Talkin’ post-Turkish-election blues

Turkey sunset

Turkey is many things, but predictable it’s not.

The national elections of November 1st 2015 saw Turkey’s ruling AK Party (Justice and Development Party) sweep back into full power. It had been an uncertain few months. In June 2015, when the first round of elections were held, the AKP were unable to gain a majority.

Ordinarily this situation would have produced a coalition government. Determined not to take this route, the party stalled proceedings by refusing to agree to a coalition. Finally the November election was called.

Since the June elections Turkey has been experiencing increased levels of instability and violence. The peace deal with the Kurds has fallen apart, causing the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish armed forces to renew old hostilities.

On top of this, Turkey was shaken by two major suicide bombings, which both struck people taking part in Kurdish-related peace demonstrations. The second and most recent bombing, in the capital Ankara, killed almost 100. It was the worst terrorist attack in Turkey’s history.

Other ominous events followed, building a growing sense of chaos throughout the country. Press freedom became a contentious issue as two anti-government newspapers were forced to become pro-government overnight.

The government placed a ban on any critical media coverage in the run-up to the elections. Interestingly, the government also decided to delay the end of Turkey’s daylight saving time by two weeks, claiming that the change in time risked ‘confusing’ voters on election day.

In recent months, election-related conspiracy theories have been rife in Turkey. But it’s hard to know what to believe. In these situations it’s perhaps best to assume that nothing is black and white.

As always, there will be elements of both truth and untruth in the claims.

Turkey’s image has taken a lot of knocks. Much of the outside world now associates Turkey with a leader seen as increasingly dictatorial. Along with perceptions of danger, this has put some people off. Tourism numbers have dropped, with perceptions of the conflict-hit east affecting travellers’ decisions to visit other parts of the country. Hotel occupancy rates have dropped by double digit amounts, while tourism revenue has fallen by 4.4 per cent in the third quarter, according to official statistics.

These shifts have been widely attributed to security concerns as well as the decline in Russian tourism caused by the rouble’s fall. However, country rankings such as Bloom Consulting’s Digital Country Index, which ranks levels of online search activity concerning countries, show that Turkey is still performing well in tourism-related searches.

A lot can be inferred from these challenges, but the fact is that the AKP are back in firm control at the helm of Turkey. Commentators in the Western media (including a fair number of Turks) have widely and vocally criticised the situation surrounding the elections, with particular focus on the AKP campaign.

Many thought that Selahattin Demirtas, the charismatic and liberal leader of the HDP (People’s Democratic Party) would bring Turkey something of a ‘Trudeau’ moment, helping to set the country on a new course. Indeed, polls had incorrectly suggested that Turkey would end up with a coalition government.

On the bright side, now that the AKP are back, Turkey is likely to move away from the instability wrought by the past few months. After all, it is unlikely that any coalition government, especially in a land as politically polarised as Turkey, could offer the same stability as one party ruling alone.

Hopefully this will go some way towards rejuvenating the country’s tarnished image, restoring tourism and bringing the economy back to its former strength.

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