Nov 11, 2002
Elections held on November 3 in Turkey produced a massive political shake-up. None of the three political parties which made up the government for the past four years managed to pass the 10% barrier required to enter the parliament. The party of the prime minister Bulent Ecevit received only 1.2% of the vote. His former foreign minister, who had abandoned the unpopular Ecevit to form his own party, got even less.
This protest vote was widely expected. While practically all leading politicians have been involved in various corruption scandals, the country has been submerged in a deep economic crisis. The state is currently running a 210 billion dollar debt to foreign and domestic creditors. To protect their profits in the face of a stagnant economy, the bosses have resorted to factory closures and layoffs. The official unemployment rate is 20%, in reality even higher. Seventy-two% of the unemployed are young people who have never had a steady job. For those who still work, the minimum wage is about $110 a month, or about 60 cents an hour.
Aside from showing disillusionment with the country's ruling elite, the outcome of the election can hardly be called a reflection of what the population wants. The big winner was the Justice and Development Party, known as AKP, which was formed last year by some members of a banned Islamist party. The AKP received only 34% of the vote, but since only one other party, the Republican People's Party, or CHP, passed the 10% barrier with 19%, the AKP was awarded almost two-thirds of the seats in the National Assembly.
The AKP's success was aided by the fact that its leader, R. Tayyip Erdogan, had been prevented from running for office because the military had banned him from politics in 1998. Thus Erdogan has been able to present himself as a political outsider, under attack by the country's corrupt ruling elite.
But workers certainly have nothing to expect from the AKP. Both during his election campaign and in his speeches after the election, Erdogan reassured the bosses and Turkey's creditors that the country will stay on the same course as before – which means that an AKP government, as did the governments before it, will help the Turkish bosses and foreign banks to secure their profits and loan payments. And that, of course, means that the burden of the economic crisis will stay on the shoulders of the Turkish working class.
That's why, while Erdogan may be unpopular with the generals, the outcome of this election is certainly acceptable for the bosses. There will be a one-party government which, thanks to its religious rhetoric, has a certain base in the population. So the bosses can count on the possibility that they will have a stable government which could impose the bosses' agenda on the population.
But that all depends on how the population, especially the working class, will react to the austerity measures continually imposed on them. Turkish workers can certainly look back to a tradition of building trade unions and organizing strikes. Today, such struggles continue in the face of low wages, layoffs and factory closures, but they remain isolated. If the workers can unify these isolated fights and turn them into a massive social movement, they can effectively counter the attacks of the bosses and their politicians.