When on October 10 terrorists struck a peace rally in the center of Ankara, killing 100 or more people, it was clear that Turkey faced a critical choice: Unite as a nation against all that would destroy it, or carry on down the path of division and violence. In the weeks since, the question appears hopelessly naive. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) that he founded hardly missed a beat in drumming up support for a war against anyone they do not count as an ally. They have invested not only in widening existing rifts but have also made determined efforts to warp reality – both by telling lies and by clamping down on news media.
The people of Turkey will go to the ballot box on Sunday because their president wanted his party to have a second chance at gaining an absolute majority in the Grand National Assembly after failing to achieve this on June 7, when it received 40.9 percent of the votes. If, as in June, four parties enter the assembly, the AKP will need at least 43 percent to gain the 276 seats required for a majority in the 550-member chamber. The latest polls see the AKP getting 41.5-43.3 percent, the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) getting 25.6-27.6 percent, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) 14.3-15.3 percent, and the left-wing pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) 11.7-13.4 percent, again clearing the 10 percent hurdle for election. The polls pretty much reflect the results of the June 7 vote, after which Erdogan was quick to predict failure to forge a coalition. Such a government is even less likely now, given the even greater polarization and violence of the past few months.
Under the influence of Erdogan, and in its missionary zeal to change Turkey, the AKP cannot be expected to compromise with any of the other three parties, all of which are secular. Its most likely ally could be the CHP, as extreme nationalism is common to both. But Erdogan’s rhetoric and actions, like those of the government, are aimed at rousing passions to such an extent that the AKP will win the elections on its own. That is why the October 10 terrorist attack, instead of being an opportunity to unite the political forces and all of society against terror, highlighted the rifts between Turkey’s left and right, between religious and secular forces, between Sunnis and Alevis, between Turks and Kurds. With its control of the state apparatus, the government chose to sow further division.
The clampdown on reporting on the Ankara attack (as details emerged that it was the work of Islamic State operatives known to the authorities), was accompanied by surreal charges by government officials that it was the work of Islamic State, Kurdish, Syrian and “other” foreign operatives. The government is so used to warping reality that it has created a world in which bitter enemies put aside their differences to fight Turkey. However cynical this mentality may be at its birth, those who peddle lies come to believe them. In pursuing Turkey’s division in order to better control it, in curbing media freedom and clipping democracy, Erdogan and the AKP are violating society’s bonds to a degree that may fulfill their paranoid prophecy that everyone is against them. No one can predict what comes after November 1.