Erdoğan’s post-coup purge erodes his voter base

(Corrects information on survey results in paragraphs two and three)

New research on the effects of a Turkish government purge that followed a failed coup attempt in 2016 shows that public servants dismissed by decree during a two-year state of emergency have since turned away from voting for the ruling party and its far-right ally.

The survey asked 3,222 people which parties they had voted for in elections before the failed putsch. It showed that 76 percent of those who lost their jobs had supported President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) in various elections before the failed putsch. Another 36 percent had voted for the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which formed an alliance with Erdoğan’s Islamists after the coup attempt. Only 5 percent had ever considered voting for the secular main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and 0.3 percent for the mainly-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

Today the voting preferences of this mainly-conservative group seems to have completely changed. Among them, the share of those who said they could vote for the CHP has reached 77 percent, while 38 percent of the respondents in the study said they could consider voting for the HDP. Some 20 percent are open to support the nationalist Good Party, established by politicians who left the MHP because of its alliance with the AKP, and 12 percent said they could back the Islamist opposition Felicity Party. 

The study showed that none of the respondents now backed for Erdoğan and the AKP. 

More than 130,000 public workers were dismissed in the aftermath of the coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Most of the dismissed were accused of links to the Gülen movement, which the government holds responsible for the coup, but some were also involved in opposition groups or left-wing organisations.

“Because of the unlawful and unfair practices experienced, there is a shift from right-wing conservative parties to social democrat parties that prioritise democracy, human rights, freedoms, justice and the rule of law,” the report said. 

“Many of them are voting strategically,” it said of the people sacked after the coup attempt. “They can vote for all other parties apart from the AKP and MHP. They particularly vote for opposition parties that seem to be in a stronger position against AKP, MHP candidates (in their constituencies).”

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a member of parliament from the HDP and a long-time human rights activist with a conservative background, appears as the main factor that encouraged respondents to support a pro-Kurdish party they strongly opposed in the past. 

Gergerlioğlu has made it his mission to continue advocating for those victimised by government policies, regardless of their ethnic, religious or ideological background. The politician continuously speaks out against the injustices the post-coup purge victims face.

Bayram Erzurumluoğlu, an academic who was dismissed after the failed putsch and one of the researchers who conducted the study, said the AKP had split its voter base. 

“But this voter base included those who did not fully adhere to the party’s rhetoric, who from time to time criticised the AKP’s policies,” Erzurumluoğlu said. “This was a huge offence for the AKP. You are a member of the conservative neighbourhood and dared to criticise.”

Erzurumluoğlu said the AKP did not care about critical comments coming from the CHP or the HDP, as it had little effect on its supporters. “But when criticism came from their own base, they viewed it as dangerous. Therefore, they turned the July 15 crisis into an opportunity to give the religious-nationalist groups the signal ‘we will eliminate you if you dare to criticise our rhetoric’.”

The researcher said the government created an atmosphere of fear by threatening judges, bureaucrats and academics that their lives could be suddenly turned upside down just by one government decree.  

The victims of emergency rule in the past had a distorted view of the CHP, Erzurumluoğlu said. “They associated the CHP with oppression, opposition to freedoms and aversion to religion.”

“Meanwhile they viewed the HDP from the lens of terrorism. Plainly, the nationalist-conservative voters even avoided walking in front of HDP buildings, leave aside voting for them. They saw those who voted for the party as enemies,” he said. 

But all those prejudices changed after those who were dismissed by government decrees experienced injustice at first hand. It is estimated that, including the families of those who were dismissed from public sector jobs, some 2 million people were directly affected from the post-coup purge. 

“When they saw this cruel treatment in their own neighbourhood, they looked for other channels that will own the injustices they faced. And they, with surprise, saw that secularists, social democrats, atheists, deists, Kurds, and Alevis were in solidarity with them,” Erzurumluoğlu said. 

As a result, those people, who just a short time ago viewed voting for the CHP as blasphemy and voting for the HDP as separatism, realised that those parties were not the organisations they once believed them to be, said the academic. 

“The victims now also say that they understand Kurds, Alevis and Armenians better. They acknowledge that those groups faced injustices in the past,” Erzurumluoğlu said. 

© Ahval English

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

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