Kurdish breakthrough in Turkish elections

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The general election in Turkey on 7 June was a huge setback for the ruling Islamist AKP party, and a breakthrough for the left-leaning Kurdish HDP.

The AKP’s problems started two years ago when a movement occupied Gezi Park and remained in control of Istanbul’s central square for two weeks.

As demonstrations in solidarity spread throughout the country, the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan unleashed brutal police violence which ended with eight dead and hundreds seriously injured. Even AKP supporters were shocked.

This followed a scandal of ministerial corruption involving large sums of money. In response the AKP turned on prosecutors and judges that brought the charges. The third blow came when 300 miners were killed in a pit disaster.

The AKP electoral successes over the past decade were based on a widespread sense of well-being, political stability and a peace process with the Kurdish movement. The economic good fortune allowed Turkey to avoid the worst of the crisis which broke in 2007-2008.

In the two years since the Gezi protest this has been replaced by general unease. The economy is slowing, the peace process has lost momentum and a growing workers’ movement has begun to flex its muscles.

Above all, the government’s authoritarian and brutal response to any sign of discontent has made many of its own supporters turn away.

The HDP now has 80 MPs in the 550 seat parliament. This represents a slap in the face for Turkish chauvinism, and a setback to the official opposition, the Peoples Republican Party (CHP). This party is closely associated with anti-Kurdish nationalism and Islamophobia.

This strong Kurdish representation means that the peace process can continue.

It is estimated that more than 80 percent of the people who voted for the HDP are Kurdish, but the party gave voice to other minorities. Whether the HDP can transform itself into a left party for the country as a whole remains to be seen.

But even if it does not achieve this, what it has done so far is already of historic importance.

It is unlikely that the AKP can regain its past strength. The aura of invincibility is now gone, and divisions are beginning to emerge within the party. Despite securing 41 percent of the vote, the party is badly damaged.

The AKP must attempt to form a coalition either with the CHP or with the fascist National Action Party (MHP).

The AKP fears that if it is out of government, Erdogan and many other leading party members could be prosecuted for corruption.

The biggest sign of a change is in the workers’ movement.

The industrial struggle has been at a low level throughout most of the AKP years.

This was partly because a majority of workers supported the government, for political rather than economic reasons, but also because the economy was doing well.

This began to change last year following the Soma mine disaster. There have been a series of spontaneous walk-outs in many workplaces, some of which are not unionised.

A strike by 15,000 metal workers in the automotive industry last month is the most important for many years.

The government has the legal right to postpone strikes for 60 days for “national security”. It postponed the metal strike, just as it had done with a glass workers’ strike previously.

A new generation of young workplace leaders is emerging in these struggles. It is almost certain that these struggles will continue, especially if the economic crisis hits harder.