It said, “At the end of the world, the only things remaining will be cockroaches and Erdogan.”
In Turkey, humour has been thin on the ground. A dark cloud of pessimism and demoralisation seems to have descended upon that half of the population who did not vote for president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Not counting the inconclusive contest last June, this is the fourth general election which the AKP has won with a thumping majority. We can add to these several local elections which have handed most municipalities to the AKP. And the presidential election last year gave Erdogan more than 50 percent of the vote.
But June’s election gave the first signs of the AKP juggernaut beginning to falter. Though it polled a respectable 41 percent, the AKP failed to get enough MPs to form a government.
Normally, there should have been a coalition. But the AKP dragged its feet, scuppered the coalition negotiations, and called an early election.
Not a single opinion poll predicted the actual result, and no one—with the obvious exception of Erdogan—expected them to get the necessary majority.
In fact the AKP got 49 percent of the vote—an increase of five million on the June election—and a comfortable parliamentary majority.
And this has come after a hellish summer for the country.
The war against the Kurdish liberation organisation PKK, restarted after a two-year ceasefire. It has claimed hundreds of lives on both sides. Two Isis suicide bombers caused the deaths of more than 100 people at a peace rally in Ankara.
The government is widely blamed for failing to protect its own citizens. Earlier in the summer, another Isis bomb killed 30 young activists preparing to go to northern Syria to help rebuild a Kurdish town.
A general sense of unease has been growing, tinged with fear, about deeper Turkish involvement in Syria’s violent mess. The government’s ongoing battle with followers of exiled Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen led to police raiding the companies of a “respectable businessman”. His newspapers and TV channels we seized.
There is the prospect of weak and unstable coalition governments, and fear that political instability could cause the economy. All this could have worked against the government.
In fact, it worked in its favour. All the problems arose, the AKP argued, because it lost its majority. Bring it back to power, and stability would be restored.
You would normally expect a government to pay the price for chaos, not benefit from it. And it is no accident that last June it lost about one-fifth of the vote it had got four years ago. Erdogan’s transformation into a ruthless figure and the AKP’s growing authoritarianism were causing cracks within the party and beginning to erode its popular support.
Hence the demoralisation. People expected the cracks and erosion to continue, and the AKP vote to fall further last Sunday.
But there is no reason to be demoralised or pessimistic.
First, the biggest loser of the election was the fascist MHP, which lost two million votes. Second, the Kurdish HDP got 11 percent. This broke the 10 percent barrier to stay in parliament, even when the war would be expected to cause a Turkish nationalist backlash. Third, the government’s authoritarianism and the discontent both generally and in the AKP’s ranks have not gone away.
People voted for the AKP not because they are suddenly happy with its policies, but for lack of an alternative.
The so-called social democrats of the CHP, the main parliamentary opposition, remain staunchly nationalistic. They are rightly perceived as wedded to the state and the military. They present no alternative at all.
The lessons are clear. We need to build a mass party that stands clearly for democracy and peace with the Kurds, and against militarism, nationalism and Islamophobia.
Not easy, but clear.