue beyond May 14. In the discussions between HDP/YSP and TİP prior to the elections, on whether they should stand on a joint or separate lists, the outcome was to create an electoral alliance first, rather than a joint list or party. 

The main task of organising resistance to the regime’s attacks, but also to counter the propaganda war and point to a different alternative for Turkey, lies with the LFA. It should use its national profile and its elected positions to coordinate movements and unions, to counter the lies of the media and to locally funnel anger towards the Left.

But also, the socialist Left inside the LFA has some concrete tasks ahead. In addition to building the movement, there are objective conditions to build a socialist alliance inside the LFA, based on a common ground that exists between different forces. It is clear that at first, there can be agreement only on some main policies and not on all issues. 

This can lead to the creation of a parliamentary “socialist caucus”. 

To form a caucus in the Turkish parliament there should be at least 20 MP’s. According to the election results, TİP, EMEP and TÖP had 4, 2 and 1 deputies respectively (the latter two are smaller socialist parties on the HDP/YSP lists). If we add the MPs elected from other socialist parties that are components of the HDP, we are talking about a total that could be more than 20 socialist MPs. This opens the possibility that alongside the HDP parliamentary caucus, a second, clearly socialist caucus could be formed. At first, this coalition could be only a parliamentary one, but, based on developments in the class struggle, it can evolve into a united front coalition on the ground also.

A parliamentary caucus has many advantages, such as extra speaking rights, sending members to parliamentary committees, etc,, thus, the parliament can be used more effectively to represent the working class’ voice. 

On the other hand, it has become clear in the last eight years that HDP, which was founded with the aim of becoming a Turkey-wide party, is easily attacked by being linked to terrorism and that puts a huge barrier for it to reach the working class outside the Kurdish provinces. Considering that the Erdoğan regime will make serious attempts to divide the Kurdish movement through Hüda-Par (the Kurdish party linked to Hezbollah) in the coming period, it seems a better strategy for the HDP, which is mainly based on the Kurdish working class and poor peasants, to focus more on Kurdistan with a perspective that unites the Kurds’ demands for democratic rights with class demands for the whole of the working class in Turkey. The socialist Left on the other hand has a duty to raise the demands and rights of the Kurdish population and thus lay the ground for class unity between all sections of the working class in Turkey irrespective of national (or religious, in other cases) origin.  

These elections were a very clear example that there is no automatic response by the masses to a crisis. A crisis does not automatically lead to a turn to the left or a regime change. 

The lack of a strong left bloc, left parts of the working class with a choice between the lesser of two evils. While a significant number of people voted for the opposition, even holding their nose, other sections of the population obviously preferred to rally around a “strong” leader and voted for “stability”. 

Faced with this reality, HDP/YSP, TİP and other left forces face the task of finding a way to create a strong link between the work in parliament and the mass movement outside it. They must be aware of this and act with the responsibility of laying the foundations for a united front, avoiding all sectarian approaches. Such a united front can be a light in the dark times that the Turkish working class is going through.

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