A Ballot Monitor’s Tale

A woman casts her ballot inside a polling station during municipal elections in Istanbul

Deniz Derviş volunteered on Sunday as a ballot monitor in Okmeydanı, Istanbul. I interviewed him about his experience and his views on the elections – whether they were conducted fairly, what they show about the current state of the country and what they spell for the future…

“I volunteered as a monitor in Okmeydanı [a poor, mixed district of Istanbul which was the site of the Berkin Elvan funeral protests three weeks ago]. The ballot box I monitored had 120 AKP votes, 95 CHP [main opposition] and 53 HDP [leftist, pro-Kurdish opposition], while the ballot box containing my vote had 245 CHP and 25 AKP votes.

Yes, there may well have been vote rigging during these elections, in particular in Ankara. But I don’t think the total rigged votes could exceed 1% for the whole country. So we are faced with the fact that after Gezi and the 17th December corruption tapes at least 40% of people are still happy with the AKP. We should also note that the voter-turnout was 90%, whereas it was 85% in 2009. Erdoğan mobilized his voters by spouting nationalistic madness to secure his few percent above 40%; if he had less than 40%, it could be considered a decline in his votes.

So if you ask what is next: the first thing that we must do is stop expecting any help from the cemaat [Gülenist community] or any other actor, and stop hoping for opposition alliances (e.g. CHP-MHP (Nationalist People’s Party, the 2nd biggest opposition)) or any tapes that could shake the AKP. The only time the AKP were afraid was during Gezi. Erdoğan’s biggest fear, I think, is that his voters and dissenters start to empathise with each other. The tape that revealed his fears was the one in which he said to the then- Interior Minister in June: “Don’t let this be another Tekel resistance.”
[In December 2009 the AKP government privatized the state monopoly alcohol company Tekel and sacked 12,000 workers, who occupied a central park in Ankara in freezing conditions for over a month. These workers were widely supported by the community and the strike proved deeply embarrassing for the government.]
“During the Tekel resistance, there was huge societal empathy for those workers, so the government tried to humiliate the workers on the media before police brutally broke up the protests.

There are two winners in these elections, the AKP and the HDP/BDP (the pro-Kurdish party, aligned with the HDP). The main reason behind their success is that they do not change their course to get more votes. They both have their own consistent ways of thinking (of course there are some temporary or local differentiation from time to time) But the CHP [main opposition party] was socialist during the Gezi protests, capitalist with the TUSİAD [organization of the most powerful Turkish businessmen] and grey wolf [militant youth nationalist] in Ankara – the current CHP candidate for Ankara, for example, previously represented the MHP. They say they are social democrats, but they try to reassure their nationalist base by not supporting peace with Kurds.

The AKP and HDP/BDP are not shaping themselves but shaping their supporters. They started as radical groups and they became mass powers. They both get votes from the working class, from the poor. Kurds are one of the poorest social groups and the south eastern region of Turkey, which is densely Kurdish, is the poorest region in the country. In Istanbul, AKP gets votes from poor and crowded suburbs whereas the CHP has over 7%0 votes in rich coastal districts. It is normally expected that poor will support social democrats, but it is the opposite in Turkey.

But since the fall of the social democrats in the 1994 elections, the CHP has been shaping itself according to daily politics. Just imagine: six months ago, there is no way the CHP could have made an alliance with the [Gülenist] cemaat. Now it is the no. 1 party for the cemaat. If you had lived in Turkey during the 90s you would not have believed that the CHP and MHP could make an alliance (there is still no formal alliance between the parties, but there is a strategic alliance between voters). So, parties that are patient and grounded in their basic ideologies are winning. The CHP has not been doing this for a long time, in fact the CHP has not had an ideology for a long time.

Being an elections observer is tiring but very instructive: you can easily see that society is divided into half, not ideologically but merely socially and economically. Most people do not think their freedom is oppressed and feel safe in many ways under AKP rule. And yet many people feel threatened by a quasi-fascist government.

So what should we do? There is no obvious solution, so we have to make one and stop being critical – we have to rescue this country’s working class from the monopoly of the AKP and find a way to live together with Kurds and other minorities. A new constitution is desperately needed because the current social contract won’t held the country together for long.”

Photo above by Murad Sezer for Reuters