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The following interview by Selin Ongun with renowned psephologist Bekir Ağırdır, CEO of KONDA Research, into the Turkish general election on 7 June 2015, in which four parties were elected to parliament: the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the People’s Democracy Party (HDP), appeared in the Cumhuriyet newspaper on 9 June 2015. Translated from Turkish by Tim Drayton

An early election will not go unforgiven

Selin Ongun

It was KONDA Research that precisely identified how the votes would stack up and was “spot on” about 7 June. I interviewed KONDA Research CEO Bekir Ağırdır, whose opinion carries weight with all “sides” when it comes to the analysis of political processes, twenty days before the election. We are all ears now that the results are in.

- Let’s start with the AK Party. How have they fared from 2011 to 2015?

We hear that, compared to the 2011 results: “The AK Party has lost eight-nine points.” This is right. But, in our previous conversation, I also said that it is not the percentages, but the numbers, that count. The AKP has 18 million core votes among the 21 million that it can at best muster. I pointed this out before the election. Now the AKP is only capable of getting 500 thousand of these three million. So, its 21 million votes have fallen to 18 and a half million.

- What does this mean?

This means that the AK Party has lost all of the votes of its sympathisers. It has been peeled down to its core vote. All it can muster is its own basic core vote. This core vote will not easily collapse due to factors such as polarisation. We thus say that the AKP Party remains the most important political actor in our lives.

Radical Erdoğanism

- What has made the AK Party stall at its core vote - Davutoğlu?

No, you have to take a holistic view. This is neither solely Davutoğlu’s nor the esteemed President’s failure. It is, at the same time, the party’s failure.

- What do these 18 million core votes tell the party?

The key point is that in the run up to the presidential elections the party’s core vote was in the region of 18 million. Alongside this, it also had the votes of three million sympathisers.

- What do you actually mean by sympathisers?

What I mean by sympathisers are those who voted for the AK Party even if they were critical of the party. The AK Party’s potential in these terms is actually 22-23 million.

- So what happened?

For one thing, it failed to adopt the correct position on 17 December. Yes, in the local elections the electorate stood by the party, sensing that “an operation is being conducted,” but, at the same time, convinced that there was indeed graft. It was prepared to be convinced otherwise at a later date. The AK Party, rather than convincing them, preferred to move the dispute into fresh fields. Another important point is that, from among the 18 million, those engaged in the struggle for political Islam have experience of the closure of parties and confiscation of money, and so have memories of an informal organisation alongside the legal organisation. Recall the Mercümek trial with others being found in possession of the Refah Party’s money. So, for the time being, the core vote acted as though they might believe that the money in the shoe boxes was the party’s money. The party, for its part, probably made this justification within in its organisation. But, they were still left waiting for an answer as to the doubts in their minds. It did not come. Thus, the votes of those potential sympathisers dissipated. The other segment has been confronted with all of the AK Party’s recent implementations, such as the presidential palace and the discourse in its defence. People were more uncomfortable with the discourse defending the Head of Religious Affairs’ car than they were with the car itself or the palace. From within a culture in which, concerning the likes of Erdoğan, his poverty was brought to the fore or his poverty was deemed a virtue, the way that his wealth and splendour are now portrayed as correct and necessary has given rise to questioning within his own base.

- Was Erdoğan being on the campaign trail and the radical Erdoğanism championing this discourse detrimental to the party?

Of course it was. What happened was that the AK Party’s core vote, the 18 million, was Erdoğanised. But this came at the cost of the loss of that three million, the sympathisers. So, overall, there was failure. With the mantra, “This leader has won us all elections,” the witting acquiescence and connivance shown to all of the errors lead to loss. For example, the subsequent denial of the Dolmabahçe meeting as this was what the President wanted took place in full view of the electorate. The electorate was not taken in. However, sight should not be lost of the fact that, even so, the AKP is on forty and a half.

- The HDP’s vote rose by six points. Who are these six points?

Three of these points are the Kurds who have drifted away from the AKP. From among the remaining three million, I say keep an eye on one particular group. Everyone speaks of the strategic, tactical votes going to the HDP. I am about to say something that will surprise you. Those votes were only placed strategically with the CHP, anyway. There is a segment in this country, of between three and five percent, which is more Western and urban and has adopted modern and democratic values. It says, “None of these parties speaks to me.” It is drawn to the CHP because it feels its life style to be under threat. But, these people only do so strategically when they vote CHP. Just as the CHP has been unable to hold on to these votes, tomorrow the HDP may be incapable of retaining them. Strategic voting is not peculiar to the HDP. Of those six points accruing to the HDP, I would say that two points are people who once voted strategically for the CHP. They need to be given hope and this time they tried out the HDP. The remaining one point is accounted for by the votes from among traditional left-wing circles within the alliances forged by the HDP, or Alevis.

- What message did the voters give to the parties?

To the AK Party, they said “No” to twisting the system this far. They told it that it operates heedless of the others when it has a comfortable majority. No to that, because there are also others in its midst. So, they said, “One minute.” CHP voters gave the CHP no cause for alarm in this election. But, I think that this is the CHP’s last chance. If the HDP is really able to institutionalise pluralisation - manages to do this - the HDP and CHP may reverse places in the following election. The voters have given the HDP the opportunity to play an important role with regard to the future. Had the HDP really achieved the expected intellectual breakthrough, it may have made it into the 18’s rather than 13’s in terms of percentage. If the HDP can really institutionalise pluralisation, this is a very important opportunity. The MHP ran a calm campaign from the outset. It drew up its list of candidates with a view to strengthening its capacity to conduct politics in Parliament. Indeed, they succeeded in this. They are currently the main coalition candidates. The AK Party ceded a portion of its votes to the MHP and a portion to the HDP. On top of this, it was unable to win the preferences of first-time voters. The MHP had an advantage in that it was there for the Turks who were abandoning both the AK Party and the CHP; it positioned itself before all-comers. Without making a song and dance, it opened up shop and waited calmly. It reaped the rewards of this, too.

An early election will not go unforgiven

- Shall we turn to the political perspectives on the morning of 8 June?

1) Turkish politics have consolidated into four parties. 2) These four parties have turned into the parties of four identities. One of them less, and one more - this is another matter. There are three parties covering Islamism, secularism and Turkism. The HDP, for its part, is attempting to move beyond Kurdism. 3) The polarisation as to the AK Party and its opponents is stark. But, from a different perspective, there is another distinction. With regard to their sociological bases, the AK Party and MHP bases adopt a more pious lifestyle, and the CHP and HDP bases a more secular one. The secular fraternity is in the 35-40 range and the other in the range of 60-65. The CHP has until now been on its own in that secular segment. Now there is the HDP as well. If this time the CHP proves once more incapable of changing in this secular base and the HDP indeed institutionalises pluralisation, and if the questioning among Turks or secularists turns into an intellectual breakthrough, the HDP may be the main opposition party at the first election.

- If there is an early election in three months, what verdict will emerge from the ballot box?

The AK Party will find itself worse off. The MHP and HDP vote will increase explosively. There will be a serious shift from the AK Party to the MHP and from the CHP to the HDP, because the electorate will be disgruntled at the inability of the two big parties to have brokered a solution even under such circumstances. Please remember that this society replaced the first party on each occasion between 1983 and 2002. Having given each of them a chance, it dispensed with all of them. The AK Party no longer stands for novelty. With the discourse it has used for four years, however much it presents itself as being the “New Turkey”, the AK Party has surrendered to the dispute politics and dispute actorship of 2002 Turkey.

- So, if the period we are about to enter sees parties that push, not for a coalition, but for the holding of an early election, will the electorate turn them into parties in name only, as it did in 2002?

I have always said that radical change will not emerge from the ballot box due to such factors as polarisation and the identity stresses of which I have spoken a great deal. So, even if this does not turn into such a serious meltdown, there may be a three or five point slippage from the AK Party to the MHP. From the CHP, a further three, five and maybe eight or even ten points more may slip in the direction of the HDP. In other words, the electorate will not forgive an early election. It will not at all forgive a push in this direction.

- What would you say that each party needs to attend to?

In Turkey, everything has shattered; everything has become politicised along partisan lines. We have polarised. We have had our feelings shattered. Even the state machinery has split up into being “pro or anti-Erdoğan”. This is what the President himself says. He says, “There is a parallel structure.” Each and every day, they detain fifty policemen. Even the state is on the verge of breaking up on account of such partisanship and political polarisation. Turkey cannot bear this. Turkey is not Syria or Egypt. If the parties cannot broker compromise and continue to prolong the dispute, when a currently uncontemplated, totally different actor emerges, the electorate may wipe out the entire current landscape.

An AK Party-MHP coalition

What do you foresee in terms of coalition?

I think that, with a view to managing daily life, the coalition will be between the AK Party and the MHP. The critical matter here is: 1) The MHP has adopted a clear position with regard to the presidency. In any case, the electorate has removed the presidency from the agenda. 2) The graft issue. The MHP may take a retroactive step here so as to settle scores, but they may agree on forward-looking points, for example the immediate introduction of a transparency package whereby Erdoğan is kept out of the loop. Or they may shake hands on a package to reframe the public procurement law. 3) The solution process should in any case be moved away from being based on İmralı. The main reason no progress has been achieved is the AK Party’s insistence on deeming İmralı to be the sole interlocutor and its attempt to sideline the HDP. Now the HDP is in Parliament. If the commissions to address the solution process as proposed by the HDP are established in Parliament - if this becomes reality - neither the MHP nor the HDP may object to the logic that “Henceforth, the role falls to Parliament.” So, an AK Party-MHP government will be established and the solution process will acquire a parliamentary basis. However, there is a tangent here that is very critical for all of our futures.

- What’s that?

The grand reconciliation! When the Constitution Reconciliation Commission dissolved in 2011, they had reached reconciliation on 72 articles. If they say, “We are now discussing the 73rd article” the door will open on the new life we are seeking, with the involvement of the CHP and HDP, too. If they say, “Let’s filibuster,” no reconciliation will be achieved here. Then the AK Party-MHP coalition will not last four years. That is, if the AK Party-MHP coalition is established solely to manage daily life, we will hold an election in two or two and a half years. However, if they seek a grand reconciliation, this may be a historic opportunity for the country. Of course, we cannot predict how the fifth actor in this whole game apart from the four parties, the esteemed President, will act. If he maintains his attitude of “Let the cabinet convene in Beştepe,” this coalition will not last; it won’t happen.

-The President made his first comment, not from the balcony, but in writing...

True, that’s the picture to have emerged so far. I want to stress that, as things stand, if, initially, the AK Party, as it has lost power, and then the CHP as the main opposition are unable to embark on change - if they are incapable of this - both of them will fall into much weaker positions following the early election in two or two and a half years’ time. The MHP and HDP may together pick up the slack.

- So, either the AK Party and the CHP change together or depart together?

Precisely...Now, there are one or two hints as to how the AK Party is going to act. The President made a calmly worded comment. It is clear that he has controlled his anger. Davutoğlu, in his speech from the balcony, said, “We are seeking power.” The AK Party will not tolerate a power vacuum for even one day. Also, Davutoğlu did not imbue his balcony speech with the “sound of failure”. Were Mr Erdoğan to say, “Resign and let there be a change of party leader,” I sense that Davutoğlu would, in the short term, resist or is preparing to resist. Of course, there are others who are preparing to resist. Abdullah Gül, the founding elders ousted following three terms, etc. Or those who have suffered under political Islam, who have given their all to this movement but have later now been ostracised thanks to AK Party people. I think the AK Party’s position will become clear within ten days and a picture will emerge from the congress in September.

One quarter of Alevis with the HDP

- Who did the Kurdish electorate’s votes go to in the main?

The Kurdish electorate in Turkey numbers about seven million. Of this amount, up to three and a half million used to go to the AK Party and two and a half million to the HDP. The remaining million was divided among various parties. Now, the HDP has become the party of six or seven Kurds in ten, while the AK Party is the party of two or three of them.

- What is the position with Alevi voters?

Among Alevis, traditionally three-quarters have always supported the CHP and still do so. There is no change there. But, with a section of Alevis previously perhaps not going to vote or being split among left-socialist parties, now that remaining quarter went en masse to the HDP.

Archive of Turkish press translations by Tim Drayton