On June 7, 54 million voters headed to the polls to take part in critical parliamentary elections in Turkey. According to the official results, the Kurdish-rooted People’s Democratic Party (HDP) is set to enter Turkey’s parliament for the first time following elections on Sunday. There is little doubt that the results were a sweeping blow to the ruling AK Party’s hopes of changing the country’s system of government to a presidential system after losing its simple majority in the parliament for the first time since 2002. Another significant achievement was the election of three Armenians, one Assyrian and a Yezidi to parliament. CivilNet conducted an interview with author and journalist Stephen Starr, who was covering the elections for The Irish Times and a number of international publications.
According to Starr the AK Party not only lost huge number of seats in the parliament, but it was a huge blow to their sense of invincibility. “It was very unlikely for them to get two thirds of the parliament with more than 367 seats, but what they did think is that would get 330 seats, which will allow them to push for a referendum on whether or not to change Turkey’s constitution, to change the country’s parliamentary system to a presidential system allowing Erdogan to legally and constitutionally govern the country.. Now that they didn’t reach that number, finishing the elections with almost 257 members in the parliament, it was a huge blow to all their endeavors and goals for the past 5-6 years. They have had a number of plans through the entire time, since 2002, and this was the first time that those plans have completely gone off the rails,” said Starr.
“One of the first public statements by a HDP member after the results was that ‘we understand that we are now in the parliament on borrowed votes.’ And that means that a lot of the people who voted for them did so in a protest capacity. They voted for the HDP, because they did not want the AK Party to institute a presidential system and change the constitution. And also it’s the same for the opposition, because a lot of people who were CHP supporters, especially in Istanbul, were frustrated by them and their same old rhetoric and they wanted to give HDP a chance to see what they’re like,” said Stephen Starr. “The other part of society that supported HDP yesterday was the Kurdish minority, predominantly in the southeast of the country but also in Istanbul suburbs. Particularly, if we take into account the bombing of the HDP rally in Diyarbakir a day before the elections, a lot of conservative Kurds who used to vote for the AK Party for a number of elections, I imagine that they felt that this attack on HDP is a dangerous thing and they wanted to give HDP a chance to enter parliament to shake up Turkish politics.”
Answering the question whether there was an equal or level playing field during the campaign for all parties before the elections, Starr commented that “it was not an equal playground.” According to the Istanbul-based Irish Times correspondent, apart from the attacks against HDP campaign vehicles and rallies, what we should focus on more is the level of attention the Turkish media gave the AK Party and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “On Friday night he was giving an hour long interview with Erdogan, who is constitutionally bound that as the president of the country should not be speaking about politics. While in this hour-long interview, he talkrf about the merits of the AK Party and what they have been doing from new construction projects and infrastructure projects, and so on so forth.”
According to Starr, the fact that urban middle class voters gravitated to HDP because it wasn’t using negative politics and negative campaign tactics to get its point across, while a core element of the AK Party election campaign was to single out the HDP and single out many of the parties with negative connotations. “There was a reference by Erdogan to a number of minorities in Turkey portraying them in a very negative way. This is something that a lot of Turks are tired of hearing and I think that is why they find HDP refreshing. A lot of Turks see HDP running a very clean campaign, without singling out anybody and without resorting to dirty tactics.” According to Starr forming a coalition government will be very difficult and there will probably be snap elections before the end of the year.