Turkey: The coming elections and the position of the socialist left

Ecehan Balta – Nihat Halepli 

While Turkey is currently going through a deep social and economic crisis, it is also entering the pre-election period for the presidential elections – which under normal conditions will be held in June 2023. It seems very probable that the Erdogan’s regime will be forced to call early elections in the face of economic turbulence, growing poverty and consequent discontent in the working class. In any way, the aspect that makes these elections critical is undoubtedly the potential to send the twenty-year-old Erdogan regime to the dustbin of history. This would have the effect of a political earthquake – an event on the lines of a “political revolution” in the country. The socialist left has a crucial role to play in this process, even if it has not done so, at least so far.  

Turkey is going through a severe and prolonged economic crisis. In the months of November-December, the depreciation of the Turkish Lira (TL) approached 50 percent. Inflation, which was 14.6 percent in 2020, reached 21.6 percent in November 2021, and continues to increase. According to the Independent Inflation Research Group report, real inflation is 58.65 percent. Net dollar reserves of the central bank are at negative levels due to the previous period’s interventions. The fragile Turkish economy is characterized as “highly speculative” by credit rating agencies (read more on the Turkish economy here ).  

The Gini coefficient, which measures inequality between social layers, broke the record of the last 11 years and climbed officially from 0.015 to 0.410. Inequality is deepening and poverty is increasing. 3.4 million workers (18 percent of all wage earners) earn less than the minimum wage. The number of workers who have to live on minimum wage and below is around 6.3 million (33.8 percent of all wage earners). According to official figures, general unemployment is 11.7 percent and broadly defined unemployment is at 21.9 percent. Youth unemployment continues to increase (22.7 percent). These are the official numbers; the real numbers are much higher.  

The Erdogan regime denies systematically that it is preparing for elections. However, the fact that the minimum wage was increased by 50 percent in December (which is still very far from being a sufficient wage and enough to live in dignity) tells a different story.  

The Presidential system, which was accepted with a questionable 51.7 percent “yes” vote in a 2017 referendum, enabled Erdogan to rule the country as a “monarch”- with presidential decrees, dominating the legislative, executive and judiciary systems. This cemented the nepotism already prevailing in the country, bringing with it decay, dysfunction, economic breakdown, and with these growing discontent among large sections of the working class. 

Different opinion polls clearly show the great decline in the intention to vote for the AKP. In the November 1st, 2015, elections, AKP’s People’s Alliance (Cumhur İttifakı) with the far-right MHP received 49.5 percent of the votes [1]. If there is no election manipulation or fraud, the Erdogan regime most likely will be voted out in the coming election. There are signs that the AKP could use fear and intimidation to influence the voting results, as it did right before the June 7, 2015, elections and continued to do until the consequent snap election on November 1, 2015. However, the fact that Erdogan’s popular support has eroded, is limiting very much the room to engage in such practices.  

Presidential elections 

The objective conditions that are emerging in the run-up to these elections, strongly harbors the possibility of putting an end to the current regime. Thus, they are an important occasion which means an obligation and an opportunity for the left to intervene with a united front approach.  

The first round of the presidential elections will be held at the same time as the parliamentary elections. If a presidential candidate does not receive more than 50% of the votes, a second round is then held. While it is true that the regime is in a process of collapse, it is equally true that the socialist left is fragmented. In a period where the country is going through this important change, the socialist left is lacking a strong mass party and is not able to play a major role in the developments. However, this transitionary period still presents an opportunity for the socialist left. It has the opportunity to form a broad Socialist Front to stand in the elections and present its own candidate. 

It is a fact that a candidate of the socialist left is not likely to be elected. The first round of the elections will be especially crucial as the bourgeois opposition groups will accuse the socialist left of “dividing the vote” of the anti-Erdogan front and thus playing into the hands of the regime. Nothing could be further from the truth. The socialist left’s candidate will not contribute in the slightest to Erdogan’s winning the elections. At most it could lead to the bourgeois opposition candidate not winning the elections in the first round, which is the problem of the bourgeois opposition itself. In this context, it would be a grave historical mistake for the socialist left not to stand its own candidate in favour of the opposition bourgeois candidate. 

Standing its own candidate gives the opportunity to the socialist left to convey its programme to larger sections of the working class when the interest in politics will be at its highest level, and this fact cannot be underestimated.  

Spreading the programme of the socialist left to the popular masses will enable it to avoid being politically suffocated between the two major bourgeois alliances. It will allow the working class to see the socialist left as a political alternative, as a political formation for the working class, in contrast to the other two nationalist bourgeois alliances.   

The socialist candidate should not be chosen on the basis of whether he/she is famous or not. The issue is not whether the candidate will have a chance to get elected, but rather whether he/she has the capacity to represent and to defend a socialist left programme and to have an impact on large sections of the working class. For example, Demirtas’s ability to get close to 10 percent of the votes despite the AKP-CHP polarization in the 2014 Presidential elections, in which he ran as HDP’s chairman raising the programme of HDP [2], is one of the reasons why HDP won 13.1 percent of the votes in the elections in the following year.  

The defining moment of the presidential election that can bring the end of a 20-year-old regime, which in the last five years has been transformed into parliamentary monarchy, will be the second round. Erdogan will be competing on the second round with another bourgeois candidate of the Nation Alliance [3]. Thus, for working class people, the only practical way to kick out Erdogan is to vote for the Nation Alliance candidate. The socialist left will have no other option but to recognize that and also call to vote out Erdogan, but without giving political support for the other candidate and without creating any illusions about the Nation Alliance.   

Parliamentary elections  

One of the practical reasons behind the fact that these elections are an opportunity for the socialist left is a change in the election law made by Erdoğan. This change was done in order to guarantee the entrance of the AKP’s junior partner, ultra-nationalist MHP to Parliament, because they faced the danger of not being able to pass the electoral threshold. According to this change, parties can participate in the parliamentary elections by forming an alliance, and if one of the parties in this alliance passes the 10% threshold, it is automatic that the other parties in the alliance will also elect MP’s. 

This is why Erdogan’s People’s Alliance (which currently consists of the AKP and the MHP) and the Nation Alliance (of which the Kemalist CHP is at the center, and which also consists of the centre -right IYI Party -a split from the MHP -, and other small conservative bourgeois parties), are the main opponents the elections. In essence, the smaller parties are forced into wider alliances because of the electoral law. The only mass party left out of these two bourgeois alliances is the HDP (People’s Democratic Party), a reformist left party that primarily receives Kurdish votes and includes some socialist groups.  

Sosyalist Alternatif in Turkey strongly advocates and proposes that the socialist left, which is at this point fragmented, should form a block of cooperation amongst itself, and then propose to form an electoral alliance of this block with the HDP. This new alliance, if it came into being, should try to represent all workers and the oppressed layers in society and have a fitting name for this. In this way, it could form a sizable parliamentary group, which could act as a catalyst for the construction of a broader socialist force/party that represents the interests of the working class. 

It is a serious mistake on the part of the socialist left to consider the reformist HDP as being the same as the bourgeois CHP. Even though HDP does not have an open socialist programme, there is a difference between HDP, which is a left-wing party mostly based on the Kurdish working class and poor peasants, and the CHP, which has been a party of the establishment and the capitalist class. While the latter is a purely bourgeois party, the same cannot be said for the former.  

Despite having contradictions (and probably important programmatic deficiencies), an alliance between the HDP and a block of socialist parties and groups, can help in building bridges between the working people, the poor, the youth and the oppressed throughout Turkey and the socialist left.  

The necessity of a party or front of the socialist left that will not be against the HDP, but will have the understanding of a united front tactic when necessary, and which will not have the phobia of contact with HDP, has become more evident lately. In this context, the socialist left should not turn its back on the idea of ​​an independent third alliance (HDP calls it a Democracy Alliance), but engage in a discussion to create it, defending its own socialist programme at the same time. An alliance like that is a necessity whether there is a political regime change in the coming elections or not.  

Election campaign  

The election campaign of a socialist front should evolve around a democratic and mutually agreed socialist programme, and not a person or a hollow opposition to the AKP. The programme should be structured in a way to express and represent the widest possible spectrum of groups and organisations. It should include democratic demands such as: the freedom of expression and demonstration, the right to a free education in everyone’s mother tongue, an end to discrimination and hostility based on ethnic, gender and sexual orientation, the release of political prisoners, etc. It should also include workers’ demands such as: the elimination of subcontracting and precarious work, raising the minimum wage to allow decent living conditions, adjustment of wages to monthly inflation, reducing the working hours without loss of pay and lay-offs, severely taxing capital and the super-rich, expropriation of the key industries under the democratic control and management of the workers. 

We therefore need a programme to address current problems, struggles and demands of the working class. It is clear that the capitalist system is failing to solve these problems, and our programme has to expose it for that failure. Such a programme does not necessarily have to be long – it could be limited to some basic points of agreement. It is definitely true that the writing of it will involve discussions, differences and compromises. But what should distinguish socialists from other trends in the labour movement is the understanding of the need of a united front approach in order to overthrow capitalism.  

The united front of the socialist left has to be democratic, it has to respect the independent actions and campaigns of each group, with their own material and banner.  

In this way it will be able to unite its forces, inspire and motivate its members and supporters to intervene in every workplace, neighborhood and university – in all areas where the working class lives and breathes. 

What is needed is to create an atmosphere of struggle similar to the one that preceded the June 7, 2015, elections, in which HDP received 13.1 percent of the vote. This electoral campaign was characterized by hope. Everyone voluntarily participated, whether or not they were HDP supporters, and enabled HDP to gain important support in regions other than the Kurdish provinces. In this election, too, we must be ready to work to reach the widest sections of the working class with an energetic, participatory election campaign that will impose the atmosphere of hope against fear.  

For the continuation of struggle after the elections 

The AKP has been in power for 20 years now, basing its rule on serving the interests of certain parts of the ruling elite and feeding the cult of personality of its leader, Erdogan. If AKP loses the election, it faces the prospect of collapsing like a house of cards. Its alliance is held together by the fact that they hold power and nothing else.   

This is widely discussed by large sections of the bourgeoisie who are already moving against the AKP government, and have begun to prepare themselves for the post-Erdogan political era. They are trying to organise the transition of power with the best terms for them, so that there is no vacuum created and they can continue to control the economy. 

The AKP has very much adapted the state apparatus to serve its own regime. The newly elected bourgeois Nation Alliance, will need to reorganise (or as they call it “restore”) the bourgeois political system, back to a, as they call it, “strengthened parliamentary system”. What they mean by strengthened parliamentary system is that they will abolish the presidential system Erdogan formed and take measures to make the parliament more effective and stronger than before the AKP.  

The end of the Erdogan regime will also mean that the new government will be formed mainly from CHP and IYI parties, but will have the broad consensus of all the existing opposition bourgeois parties. That will leave the space for HDP and the socialist left to become the main opposition.   

The upcoming new government will eventually neither get the country out of the crisis nor fulfill the democratic and social demands that they have promised, due to the iron laws of the capitalist system itself.  

In any case, the formation of a socialist left front can play a very important role in continuing the struggles of the working class against the new regime that will emerge after the elections and against the capitalist system, which is the main source of our problems. The socialist left needs to realise the historic responsibility that it carries towards the future generations of the working class and act accordingly. 

Notes: 
[1] The People’s Alliance (Cumhur İttifakı) is an electoral alliance between Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) and the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi, MHP) 
[2] The Peoples’ Democratic Party (Halkların Demokratik Partisi, HDP) is an alliance of left forces 
[3] The Nation Alliance (Millet İttifakı) is an electoral alliance which consists of four opposition parties, namely the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Good Party (İYİ), the Felicity Party (SP), and the Democratic Party (DP) 
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