Istanbul Elections: a Turkish Constitutional Crisis?

Richard Falk.

Prefatory Note: There are important recent developments in Turkey. An unprecedented decision by the High Electoral Council (HEC) of Turkey to cancel the outcome of the election of mayor in Istanbul that had been narrowly won by Ekram Imamoglu of the leading opposition party, CHP, or Republican People’s Party. The rerun of the March 31stelection is scheduled for June 23rd.

The HEC justified its 7-4 decision by citing ‘electoral irregularities,’ but many in Turkey believe the overturning of the result reflected pressures exerted by the AKP leadership, particularly, its controversial president, Recep Tayip Erdogan and his close circle of advisors, who contend that the earlier election in Istanbul was ‘unlawful.’ An interesting further development is the withdrawal from the rerun of three small minority parties that together gained 2.6% of the vote, which overshadows the .02% margin of victory by Imamoglu on March 31st. It is assumed that this withdrawal from the second election will help Imamoglu win a second time, presuming a fair election.

There are important recent developments in Turkey. An unprecedented decision by the High Electoral Council(HEC) of Turkey to cancel the outcome of the election of mayor in Istanbul that had been narrowly won by Ekram Imamoglu of the leading opposition party, CHP, or Republican People’s Party. The rerun of the March 31stelection is scheduled for June 23rd. The HEC justified its 7-4 decision by citing ‘electoral irregularities,’ but many in Turkey believe the overturning of the result reflected pressures exerted by the AKP leadership, particularly, its controversial president, Recep Tayip Erdogan and his close circle of advisors, who contend that the earlier election in Istanbul was ‘unlawful.’ An interesting further development is the withdrawal from the rerun of three small minority parties that together gained 2.6% of the vote, which overshadows the .02% margin of victory by Imamoglu on March 31st. It is assumed that this withdrawal from the second election will help Imamoglu win a second time, presuming a fair election.

One notable consequence of this development have been the public assertions of Ahmet Davutoglu, former head of the governing party, AKP or Justice and Development Party, as well as former Foreign Minister and Prime Minister in the Erdogan-led government that has been running the country since 2002. Davutoglu’s Manifesto, really a statement of critique and a visionary reaffirmation of the original identity of the AKP, was written in response to the election results on March 31st, interpreted as sending a message of disapproval by the voters to the AKP and its leadership. It is significant that Davutoglu voiced his criticisms and hopes as situated within the party, but his Manifesto was released prior to the electoral reversal on May 6th, which underscored the mainline of his criticism that the AKP had lost touch with its own animating values and approach, and was thus losing the confidence of the Turkish citizenry. It should also be observed that there was sharp Kemalist opposition to Erdogan and the AKP ever since the 2002 elections, but what is new is for this criticism to come from a highly respected political figure long associated with the AKP. Whether this prefigures a reformist struggle within the AKP or an entirely new political constellation in Turkey is an unknown at this time, and may be influenced by how the control of Istanbul is finally resolved. In any event, the two statements by Davutoglu are themselves important political texts to be understood both in relation to the June 23rdIstanbul rerun, and in relation to the political future of Turkey during this period of exceptional regional instability and continuing turbulence.

These texts are posted here as suggesting the perspectives of a leading political personality in the Turkish context who is highly respected for his academic achievements as well as his dedication to the ideals of inclusive democracy as the basis of legitimate governance in Turkey. Davutoglu’s book Systemic Earthquake: The Struggle for World Order—Exclusive Populism versus Inclusive Democracy will be published in coming months by Cambridge University Press. It surveys the global scene from an ethically principled perspective that is informed by an impressive grasp of the geopolitical, cultural, and historical dimensions of contemporary world order.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that Ahmet Davutoglu has been a cherished and admired friend for more than 25 years. I am fully aware that in the present atmosphere any commentary on Turkish political developments is bound to be controversial, and elicit strong reactions pro and contra.]

Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Statement in Response to Annulling & Redoing the March 31, 2019 election for Mayor of Istanbul

Despite all the deficiencies of Turkish political life and democracy, the most important power is the legitimacy of the elections.

The most fundamental value of our political future is the voice of the people, and this will be manifested at the ballot box.

Regardless of the excuse given and whatever the rationale, what happened after the March 31st election and the decision of annulment by the High Electoral Council has inflicted damage on these core values.

Elections that are fair and respected to rules and principles are the reference point for our democracy as well as our consciousness of communal belonging. The decision of the High Electoral Council contradicts universal law and established traditions and damages this consciousness.

The biggest loss for political movements is not the loss of elections but it is the loss of moral superiority as embodied in the social conscience. Now what we should do: To carry out the election process in accordance with our maturity, and avoid further tension and polarization so as to prevent any further deterioration of our democracy.

The following text constitutes Professor Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Manifesto, a document based on his observations and proposals in the context of the political conditions prevailing in the wake of the Turkish local elections of 31stMarch 2019:

“We are living through a historical process in which the most intensive transformations of human history are unfurling, communications and interactions between societies have gained extraordinary pace, and great opportunities as well as risks may come into play to the same degree and at the same time. The huge momentum that the flow of history has picked up informs the spirit of the age.

In the coming period, a fundamental differentiation is set to emerge between those who manage and steer this momentum by seizing this spirit of the age, and those who break away from it, only to be dragged headlong through the rapids of history. While countries that manage to overcome internal tensions to pursue a consistent approach and craft a vision in harmony with the zeitgeistshall master the shape of future decades and even centuries, nations whose energies are consumed on their own sterile internal tensions will turn into passive elements in history. Recent crises at national, regional and international levels are in fact the birth pangs emanating from the womb of history.

At the early years of the 2000s, our country, Turkey, achieved a self confidence-boosting democratization, rising economic development and a worldwide international influence as our Justice and Development (AK) Party swept to power on the wings of a vision that embraced the spirit of the age and the nation’s values; Turkey’s performance seized the momentum of the historical flow. However, internal tensions that began with the Gezi events in 2013, continued with the 17/25 December conspiracies of the same year, then took on a more perilous dimension with the trench warfare instigated by the PKK in 2015-2016 before peaking with the attempted coup d’état of 15thJuly 2016, drove our country from a position of vision and enterprise towards one that was reactionary and defensive.

The fact that our party, which remained the only political actor capable of managing this entire process, began to expend its own energy on the provocations and manipulations of certain power centers that disregarded the national will to play a leading role in these conspiratorial processes, served to shake our internal harmony, as well as restricting our capacity to forge and implement a fresh vision.

Today, we find ourselves at a critical threshold. I have communicated my assessments and concerns about our country and party during the critical processes of the past three years to our President verbally and in writing, but I chose not to share them publicly in order to avoid providing ammunition to various circles to indulge in malicious debate.

For the future of our party and our country, the 31stMarch elections and the social and political picture that has emerged in their wake necessitate an open, transparent and level headed accounting before the court of public opinion. With the responsibility I feel as the second chairman of the AK Party and our country’s last democratically elected Prime Minister, I regard it as my inescapable duty to share my views with the beloved people of Turkey on the eve of the 99thAnniversary of the founding of the Turkish Grand National Assembly.

The 31stMarch elections have yielded significant results that require our prudent examination; the electorate issued important messages that we need to consider carefully. It is crucial that these messages on the future of our party and country are properly understood and that the necessary steps are taken. If we fail to take on board the essential messages from changes in the people’s preferences and decisively take the necessary measures, a difficult period awaits both us as the AK Party, and our country. In this context, and in the wake of the election results from the Istanbul and Ankara metropolitan municipalities that are such key symbols of our movement’s popularization and march to power and that have been administered by our personnel for a quarter of a century, we have to face the fact that there has been a visible fall in society’s support for our party and appraise this fact coolly.

First and foremost, we need to recall that the AK Party is not a neophyte political entity that emerged by happenstance in a particular political state of affairs. On the contrary, it is the product of having melded the anonymous legacy created by doggedly overcoming difficult conditions through cross-generational elbow grease and mental struggle, with the people, the nation and history. This is why the justification and future of its existence is not and must not be dependent on the fate, preferences or discretion of any transitory person, limited section of society, or economic interest group. This movement, the deep past of which shows how it rose up on the sweat of past generations, its future based on the hopes of the generations to come, must not be sacrificed to cronyism, increasingly swollen egos and fruitless strife.

Posted on Richard Falk and ZCommunications, May 10, 2019

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