Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has won a fourth term in office in Turkey’s November 1 general election and has put behind it the losses suffered in the inconclusive June 7 poll. It is an astonishing turn around. In securing 49 percent of the vote, the party managed to increase its majority by nine percent in just five months. None of the polls predicted the result, and once again, Erdoğan and the AKP have confounded their critics at home and around the world.
The AKP’s main electoral campaign slogan was that an AKP victory would bring stability over chaos. The message seems to have resonated with voters. The insecure environment that emerged in Turkey over the summer saw the resumption of deadly violence in the southeast of the country between security forces and the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and on October 10, an ISIS-linked bombing killed 102 people in Ankara.
In human rights terms, how can a new AKP government really bring stability over chaos and fulfill its election pledge?
Despite having contributed heavily to the descent into violence over the summer, the leaders of the new government must commit to a renewed move to curb human rights abuses against Turkey’s Kurdish population.
This will mean ending abusive police operations, which have killed and wounded scores of civilians in southeastern cities, in the effort to eradicate the PKK’s urban youth wing. It will mean investigating and ensuring full accountability for those deaths. It will also mean ending mass arrests and jailing of Kurdish political activists and elected mayors on spurious charges of terrorism and crimes against the state.
Progress will also require the new government to embark once more on a process to find a political solution with the Kurds. Political negotiations are the key to moving forward in a manner in which Turkey can protect the human rights of all its citizens.
The other major step the new government needs to take to ensure stability is to drop the revenge campaign Erdoğan and the AKP have been waging over the past three years against critics, opponents, and the media.
Revenge was never more evident than on the eve of the election, with a brutal police raid on the İpek media group
and the rapid move to transform its newspapers and TV stations into government mouthpieces. The Ipek takeover is part of a relentless government policy of crackdown, which has seen critical journalists repeatedly prosecuted, media groups pressured to fire or muzzle them, websites and social media blocked, and the public’s right to access information restricted.
The İpek incident is also part of the crackdown on the supporters of the United States-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom Erdoğan accuses of attempting to overthrow him. The AKP has accused the Gülen movement and its leader of terrorism, although they have offered no evidence of their involvement in any violent activities.
Unless the new government can get to grips with Turkey’s deteriorating human rights record, reject a resumption of violence and rights violations directed against its Kurdish population, and stop the vicious crackdown on those who don’t agree with them, it is unlikely that Turkey will be able to boast stability over chaos.