Ankara—Things are not going well in Turkey as it faces new elections this Sunday. Two major bombings have traumatized the public in the past six months, one of them in the capital at the beginning of October. President Tayyip Erdogan, once seen as an advocate of political pluralism and European integration (with all the freedoms that move implied), has become Turkey’s equivalent of Dr. Ben Carson. He claimed this week that a pro-Kurdish rival to his own Justice and Development Party (AKP) is being advised by the Obama campaign team (this is not true). He seems determined to hold the entire country hostage to his ambition for an imperial presidency.
The government is blaming Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) for the October 10 bombing in Ankara of a peace rally of Kurdish activists and leftists that killed 102 and wounded hundreds more. The atmosphere here in Ankara is still tense and depressed. I met people who had just come back from memorial services for dead friends. Not everyone believes the government story about the bombing. People are wondering where the country is going, and the sense of optimism and growth seen a decade ago has evaporated. Direct foreign investment in the country was expected to be flat this year even before the turn to turmoil. Political uncertainty threatens the economy.
Erdogan was hoping that his party would pull off another majority in the June elections this year, but it came in with just a bit less than 41 percent of votes. Some votes were stolen from it by a new kid on the block, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP). This pro-Kurdish party campaigned on multiculturalism, feminism and left wing economic policies. It put together a coalition of Turkish Kurds (some twenty percent of the country’s 75 million people) with left-leaning voters. Even conservative Kurds, who had often voted for the ruling AKP, swung to the new pro-Kurdish party. The HDP got 13 percent of the votes.
The parliament elected last June was hung, that is, no party had a majority and no two parties were able to set aside their differences to form a governing coalition. In the midst of the dickering in the capital, Erdogan and his prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, walked away from the peace talks with the radical Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The Obama administration put enormous pressure on Turkey, a NATO ally, to join the bombing campaign against Daesh in Syria. Turkey’s reluctance to take on the murderous beheaders of Raqqa remains mysterious. Was Erdogan afraid of provoking terrorist attacks inside Turkey? Was he more insistent on overthrowing Syrian president Bashar al-Assad than in extinguishing the phony caliphate? Was he afraid of alienating his own right wing? (The AKP is a center-right party but has a Muslim fundamentalist wing, some members of which are not all that alarmed by Daesh.)