In November 2002 a new government took office in Turkey. Eighteen political parties had contested the General Election, of which only two managed to pass the ten percent threshold required for parliamentary representation: AKP (Justice and Development Party) with 34.3% of the vote, and CHP (Republican People’s Party) with 19.4%.
The result came as a shock for many people in Turkey for a number of reasons:
- The AK Party had been formed mere two years earlier and not only had no parliamentary representation, it had not previously contested a general election.
- The two parties now represented in the Meclis (parliament) had held no seats in the previous parliament.
- All the parties that had held seats in the previous parliament failed to pass the threshold.
- Because of the distribution of votes among 18 parties – a clear sign of voter desperation – the AK Party won an absolute majority of seats and was able to form a government on its own – a rare occurrence in the history of the Republic.
- The leader of the party, Mr Tayyip Erdoğan, was unable to assume the mantle of Prime Minister, as would normally have been the case, because he had been convicted in 1998 of ‘inciting violence and religious hatred’, sentenced to ten months in prison, and removed from office as Mayor of Istanbul.
How was this possible? The short answer is ‘Burası Türkiye’, a Turkish phrase that visitors hear frequently if they spend any length of time in the country. The literal meaning is, ‘This is Turkey’ – but the words are used to explain any occurrence which defies normal rules of logic. The implication is, ‘Don’t be surprised – pretty much anything can happen here, and often does!’
The fact is, however, there is always a reason. No event occurs in a causative vacuum. For every reaction there is an equal and opposite preceding action, as Isaac Newton is reputed to have said.
- Turkey had experienced a catastrophic economic crisis the previous year, when the Turkish Lira, already barely worth the paper it was printed on, halved in value overnight, reaching at one point a rate of 1,700,000 to the $US.
- Since its first democratic election in 1950, the country had experienced one post-modern and three old-fashioned military coups, and featured high on Amnesty International’s lists for imprisonments without trial, disappearances and police use of torture.
- Between military coups, Turkey was ruled by more or less corrupt and/or incompetent coalition governments whose leaders seemed more interested in lining their own pockets and those of their families and supporters, than in doing much for the ordinary citizen.
- Since 1970, annual inflation (source) had not been in single digits, in fact averaging 54%, reaching a high of 120% in 1994 during the governance of the country’s first woman Prime Minister, a former Professor of Economics.
- All the guidebooks I read about Turkey reported that the population was 99% Muslim – but any attempts to set up a political party based on Islamic beliefs resulted in closure and the banning of its members.
- The Kurdish people, said to make up twenty percent of the population, were prohibited from using their own language, even from giving Kurdish names to their children, and eastern regions had been suffering from an on-going virtual civil war.
I could go on, but you get the picture. By the time of the 2002 election, a lot of people had quite good reasons for feeling it was time for a change – and change was what they got. Within a remarkably short period of time, inflation was reduced to single digits, enabling the government to erase six zeroes from the currency and issue a new Lira, complete with a smiling portrait of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
- Resisting strong pressure from the United States and its poodle allies, the government of Turkey refused to participate in George Dubya Bush’s illegal and immoral 2003 invasion of Iraq.
- Regional development was encouraged to stem the flow of internal migration to the country’s largest city Istanbul.
- Some measures of urban planning were instituted to rectify glaring inadequacies that had led to the disaster of the 1999 Gölcük earthquake.
- Major projects were begun to improve infrastructure in the larger cities: road and rail bridges and tunnels, underground metro systems, upgraded water and electricity supply facilities, and telecommunication networks.
- Significant improvements were made in the fields of health, education and social welfare. The state medical system was vastly improved, new universities were opened, new schools built and old ones earthquake-proofed, and the public service was modernised and streamlined. These days, when you visit a government department on business you take a number from a machine and wait your turn to be served by an often smiling and helpful ‘memur’. Less need for bribes now!
But were the people happy? Right from the first day they took office, the AK Party government, and in particular, its charismatic leader, Tayyip Erdoğan, were subjected to a tidal wave of vituperative propaganda.
Despite its protestations of being a broad-based, democratic party with no specific religious affiliations, the government was accused of having a hidden agenda to turn Turkey into an Islamic state ruled by Shariah law. Immediately the Internet began to be used as a tool for circulating derogatory and misleading information: photographs of black burqa-clad women purported to have been taken in Istanbul, juxtaposed with others of carefree young miniskirted lasses cavorting on the streets of Teheran. A series of pictures was circulated featuring the blond bimbo trophy wives of leaders of Islamic countries (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Syria), contrasted with the modestly headscarved spouses of Erdoğan and his ministers. Emine Erdoğan was particularly ridiculed for lack of formal education and general frowziness.
Tayyip Bey himself was regularly derided for his wrong-side-of-the-railway-tracks origins in the working class Istanbul district of Kasımpaşa. He was accused of pursuing ‘neo-Ottoman’ policies at home and abroad – a useful word for name-calling with little meaningful substance. Smear campaigns circulated fabricated rumours about him: he had mistresses; he was dying of cancer; he had no university degree.
The AK Party Government was given no credit for its many achievements by this vociferous minority – even in their economic successes they were merely reaping the benefits of measures put in place by their predecessors. Miraculous projects were derided – the Bosporus Metro tunnel was unsafe and shouldn’t be used; urban renewal was heartless destruction of traditional neighbourhoods, large commercial developments showed the Government was selling out to Mammon, while building a couple of large flagship mosques was proof of the hidden religious agenda. They were working to ban the consumption of alcohol – in spite of overwhelming evidence that the production, variety and consumption of alcoholic beverages have mushroomed during AK Party’s time in office. Denunciation of Mr Erdoğan as a United States puppet clashed with accusations of Islamic fundamentalism when he criticised Israel for its illegal and inhumane actions in Palestinian territories.
The opposition media and political parties have worked to make everything focus on Mr Erdoğan – as if he wasn’t the leader of a very competent team. Even after he stood down as Prime Minister and was elected by the people as President of the Republic – a largely ceremonial role – journalists have continued running to him for his comments on anything and everything. The last election in June this year was turned into a vote for or against Tayyip Bey, despite the fact that he wasn’t a candidate for any office. If the man is a monster, as he is often portrayed these days, the news media and leaders of the two main opposition parties, with twelve years of unflagging efforts to demonise him and polarise the country against him, are, in my opinion, largely to blame.
So where is Turkey now, after those twelve years of AK Party government – the longest period of political and economic stability since the days of the Republic’s revered founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk? Despite remarkable economic and social progress, there is no doubt that the country is facing serious problems at home and abroad.
The June election produced an indecisive result, just at a time when Turkey, perhaps more than ever, is in need of decisive governance. Despite winning a higher proportion of the vote than in 2002 (40%), AK Party does not have enough seats to govern alone. This is largely a result of strategic voting by some who decided to throw their support behind the Kurdish DHP party, pushing them for the first time over the ten percent threshold.
Chances of a coalition government were virtually nil from the start. The two main opposition parties, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Republican People’s Party (CHP), after devoting most of their energies for twelve years to nay-saying every action or proposal of the AKP government, would obviously find it nigh impossible to turn about and cooperate in forming a government. At the same time, they and the HDP are equally incapable of getting together, in spite of having the numbers to govern, since the only thing they have in common is their hatred of Tayyip Erdoğan and the AK Party.
The Turkish Lira has been on a downward slide since before the recent election – ostensibly because of uncertainty in the money markets. Well, leave aside what I think about the very concept of a ‘money market’. I have a strong suspicion that the United States Government, with the support of the transnational money manipulators who virtually control their foreign and internal policies, has decided the time is ripe to get rid of the maverick Erdoğan and his uncooperative government. I am as certain as I can be that they did it to Muhammed Morsi in Egypt, and Turkey is next in line for the treatment. What do they do? They put pressure on the currency (easy for individuals to do who have more purchasing power than ninety percent of the world’s governments), creating unrest among the citizens, then leave it to them to do the work on the streets or via the ballot box. Much less messy and bloody than an invasion or a military coup.
Just yesterday I saw that Moody’s, the international credit rating agency, was expressing concern about Turkey’s political situation. How quickly we have forgotten that those privately owned agencies, Standard and Poors, Moody’s etc were largely to blame for the 2008 world financial crisis, having given their seal of approval to huge banks and other financial wheelers and dealers who were selling those toxic packages of worthless mortgages as sound investments.
So far the exchange rate hasn’t impacted too badly on internal prices so the main victims are those of us wanting (or needing) to travel abroad. More serious, of course, is the re-escalating conflict with Kurdish freedom-fighters, or whatever you want to call them – and Turkey’s involvement in the USA’s undeclared war against ISIS/Daesh. Not to forget the refugee problem which has seen around two million sanctuary-seekers enter the country from Syria since their civil war began four years ago. Once again, there seem to be many ready to blame Tayyip Erdoğan and the AK Party for these problems – though I don’t see what they could have done to prevent them. Most of the current chaos in the Middle East can be blamed on the United States, with earlier assistance from Great Britain and France, and has much to do with oil, plus, of course, the problematic existence of Israel, whose government has been a major contributor to the propaganda war against Erdoğan and Turkey.
George Dubya Bush invaded and pulverised Iraq on a pretext subsequently shown to be false. He enlisted the support of Iraqi Kurds against Saddam Hussein, promising them what In return? A unified Kurdistan of their very own? Which would then serve as a friendly oil-rich puppet-state for the USA? Whatever the case, the result for Turkey was a renewal of the eastern conflict which had been more or less under control for a few years. And the power vacuum created in Iraq by the American destruction undoubtedly helped to spawn the new Islamic bogey, ISIS/Daesh – which they are now trying to bomb into oblivion. Ever thought of trying something different for a change, guys? And the resulting violence in the region is creating a massive outflow of displaced humanity, desperate for a safe haven from the madness.
It’s been four years since the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees, and his off-sider Angelina Jolie, began to beg the ‘developed’ ‘Christian’ world to recognise the emerging humanitarian disaster and help. Only now have the wealthier EU countries decided, as the flood of asylum-seekers starts to breach their own borders, that they should maybe contribute some financial assistance so that Turkey (and to a lesser extent Greece and Italy) can keep that reverse invasion in their backyards.
To finish up, I want to turn to a point I avoided making at the beginning, namely, when you compare the performance of Turkey’s government over the past twelve years with what went before; and what has gone on in other so-called democratic Christian states in the same time period, they don’t look too bad.
The CHP leader has referred to the government of AKP as a ‘civilian coup’. Well, that’s probably about as meaningful a label as ‘neo-Ottomanism’. Many citizens of present-day Turkey had personal experience of the reign of terror perpetrated by the generals after the 1980 military takeover – and I suspect they could tell opposition politicians a thing or two about actual coups. As for democratic rights, up until the advent of AK Party, male teachers in state and private schools were forbidden to wear beards, female teachers to wear trousers; and a woman could not get a job anywhere wearing a headscarf of any description. I won’t repeat the sanctions imposed on Kurds over the use of their language and taking political action. Nor have I the space to go into the well-known corruption that went on via an unholy deep-state alliance of business leaders, organised crime and political leaders. All this can be found readily elsewhere by anyone wishing to look.
I have mentioned that AK party did not exist three years before it won an election to become the government of Turkey. How long since a new party emerged in the USA? Two hundred years? And what chance has any third party of achieving electoral success? No proof has ever emerged to my knowledge, of marital infidelities by Mr Erdoğan. Compare that with the cringe-making sexual shenanigans of Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is still under investigation for accepting an enormous contribution from Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi for his 2007 presidential campaign as well as other charges of nepotism on behalf of his son Jean, and was actually taken into police custody for ‘active corruption’ in 2014. Bill Clinton, of course, was a total embarrassment to most Americans during his presidency; George Dubya Bush deceived his own people and his allies into supporting his undeclared wars on Afghanistan and Iraq; and Barack Obama has reneged on most of the promises that got him elected by American armchair liberals.
If there is one event in Turkey’s recent history that confirms the healthy state of the country’s democracy, it must surely be the result of that June parliamentary election. Despite all the prior assertions of the usual hysterical opposition leaders, no one has suggested that the election was anything but fair – and the fact that the result would not have been to Mr Erdoğan’s liking must be indisputable confirmation of this. Whatever happens in Turkey in the next few months, I believe that history (if the world survives to see much more of it) will pass a more favourable judgment on Erdoğan and the AK Party Government.