- Another Necropolitics
The election of June 7 was a watershed moment in Turkey because the success of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) practically eliminated an anti-democratic electoral threshold of 10 percent – one of the highest around the world – that was put into place under military rule after the 1980 coup d’état. This threshold meant not only that political parties unable to gather at least 10 per cent of the national vote lost the right of representation in parliament but also that the votes they were able to gather would be proportionately distributed among the other parties that succeeded in passing the threshold, thereby enabling successful parties to gain a higher number of seats in the parliament. HDP’s electoral success, which corresponded to 80 seats in parliament, was therefore momentous both as a symbolic conquest for the coalition of forces that came together within it and as a big blow to the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which suffered not only the loss of its parliamentary majority but also the benefit of overrepresentation that the electoral threshold bestowed upon it as the majority party since 2002. Lost, or at least suspended, with the election results, of course, was President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ambition to transform Turkey’s parliamentary system into a presidential one, an ambition that required a super-majority of AKP, without which such a constitutional change would necessitate resorting to a popular referendum whose results would be either unfavorable to Erdoğan’s plans or unpredictable at best. Tarnished in the election, therefore, was also Erdoğan’s personal political reputation, having forcefully campaigned for the move toward presidentialism despite the existing constitutional ban on the active partisanship of the republic’s president.
That HDP’s victory was temporary, however, became painfully apparent in the renewed elections that were held on November 1, elections called by President Erdoğan due to a hung parliament unable and unwilling to establish a ruling coalition. In this second election, while HDP still managed to pass the electoral threshold, thereby retaining its symbolic victory, it suffered a significant loss in votes (losing a quarter of its seats and maintaining only 59). By contrast, AKP, considered by most commentators as firmly moving on a declining curve of popularity prior to the elections, managed to make a surprising comeback, both regaining its majority in parliament and increasing its support by 4.5 million votes, or almost nine points, thereby reaching an all-time high of 49.47 per cent. The social democratic CHP neither lost, nor gained much ground (2 additional seats were gained in parliament, bringing their number to 134) whereas the ultranationalist MHP, like HDP, suffered the most, losing half its seats in parliament (declining to 40).1 The new election gave AKP 317 seats in a parliament of 550, which, while falling short of the super-majority necessary to change the constitution singlehandedly, was sufficient to revive the proposal of a new presidentialism, along with the hitherto failed efforts for writing a new, civilian constitution to replace the current one drafted in the aftermath of the 1980 military coup d’état.
How should we read this surprising reversal that took place within the span of a few months? What happened in the summer of 2015 that led many voters to rally to AKP’s support? While many commentators expressed worries that the election might be rigged, these allegations have largely been unfounded.2 The most important reason for this reversal was the conjuncture of escalating violence between the two elections, coming from different quarters at once. Most importantly, Turkey became the target of deadly suicide attacks carried out by Islamic State militants, first in Suruç, killing 33 young socialists, and more recently, in Ankara, killing 102 demonstrators participating in a peace rally. With the execution-style murder of two police officers in their sleep in Ceylanpınar, the peace process that was already stagnant prior to the June election broke down completely, marking a speedy devolution into armed conflict between the army and PKK (Workers’ Party of Kurdistan) within Turkey’s borders. PKK’s attack on Dağlıca, which killed 16 soldiers, was...