Today's Zaman, Turkey
Jan 4 2015

Polarization will continue in 2015

January 04, 2015, Sunday

With these early days of 2015 it is time to take stock and speculate.
Unfortunately it is hard to be optimistic about what the new year
holds for Turkey.

There is an unmistakable sense of malaise in Turkish society.
Polarization has become the norm. Even the most fervent supporters of
the government seem to be gripped by an unprecedented "ErdoÄ?an
fatigue." This fatigue and malaise is in great part due to Recep
Tayyip ErdoÄ?an's ubiquitous presence in all media outlets. His
monopolization of Turkish politics renders all talks about a
presidential regime meaningless since he has already established such
a regime without officially declaring it.

ErdoÄ?an has been an agent of change in Turkey but he has dismally
failed at being an agent of democratization. In fact, he has
squandered a golden opportunity to reconcile political Islam with
democracy and secularism. Instead he opted in his third term to become
the great polarizer of Turkish society. After a successful two terms
in power from 2002 to 2011, the current decade from 2010 to 2020 is
likely to resemble the lost decade of the 1990s. Such an outcome will
be hard to avoid if the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) wins
the 2015 elections with more than 40 percent of the vote. There is no
reason to be optimistic about another term of the AK Party in power,
but we are clearly heading in that direction.

Since the magnitude of the AK Party victory in 2015 will determine the
fate of the next four to five years, it makes sense to focus on what
factors will be most likely to impact the election results this
summer. Answering this question requires a solid understanding of what
makes the AK Party successful. The obvious two factors that comes to
mind are the following: economic stability and the absence of a strong
opposition. On the economic front, there are already clear indicators
that growth has slowed down to around 3 percent and that foreign
direct investment has a downward trend. On the other hand, the sharp
fall in oil prices is keeping the current account deficit (CAD) and
inflation under control. As a result, it would be unrealistic to
expect a major downturn in the economy that will cause a major shift
in the thinking of voters. In other words, those who vote for the AK
Party for reasons linked to economic stability will continue to do so.

What about political dynamics? There is no reason to expect a miracle
from the main opposition party. The Republican People's Party (CHP) is
going through a difficult time in Ä°stanbul and even its most loyal
supporters have lost faith. As a result, the more important issue is
the 10 percent threshold for parliamentary representation and whether
the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) will manage to gain seats as a
party. The HDP seems determined to run as a party rather than with
independent candidates. This is obviously a high risk and high return
strategy. In case the party fails to obtain above 10 percent, the AK
Party will become the main beneficiary with a stronger parliamentary
majority. This could pave the road for constitutional reforms
establishing a presidential regime, thus reinforcing the autocracy of
ErdoÄ?an as the strong man of Turkey.

On the other hand, the HDP could also upset the AK Party's plans for a
super-majority by becoming the fourth party in Parliament. At this
point, the HDP is the strongest candidate to change the political
landscape of the country with charismatic young leader Selahattin

Other than the economic and political dynamics, one wonders whether
foreign policy issues ranging from Syria to the centennial of the
Armenian Genocide will impact the 2015 elections. Usually voters are
unmoved by external dynamics unless they impact the economy. Turkey's
image in the world is already in a free fall because of ErdoÄ?an's
authoritarianism and Ahmet DavutoÄ?lu's dismal foreign policy legacy.
Yet, the economy is muddling through despite such negative dynamics.
In short, polarization is likely to continue in Turkey after the