A few weeks before the parliamentary elections, Turkey is facing one of the darkest periods in the history of the country. Tuesday, March 31st, the magistrate Mehmet Selim Kiraz was raped in Istanbul by two DHKP-C members (extremist left wing, close to Marxism philosophy). The man, who was investigating the death of Berkin Elvan, a young Turkish killed during anti-government protests in the park Gezi Istanbul in 2013, died in the evening at the hospital.
The day after, another attack threatened the country: a gunman entered the office of Istanbul AKP, Erdogan’s conservative party, and he hung a red flag to a window (the flag has not yet been identified). The man was arrested shortly after by the police. After all these recent events, it is easy to question: was it a coincidence that on March 28th, just a few days before the violence exploded, the Turkish parliament approved a new Public Safety Act? It seems like the Parliament expected this wave of social tension and decided to prevent it. But, this is just a guess.
As a matter of fact, a brand new legislation has been passed and its aim is to increase the power of the police just before the key political vote (June 7th) which will decide the future of the country. This political decision is very controversial and has been criticized by Brussels. It has been defined by the opposition as “the first step to transform the country into a police state”. The measure will allow policeman to use weapons against protesters and during demonstrations. What is more, detention has been allowed up to 48 hours. This law seems to bypass the already weak judicial power, depriving it to declare the state of emergency and to order arrests. Thanks to the latter, local authorities and the police will gain a super power while the country is holding its most important electoral appointment, the Parliament elections (in Turkish, the House is called Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi and includes 550 members elected with a proportional system).
However, neither the European Union nor the international actors should be surprised by this decision. The AKP party (Justice and Development Party), officially still Islamic-moderate, has been ruling Turkey since 2002. By the time Erdogan has taken the power firmly in his hands, he strongly aimed to transform the country from one of the most modern and secularist in an increasingly authoritarian and Islamic state. Turkey now seems to be a tangle of obscurantist statements on men and women, on alcohol and social networks. And it will get worse. Now, the party will challenge the polls for the first time without Erdogan at the head of the formation. On this occasion, in fact, he will be replaced by Ahmet Davutoglu, international relations’ professor and Minister of Foreign Affairs, since 2009.
Here lays the terrible habit of Turkey: the brutal repression. Since the time of Gezi Park, millions of people have been arrested by the police, while dangerous methods have been used to put down protesters: water cannons, tear gas cartridges shot at eye level and rubber bullets. Gradually, the political scenario is getting more and more complicated to comprehend for Turkish population, which strongly disapproves the individual liberties restrictions of a politician who looks more like a “Sultan”. It should be remembered that the country has declared secularism as a fundamental value of the state since the founding of the republic in 1923. The salvation could only be brought by the opposition parties. Obviously, Erdogan’s greatest hope is to reach the absolute majority in the Parliament in order to not have to rely on anyone else for changing the Constitution. However, in order to do that, he would need the two third of the Parliament seats (367 seats which would allow him to make constitutional reforms in perfect solitude).
Speaking about the forthcoming elections, let’s try to see which are the competitors of the AKP party. First of all, the oldest party of the country, CHP (The Popular Republican Party), seems to be the most credible opposition on stage. Secular and left-wing, this party has seen his voters growing up. In addition, the CHP, also considers itself as the real heir of the kemalism. Secondly, there is the Kurdish party for democratic people. Minorities such as the Shiites, Alevis and Kurds are struggling to play a significant role in the Turkish political life. Generally these minorities sympathize with leftist parties such as CHP, but not with the nationalists. Their victory is not likely to happen, moreover, it could lead to the ancient civil war between ultranationalists and the Kurdish minority. Unfortunately, the “Sultan” continues with his fight against a widespread opposition, particularly against Fethullah Gulen and his followers. Furthermore, in the past, the Kurdish PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) has been put in the black book of terrorist organizations despite the announced talks and dialogues.
While waiting for June, what could be the consequences of this situation on EU membership? Surely, Turkey has been a strong candidate for European membership for a long time. Nowadays, we can no longer affirm this. 2015 has been defined as the “year of change for Turkey” in order to make progress in the membership process for most of the observers. Considering the situation right now, it is licit to be sceptical and add the Erdogan’s centralization of power as one of the barrier to entry in the EU. As a matter of fact, a country which claims to be a democracy should listen to its society’s needs and protests, rather than suppressing them in the blood. The respect of human rights is the first requirement to enter in the EU.
In conclusion, will the country continue to ignore the society’s needs and the principles of democracy? The price that it seems ready to pay, at least in the appearance, is the following: enhancing the relationship with the Middle East, especially with Russia. In fact, with the Russian president, Erdogan seems to converge a lot. Turkey has become a privileged partner of Russia not only for the Turkish Stream, a new energetic project intensely desired by Putin, but also regarding the price of gas which will be discounted by 6% compared to the market price. In addition, the Russian Federation will increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables from Ankara to compensate for the restrictions that Russia itself has placed against the European Union as a result of the economic sanctions related to the Ukrainian crisis.
To summarise, if the choice between Europe and the Middle East was uncertain before, now the steps of Turkey are probably moving towards the second one. Unless the AKP loses the elections, Ankara seems far away from regretting about this side choice. The political future of Turkey will be enlightened after June 7th, even though now it seems very dark.
Master’s degree in International Relations (LUISS “Guido Carli”)