Supporters of Turkey's leftist opposition in Berlin were dismayed to see the ruling Justice and Development Party increase its support to nearly 50 percent in Sunday's general election. Paul Benjamin Osterlund reports.
"Whatever happens, may [President Recep] Tayyip Erdogan be gone," said Mehmet Sarıkaya, a Kurd in his thirties from the southeastern Turkish province of Adiyaman who has called Berlin home for the past six years.
Over a bowl of soup in Berlin's Neukölln district hours before polls closed on Sunday in Turkey's second general election this year, Sarıkaya offered a prediction that saw Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) lose 3-4 percent of the vote, while support for the left-wing, pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) increased by up to 16 percent. The far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP), meanwhile, would lose several percentage points and the main opposition Republican Peoples' Party (CHP) would remain static in comparison to the June 7 vote.
But Erdogan and the AKP won't be going anywhere anytime soon, as the first half of Sarıkaya's prediction ended up wildly off the mark. Unofficial results on Sunday evening put the AKP at more than 49 percent, firmly within the territory for establishing a single-party government, while the HDP eked out a total just above the country's high 10 percent election threshold. The nationalist MHP suffered a massive loss, dropping to just beneath 12 percent from 16 percent in June.
The outcome shocked voters, who had widely assumed that the election results would be similar to those on June 7 with perhaps a slight increase for the AKP, which had then nabbed just under 41 percent.
AKP's vote surge is like "a 'yes' [vote] to what happened this summer, all these deaths and killings," said Gökalp
On June 7, the HDP blasted past the threshold with 13 percent of the vote, a historic first for a pro-Kurdish party. Buttressed by the likeable, charismatic co-leader Selahattin Demirtas, the party won the support of conservative Kurds who had previously cast their votes for the AKP as well as a smaller yet significant number of liberal Turks. Not only did the HDP win 80 seats, the AKP was left with 258, 18 below the minimum requirement for a single-party government, spoiling Erdogan's hopes for instituting the presidential system that he has often discussed, one that would allow him to consolidate his grip on power.
The country was left with a hung parliament as coalition talks between parties ended up fruitless, with critics alleging that Erdogan had thwarted an attempt by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to form a coalition between the AKP and the CHP. The result was Sunday's snap election.
In the period between the two polls, hundreds of people throughout Turkey died in a firestorm of chaos as two suicide bomb attacks connected to the "Islamic State" (IS) wracked the country with grief and insecurity. A blast targeting a meeting among leftists in the border town of Suruc in July killed 33, while a dual explosion in the capital of Ankara in October left 102 dead in the country's worst ever bomb attack.
Many of the victims were HDP supporters. Numerous HDP mayors have been stripped from office or arrested, and hundreds of party offices throughout the country have been attacked by armed gangs.
The summer also saw renewed conflict between Turkish security forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) after a two-year ceasefire went up in flames, resulting in daily skirmishes and casualties. And while the HDP's opponents frequently claim that the party is the political wing of the PKK, Demirtas has repeatedly asserted that the party is a separate organization and that he wants peace. The HDP's message has succeeded in attracting liberal and leftist Turks with their pro-Kurdish, feminist and LGBT positions.
"For the first time in my life, I feel like some people are really representing me in the parliament. I voted for them for their race and gender politics," said 27-year-old Ece Gökalp, a Berlin grad student who grew up in Istanbul. Gökalp had gathered alongside a group of HDP supporters watching the election results from a cafe in the district of Kreuzberg.
"It's like a 'yes' [vote] to what happened this summer, all these deaths and killings," Gökalp said of the AKP's vote surge while sitting near a tree decorated with photos commemorating those who died in the Ankara attack.
'This is not good at all'
"The June 7 results were not accepted by Tayyip Erdogan, and the result was the acceleration of war," said Erkin Erdogan
After the bombing, the government imposed a blackout on coverage of the attack, while Davutoglu and Erdogan puzzlingly attributed blame to an IS-PKK union, in spite of their bitter enemy status. The bombers in both attacks came from the same IS unit established in Turkey in 2013 amid a period when the jihadist group was able to recruit within the country and send fighters over the border to Syria without interference from Ankara, prompting Demirtas and other HDP leaders to accuse the government of collusion.
"The June 7 results were not accepted by Tayyip Erdogan, and the result was the acceleration of war," said 35-year-old HDP Berlin branch co-spokesperson Erkin Erdogan early on Sunday, as party volunteers passed out hot cups of tea to observers. Erdogan, like most Turkish voters, didn't anticipate a major deviation in results from the previous election.
And while the HDP's Erdogan was relieved that his party had been able to stay above the threshold, he remained concerned about the dramatic increase in votes for the AKP and what it could mean for the intensely polarized country.
He and other HDP voters in Berlin looked on in dismay as a large screen broadcast clashes between police and demonstrators in the majority-Kurdish southeastern city Diyarbakır on Sunday evening.
"Things could get worse. This is not good at all," he said of the election results.