Turkish election - a political earthquake

Turkey's political establishment has been stunned by the landslide election victory of the moderate Islamic Justice and Development Party, the AKP. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the former mayor of Istanbul who leads the party, won a crushing victory in Sunday's election. His party won 363 seats in the 550-seat assembly, leaving them four votes short of a two thirds majority needed to change the constitution. There are, however, nine independents, some of whom could be sympathetic. The Republican People's Party (CHP) holds the remaining 178 seats.

None of the parties that went into parliament at the last elections have survived. The party of incumbent Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit got only one percent of the vote. Ecevit's face on the television screen told the whole story. This dramatic turnaround is an expression of the anger, frustration and disgust of the masses with the corrupt and degenerate bourgeois parties, which have ruled Turkey for the last four years.

This result has created a lot of problems for the bourgeoisie. Apart from the other big problems, there remains the question of the premiership which has been left unresolved. This is an important issue because the leader of the party, Erdogan, is disqualified from assuming the post of premiership by a court order. The formal excuse is that he recited an old Islamic poem in one of his party's rallies. This was deemed to be a subversive act!

The real reason is the bitter hostility of a section of Turkish ruling class and the state (especially the army) towards "Islamic" parties. These parties are regarded as a threat to Turkey's general pro-Western orientation. For that reason the dominant wing of the bourgeoisie has been putting heavy pressure on this party in an attempt to bring it more into line with its own aims.

However, despite these conflicts, the differences between these sections of the bourgeoisie are more apparent than real. As soon as the Justice and Development Party (AKP) had been elected Erdogan immediately threw overboard his old anti-Western demagogy and began stressing his commitment to "Turkey's existing international obligations" That means Nato, the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund.

The purpose of Erdogan's sudden passion for international affairs is quite clear. It is intended to send calming signals to Turkey's military high command and to the capitals of the EU and Washington. In fact, Erdogan's party officials had already been despatched post-haste to the USA and the EU even before the election to reassure the international bourgeoisie that it had nothing to fear either from him or his party. Erdogan admitted yesterday that he had informed the EU's ambassador before the election that he was "ready to pay visits to EU capitals".

These facts prove conclusively that the AKP intends to carry out a bourgeois policy that differs in no serious respect from the policies of his predecessors. For example, Turkey is one of the biggest debtor nations, and Erdogan was hoping to extract some easing of the IMF's financial restrictions. Yet the AKP leader obviously is prepared to accept the dictates of bankers. He said: "We will sit down with the IMF and go through each article of the [loan] programme. We will request changes if we deem them necessary."

The weakness of Turkish capitalism will dictate the policies pursued by the new government. Erdogan will be compelled to bend the knee before the pressures of international capitalism and imperialism. Despite all the "Islamic" demagogy, there is little doubt that Turkey will support the aggressive actions of the USA against Iraq, in the hope of obtaining some concessions. Whether any concessions are forthcoming is another matter!

In addition to the problems looming on the international and economic front Erdogan also faces a potential constitutional crisis. So far he has avoided comment on the question of whether his party's overwhelming majority in the assembly could be used to change the constitution or the laws which currently prevent him from becoming a candidate. Although Turkey is supposed to be a "democracy" real power does not lie with the assembly but with the army, which, by the way, is itself a big capitalist conglomerate (the third biggest in Turkey). Any attempt at a direct challenge to the army's authority would lead to a serious crisis with revolutionary implications.

Even without this, Erdogan faces serious problems. Apart from being disqualified from standing as a parliamentary candidate he is also threatened with legal action by the state prosecutor which would force him to stand down from the leadership of the party. A further action is underway to close the party altogether. We must remember that the army forced out the last Islamic-led government five years ago, after the then prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan, had infuriated the generals by emphasising diplomatic contacts with the Arab world.

However, a move by the army against AKP is not on the agenda at the present time. In such a heated atmosphere, with widespread discontent and the masses aroused, any attempt to stage a coup would cause an explosive situation, which would be very dangerous for the ruling class. At the time of writing this article, the chief of the Turkish general staff is on a visit to the USA, where, in addition to planning Turkey's participation in the war on Iraq, the American imperialists will strongly advise the Turkish military not to do anything provocative - at least at this stage.

In point of fact, they have no reason to act. The AKP is just another bourgeois party, with a little bit of "Islamic" colouring. They will do anything in their power to convince the imperialists and the military establishment that they have no secret Islamist agenda. Erdogan protests his innocence at every opportunity: "We are fed up listening to these types of questions. We are not a political party based on religion. The best way to find out whether this is true or not is to watch." The AKP, he said, was a "party of the right of centre" which had "reshaped the political centre... and brought together the right of centre in one place in a stronger manner".

What does all this mean? Only this: that those millions of Turkish workers and poor people who voted for the AKP last Sunday in the hope of a change are doomed to be bitterly disappointed. The most burning issue for the masses is unemployment. After the economic collapse in February of last year, unemployment has soared. The current figure for real unemployment is about 25 percent. In one year following the collapse, the Turkish economy shrank by nearly 10 percent. Living standards have fallen drastically. This is the real reason for the victory of the AKP.

To present this result as a swing of Turkish public opinion towards Islamicism is entirely false. In the first place, although the AKP got a big parliamentary majority, it only received 34 percent of the votes. But thanks to the peculiar electoral system, it got a parliamentary result out of all proportion to the votes cast. The voting system involves a 10 percent threshold, which the army introduced after the 1980 coup, in order to keep out the left parties. Now this weapon has been directed against them. Because the old parties were unable to get even 10 percent, they have no seats. As a result, 45 percent of the votes are not represented in the parliament.

However, this election reveals a strong current of discontent in Turkish society. The election result showed a colossal mood of protest that has been developing in Turkey over a long period. Most people are profoundly dissatisfied with the present state of affairs. This discontent is not only to do with the state of the economy - although that is very important - it is a discontent that touches every area of life - housing, education, justice, the state, the army, the police, politicians, and the all-pervasive corruption that infects everything.

One of the reasons for Erdogan's popularity was that he was supposed to be "Mr. Clean" when he was mayor of Istanbul. In fact, he also filled his pockets and those of his "Islamist" cronies. He is a very rich man. Now he is in power, he and his cronies will have still greater opportunities to enrich themselves at the public expense.

In last Sunday's election, the people of Turkey showed that they did not really know what they wanted, but they knew very well what they did NOT WANT. This is an important first step, but it is only a first step. Now they will have to learn by bitter experience what the real meaning of the AKP is. Erdogan has already warned that no relief is to be expected for at least three years. This is an attempt to dampen expectations and reduce the pressure for reforms. But it will not succeed. The masses did not vote for the AKP for nothing. They demand a change.

Under conditions of deep economic crisis, mass unemployment and war, Turkey will be shaken to its foundations. Erdogan and the AKP have no answer to the problems faced by the masses. After an initial period of lull, as the masses digest their experience, there will be the beginnings of a mass movement, particularly on the industrial front, which will bring the working class into collision with this government. The stage will be set for an enormous upswing of the class struggle in Turkey.

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