Brit-Yank freelance journalist roving around the Middle East.
Currently writing about regional geopolitics for National Geographic and others.
Published at Le Monde Diplomatique http://mondediplo.com/blogs/turkey-s-election-draws-mixed-reactions
Two weeks ago, as the results of the Turkish parliamentary elections filtered through, international TV networks cut to jubilant scenes on the streets of central Istanbul and Diyarbakir. We watched as supporters of the mostly Kurdish HDP triumphantly celebrated clearing the 10% threshold necessary to secure seats in Ankara. With the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) denied a parliamentary majority, traditional secular nationalists weren’t shy either to broadcast their pleasure at knocking the Islamist government off its perch.
Amid the joy, one might have been forgiven for thinking most of the country was similarly satisfied with the outcome. But away from the southeastern Kurdish heartlands and the liberal districts that flank the Bosphorus, many conservative Turks are quietly seething at what they see as a body blow to the country’s continued development. “Now nobody will be able to do anything,” said Betul, a local government employee, voicing a sentiment I was to hear repeatedly over the course of a three-day assignment in the eastern province of Ordu. “With no clear [central] government, there won’t be any more projects like this,” echoed Mehmet, a first year university student, as we sped along the recently upgraded Black Sea highway.
Here too, on the distant northern coast, the AKP suffered some reverses. Its portion of the vote in Ordu province fell from 68% at the last election to 53% this June. The city of Ordu itself, with its small cluster of bars and relatively liberal dress, this time voted for the CHP by a 4% margin.
At 12 percentage points above the national average, most Ordu residents, however, retain their support for Erdogan’s party, and are struggling to come to terms with the prospect of coalition government.
At first glance, it isn’t difficult to see why. Ordu, like much of the previously neglected interior, has experienced astronomical growth since the AKP rose to power in 2002. The province’s population has more than doubled to 700,000 in the past 20 years, as local youth took advantage of improved employment opportunities and stayed home. Almost everything, from the roads to Internet speed, to the host of impressive tunnels that cut through the many hills, speak of the huge boost in infrastructural spending.
AKP supporters are often particularly keen to point to airport construction as a measure of their government’s modernising ways. Turkey had 26 airports before Erdogan became prime minister, now, with Ordu’s recently opened airport, which was built on land reclaimed from the sea, it has 55, according to Ordu’s AKP governor.
Big questions remain: to what extent did the AKP engineer this economic transformation, or were they merely fortunate to hold power as the country took off? What is clear, though, is that AKP bosses have had few inhibitions in conflating state expenditure with their own personal largesse.
Campaign posters in Ordu featuring Erdogan and Ahmet Davutoğlu, his successor as prime minister, present the airport as if it were almost a personal gift of the AKP. Up the road, in Rize near the border with Georgia, the large public university has already been renamed after Erdogan in recognition of ‘Turkey’s longest-serving prime minister.’
In such circumstances, with the full machinery of state arrayed against them — including most local newspapers and business organisations, who favour the current government — some AKP rivals scarcely bothered canvassing for votes in parts of the country’s far-east. The CHP’s largely ramshackle offices pale next to many of the AKP’s gaudy local headquarters, while the HDP barely hung up banners on its way to winning about 30,000 votes across the entire Black Sea coast.
Mehmet, the student on the bus, admits there are some imperfect practices. He’s willing to acknowledge too that the AKP likely has benefited from its monopolisation of the provincial governments. But he insists that voters in places like Ordu and Rize are still far more driven by results than a pursuit of fairer democracy. “If you show us improvements, we’ll vote for you,” he said. “And at the moment, that means AKP.”