The success of the 3S-Scare Strategy
Contributor: Nebil Ilseven, November 18th 2015
Turkey had a “repeat” national election on 1 November following the failure of the opposition parties to unite around a platform of political restoration and normalisation after the elections on 7 June four short months ago. The June elections had delivered a distribution of seats that provided the opposition parties, combined, with a parliamentary majority after single-party rule since 2002. Yet the “opposition block” tragically failed to seize this historic opportunity and did not even manage to get the House Speaker elected from among their ranks, leaving the way clear for the AKP to secure this position. This disastrous outcome was mainly due to the insensitive and senseless political antagonism of the nationalist MHP, leading the ruling party and the president, in particular, to call for a “repeat” election.
The elections resulted in a clear electoral victory for the AKP and the collapse of the opposition front’s historic parliamentary majority. More specifically, the November 2015 elections firmly consolidated the group of centre-right, right, populist, fundamentalist and conservative and ultra-conservative factions on the political scene under the AKP while effectively wiping the nationalist MHP out of the system. The results also relegated the centre-left CHP and ethnically-driven HDP to weak positions in the parliament, at least for the foreseeable future.
At first glance and given the new political panorama in Turkey after the November 2015 elections, it would not be unrealistic to expect a grim social, political and economic future for the country in the medium-term. With the results of the November elections, Turkey is now looking into a future whereby an ever-more “majoritarian” and “authoritarian” political system will become entrenched, along with the institutionalisation of a more theocratic social order, accompanied by various degrees of coercion if faced with social resistance.
In the short-run, this socio-political transformation is set to undermine the expectations and aspirations of ethnic and religious social groups in the country. It is safe to assume that the cost of establishing the “new social order” shall be borne mainly by the Kurdish and Alevite segments of Turkish society. Similarly, dissenting political forces in the country as well as certain clusters of economic circles will not be spared from paying a substantial price while the political authority implements this new order over the coming years.
Let us, briefly, recall the predictions we made following the results of the June elections:
“First…that the question of renewal of the elections will not be in the near-term agenda of any of the parties.
Second, …that any coalition government will have to include the AKP as a direct partner or will need the support of the AKP from outside, for the AKP will not, for all the good reasons, leave the governing arena unchecked and at the mercy of its political rivals.
Third , …that the HDP, having secured unexpected levels of electoral support would not be interested in becoming a partner in any coalition but would stay out to become the main opposition in the next elections…
Fourth, …that the President, still the only political actor with the capacity and capability of single-handedly designing a new game in Turkish politics will shelve but not forsake his personal aspirations for a “Turkish-style” Presidency, simply postponing his plans to introduce an absolutist regime in all areas of social, cultural, economic and political activities in the country….”
The events of the past four months have made it clear to us that the fourth prediction mentioned above bore the most prophetic insight into social and political events during the days leading up to the November elections, with the strongest bearing on the decisions of the voters.
During this period, as soon as the House Speaker was elected by AKP votes, the President single-handedly designed and implemented a political agenda that was based on issues of Security-Stability-Serenity, what we can call a “3S Strategy”. This strategy was presented ferociously, with carefully orchestrated “scare tactics” on all possible fronts, to the general public in all parts of the country. However, the strategy was most diligently applied in districts where the AKP needed to recover the number of seats required to regain a single-party majority in the parliament. As the President was personally involved in this nationwide campaign, due to the nature of the administrative structure of the country, the whole State apparatus was harnessed to serve the campaign along with the political machine that the AKP has come to master during 13 years of government.
Looking at the vote count and based on the initial analysis of the behaviour of the voters at the ballot-box, the president’s “scare tactics” seem to have worked as envisaged. Common people seem to have forsaken their demand for a more democratic, transparent, pluralistic, just system of government based on the rule of law for fear of losing “security-stability-serenity” in their daily lives.
On the other hand, let us not forget that, after the June elections, the AKP was the only party that changed close to half of its candidates before the November elections in several districts with very strong names and greater appeal to the local constituency. This move, distinctly missing in other parties, appears to have born more positive results for the party in the districts concerned. Thus, scare tactics and the asymmetric projection of state power must be viewed together with other measures to get closer to the electorate in order to understand the full picture of the AKP’s election performance in November 2015.
Regarding the position of the opposition, these parties clearly fell short of effectively countering the AKP’s 3S-scare strategy in their campaigns. The CHP, in particular, spent 35 precious days discussing and analysing with AKP staff the conceptual basis of an “impossible coalition” which took the CHP away from the public eye and made it refrain from any contentious statements that would jeopardise the on-going coalition talks; it simply meant that one-third of valuable campaign time went to waste. When the Party (CHP) finally set out on the campaign trail, instead of producing a formidable and convincing counter strategy against the AKP’s 3S-scare strategy, it focused on economic and social policy, which came across more as “campaign promises” in the form of “technicalities” as opposed to offering sound and coherent alternative vision with policy proposals, a new “utopia” for society that would bring about the much needed hope for a real “change” in the country.
The role of the HDP in the November elections requires special analytical scrutiny with a careful and different perspective, unique to its merits. Arriving in parliament with 80 MPs in June, the HDP was clearly the rising star of Turkish politics. With many of its MPs and party officials coming from a background of armed resistance and illegal political activism, the HDP’s election performance represented a shift from ethnically oriented terror to a legal and legitimate democratic political struggle within the parliamentary system. This shift also carried with it very high expectations and the prospect of a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish problem that has plagued the country for over 35 years, drained it of valuable resources and cost even more precious assets in the form of the loss of over 50,000 young boys and girls from all corners of the nation. However, immediately following the official initiation of the HDP MPs, we observed a sudden surge in terrorist attacks by the PKK on the security forces and civilians, especially in the eastern provinces of the country.
The escalation of violence between the two elections claimed over 400 lives and caused deep resentment and suspicion in the general public about the objectives and tactics of the respective political movements. In retrospect, it is fair to assume that the armed factions in the ethnic movements in the country have diverged from the political forces, as represented by the HDP at the grass-root level, choosing not to follow the roadmap towards securing civil liberties, individual freedoms, justice and peace for their constituencies. The attack on the HDP and acts of violence that the members of this party were subjected to during the election campaign indicate that there were fierce efforts to discredit the HDP, push the political struggle to the sidelines and restore the conditions of the armed conflict, to keep the “dark agenda on the mountains” alive and kicking.
Looking ahead, we can expect that the pressures to undermine the public perception of the HDP as a legitimate political opposition party capable of creating the conditions for a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish question will continue and deepen further. Oddly enough, the most aggressive attacks to discredit and degrade the efforts to strength the position of the party on legal political grounds are most likely to come from within the movement rather than from its political rivals. This situation should encourage and motivate the HDP to embrace the political process ever more firmly and distance itself from the armed factions of the Kurdish political arena, in the interests of the progressive agenda.
The second critical point of concern for the progressive agenda in the short term involves the position of the democratic institutions and organisations vis à vis the inevitable rise of an “autocratic” climate in the Turkish political, social and economic environment. The government’s 3S scare strategy has proved to be an effective approach to tame and control the population in the elections. The success of this strategy has set a precedent for designing the next political agenda by the AKP leadership, namely the President. This agenda would aim to secure the necessary constitutional changes to institute a system of “Turkish-style Presidency” in the country, leading the country to a “personal-style” presidency with absolutist policies and applications, resorting once again to the politics of fear to keep the voters in check.
Finally, under a different road-map but to the same ends, we can expect an even more dire and historically tragic development regarding the political initiative for “regime change” in Turkey. This development would come about when and if the AKP leadership insists on taking the question of the presidency to a national referendum, as a single issue or as part of a broader reform of the existing constitution, with the widespread of support of, say the Kurdish population in the country. If this were to happen, there would be a very real danger of ethnically-driven social strife in the country. Coupled with faith-related undertones and religious fanaticism, such a development would lead Turkey to a direct slide into instability at a tremendous human cost and with irreparable damage to peace in the region.