Recep Erdoğan’s ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) has suffered a number of significant blows in Turkey’s local government elections, which were largely seen as a referendum on his rule.
The two major cities in Turkey both fell out of the AKP’s hands, with their concession of defeat in Ankara to the CHP (Republican People’s Party), and what seems at the time of writing to be a slim victory for the CHP in Istanbul as well. Istanbul had been held by Erdoğan’s forces since 1994, when Erdoğan was elected mayor as the now defunct Welfare Party candidate.
In the last year, inflation has been constantly dragging down the value of the lira, and Turkey has been in recession. Prices were 20% higher in February than a year earlier, and in the run up to the local elections the lira dropped 5% over a single day. Much of Erdoğan’s appeal, both at home and internationally, had come from his management of the economy and the growth he oversaw, along with his softer form of Islamism. His response to these events has been to blame these issues on attacks by the West. He has repeatedly called for the Turkish central bank to lower interest rates.
The elections were marked by violence and anti-democratic manoeuvres. Two people claimed as members of the conservative Islamist Felicity Party were shot dead at the polls in Malatya province, and the largely Kurdish city Diyarbakır saw clashes which left four dead.
The pro-Kurdish HDP (People’s Democratic Party) has continued to have its politicians arrested in the run-up to the elections. Their material was banned for “Maoist propaganda”. In fact their banners used the phrase “Ye mao” which translates to “It is ours” in the Zaza language of eastern Turkey. HDP co-chair Sezai Temelli quipped in response: “Make sure that China remains unaware of this. You say this here about the word ‘Mao’, but go there to ask for loans. China should not hear of this or you won’t be able to get any loans.”
Despite the repression, the HDP regained a number of seats that they had previously lost, in places where mayors had been replaced by state-appointed officials due to fears of links to the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), the Kurdish organisation in armed conflict with the Turkish state. Fatih Mehmet Maçoğlu was elected in the Dersim municipality, a TKP (Communist Party of Turkey) candidate who had previously served as the mayor of Ovacık. Some on the left have lauded this result, as he has promised to govern the city through a “cooperative” and “socialist” model. However, the building of small pockets of cooperative enterprises which still operate within a broader capitalist economy is no solution to either the political crisis in Turkey, nor to capitalism worldwide.
What is needed is a movement of workers across Turkey to fight for both the end of Turkish state repression of the Kurdish minority, and for the liberation of the working class.