Fascism does not end through elections

On May 6 2019, the Turkish regime made cancelled the results of the March 31 local elections in which the opposition party had won control of Istanbul’s municipal government.

Turkey has been governed by a regime living in existential fear since 2013, when Gezi Park uprisings in the summer and a corruption scandal in the winter of that year threatened the authority of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Ever since, Turkey has undergone a continuous coup aimed at consolidating complete control, and May 6 was the latest iteration of this process. The goal is to end local governance and destroy even the smallest seed of autonomy that could form outside of almighty centre.  

Just as the July 2016 coup attempt was used as a pretext to consolidate the regime, destroying the opposition, and establishing a hypercentralised presidential system, the March 31 local elections have become an instrument of subjugating local governments under the central authority.

It is clear that Turkey has entered a new era of fascism and there are urgent lessons to be taken away from March 31 and May 6.  

On March 24, I wrote: “The regime’s equilibrium was irrevocably upended by the 2013 Gezi Park protests and government corruption scandal at the end of the same year - 2013 was the year rulers were blinded by anger.

“The elections that followed on June 7, 2015, when the ruling AKP lost its parliamentary majority and a Kurdish party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (HDP) entered convincingly parliament for the first time in history, was the point at which the Turkish establishment unabashedly began to see red.

“From that point onward, in the eyes of Erdoğan and the regime, the overarching goal was to stay in power, meaning anything and everything became acceptable to achieve that end. The ‘national front’ formed in response to the growing Kurdish presence in Turkish politics created a dynamic that the regime continues to employ profusely.

“Through the massacres that were organised and perpetrated that summer, the coup attempt of July 2016, the referendum on regime change in 2017, and the parliamentary and presidential elections last year, the system has been locked in, and the regime has settled in for the most part. The final flaw in the plan, or final nail in the coffin of Turkish politics, is the requirement of establishing control over the municipalities in order to be able to maintain law and order across the entire country. Have no doubt, this too shall be accomplished.”

And on January 13, I wrote: “The AKP came to power through elections, but elections will not be enough for it to relinquish power. If the regime were to lose control, those in power would have to account for their actions in front of the High Court. That is crystal clear. Furthermore, their role in the Syrian civil war makes indictment by the International Criminal Court a strong possibility as well. It is important to wake up and start asking vital questions as soon as possible.”

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Following the outcome of March 31 elections, the regime has made its messaging very clear: the “national will” that was manifested in the June 24 2018 presidential and parliamentary elections is uncomfortable with the March 31 results. This election did not directly reflect the results of June 24 and is therefore illegitimate. The only reason for this discrepancy is the opposition’s meddling in the election. Naturally, a repeat of the election will allow the “national will” to win, and for everything to fall back into place. Erdoğan’s instructions were as follows: “There is fraud and doubt, and the removal of this stain will both exonerate the Supreme Electoral Council and relieve the concerns of our nation. All we are doing is protecting the national will.”

This was Plan A. Plan B is broad enough that it does not even require elections. March 31 is the beginning of a system in which central authority extinguishes any degree of autonomy that municipal governments would be allowed to possess. Services offered by municipal governments will instead be provided through the local branches of ministries.

In such a system, it makes no difference whether municipal governments are under the control of this or that party. Add to this the centrally appointed administrators that have been used to take the place of elected Kurdish mayors, and the obstructionist efforts of AKP-dominated district councils in cities like Istanbul, municipal governments cannot provide any effective service anymore.

So, whatever the outcome of the June 23 snap Istanbul mayoral election, the limited autonomy of the forthcoming municipal government will be insignificant.

The only purpose of the election will thus be to see if the regime will manage to finish the job it has shamelessly started with the cancellation of the Istanbul results. I’m afraid there is a fair chance, as fascist regimes do not leave office through elections.   

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.