The first round of the presidential elections in Turkey has not resulted in a clear winner. The current president Erdogan of the AKP (with 49.3 percent of the votes) will be forced into the second round for the first time. His rival will be Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of the CHP, the Republican People’s Party. This election was an uphill battle for the AKP, which has governed Turkey for 20 years, and yet Erdogan was not dislodged.
The economic crisis has hit the population hard: inflation has exceeded 80 percent per year according to official statistics, the Turkish lira is in free fall, while GDP growth forecasts do not exceed 3 percent. Mass strikes, the largest since the 1970s, shook the country between the end of 2021 and 2022. Finally, there was the catastrophic earthquake of 6 February, which caused over 50,000 deaths in Turkey alone and left millions of people homeless.
This catastrophe was not a simple natural disaster. The Erdogan government granted 12 building amnesties in 20 years, the last one in 2019, which resulted in shoddy construction that contributed to the scale of destruction. One of the pillars of the Turkish economic boom is the construction sector, and the construction moguls have always been supporters of the AKP.
Anger against the government and the developers has mounted in recent months, and has become another factor in the national mood, alongside uncertainty about the economic situation. And yet, this did not translate into Erdogan’s defeat at the polls. Indeed, his electoral coalition (the People’s Alliance) obtained a solid majority in parliament, even if the AKP will lose about 20 seats.
All against Erdogan?
It seems clear that the “all against Erdogan” strategy has failed. Kılıçdaroğlu stood on behalf of Nation Alliance, a coalition comprising six parties. Most are far from progressive: the Good Party (GP) is a split of the neo-fascist MHP party, but with a more pro-Western line. The Happiness Party (SP) is an Islamic party from which the AKP has separated to adopt a more moderate line.
The CHP is described as social democratic by the bourgeois press. In reality, it is the historical Kemalist (from Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey) party of the bourgeoisie. Kılıçdaroğlu during the electoral campaign spoke out against corruption and high living costs, to be fought with the classic ‘solutions’ of the bourgeoisie. For example, Kılıçdaroğlu proposed “orthodox monetary policies” and “central bank independence”. This translates as: cuts in public spending to fight inflation and the return of the banks under the full control of the bourgeoisie.
On foreign policy, he pledged to “respect the international treaties of which Turkey is a signatory.” That is to say: “in the event of my victory, I will be less equidistant between Washington and Moscow” (remember that Ankara has the second-largest NATO army), limiting Turkey’s regional power ambitions. On the issue of Syrian refugees (about 3.6 million), the CHP says it wants to drive them all back.
To counter his adversaries, Erdogan stopped at nothing. He used his state control over the media, TV and social platforms in an unscrupulous way. He would certainly have been willing to void the election result, as happened for the municipal elections in Istanbul in 2019. But, for now, he hasn’t needed to.
He raised the minimum wage by 55 percent for everyone in January and another 45 percent for civil servants a week before the election. He also lowered gas bills and brought forward the retirement age, allowing two million workers to retire immediately. He has used these kinds of bribes before, though without any corresponding economic growth they will simply add to inflation and Turkey’s massive debt pile: robbing Peter to pay Paul.
He used anti-American rhetoric, which is very popular in Turkey, accusing Biden of wanting his defeat, right at the final rally. It is possible there was some truth in this, as confirmed by the New York Times:
“U.S. officials and analysts believe that a change in Turkey’s leadership could present a chance for the two countries — which share important strategic interests — to reset their relationship and potentially draw Turkey back toward the West.”
Another winning move was to allow hundreds of thousands of Syrian and Afghan refugees to register on the electoral rolls. Given the racist position of the opposition, it is not difficult to imagine who they voted for!
The limits of the left
The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the main formation of the Kurdish left, was fully involved in the “everyone against Erdogan” strategy, which formally called for a vote for Kılıçdaroğlu, despite having been excluded from the electoral coalition, and despite the fact that the CHP had supported all the repressive measures taken by Erdogan.
On the altar of the lesser evil, the HDP leadership sacrificed all its principles and supported a Kemalist candidate, that political current born on the basis of the denial of rights to national minorities!
We are certain that, in an attempt to secure the support of Ogan, an ultranationalist close to the Gray Wolves (5.2 percent in the first round), Kılıçdaroğlu will make the “fight against terrorism” (read: the Kurds) his own and will not hesitate to distance himself from the HDP. Gratitude is not a virtue for bourgeois politics.
Despite the censorship and decision to be represented by the YSP (Green Left Party), to avoid exclusion from the election, as threatened by Erdogan, the HDP reached 8.71 and obtained 61 parliamentarians, confirming itself as the third political force. Another four deputies went to the Workers’ Party of Turkey, of Maoist origin, which also supported Kılıçdaroğlu.
The result demonstrates the potential for a leftist force in the country, provided it carries out a class agenda, without compromise with the different factions of the bourgeoisie.
It is not our task to predict who will win the ballot. In the less probable case of Kılıçdaroğlu overturning the outcome of the first round, he would find himself in the minority in parliament, forced to water down his differences with Erdogan even more in order to govern.
Instead, it is our duty to learn all the lessons from this first round. Strikes and mass mobilisations made Erdogan tremble between 2021 and 2022. Scandals and the handling of the earthquake had caused his support to collapse in the polls.
The opportunity to get rid of the ‘Sultan’ was wasted due to unprincipled electoral manoeuvres. Erdogan cannot be defeated by the least evil. Only the class struggle can do away with Erdogan and the rotten policies of Turkish capitalism.
Were the HDP armed with a class programme, linking the daily struggle for a decent existence to a plan for the socialist transformation of Turkish society, it could drive a wedge through the ethnic and religious divisions within the workers and youth and unite the exploited masses.
The IMT works to build this revolutionary alternative in Turkey and throughout the Middle East.