Friday, November 21, 2014

Is the 'Anadolu Partisi' Turkey's New Hope?

Last week, Emine Tarhan, formerly a member of the opposition CHP, announced the formation of a new 'Anatolia Party' along with a few other founding members. She had resigned from CHP a few weeks earlier, reflecting dissatisfaction with its policies and weakness in the presidential elections.

This new party will presumably take a more nationalist line than CHP under Kılıçdaroğlu, but we will have to see otherwise what its programs will be.

Is this likely to be a successful party?

My suspicion is that it won't, and that it may, if anything, hurt the Turkish opposition further in next year's parliamentary elections.

Why? Voting is a habitual act for most people. Most AKP supporters have consistently voted AKP for the past decade, and they will continue to do so for as long as things remain the same. (The same is true for supporters of other parties, of course). One supports a party normally because that party represents that individual's affiliations (class, religion, ethnicity, etc), or its policies benefit that individual and his/her community, etc. These factors are generally pretty constant, and so most people continue to vote the same way.

Most countries have particular alignments of voters. AKP gets its support from mostly lower-income, less-education, religious Sunni voters, for example, while CHP gets its support from middle-class, university educated, secular voters.

To achieve a major shift in election results (as opposed to just a small shift of a few percentage points), it is necessary to induce some sort of realignment of these party loyalties.

Will the new Anadolu Partisi attract the support of a large number of current AKP supporters? To do so, it must appeal to their dissatisfaction with AKP and offer something better. What would that appeal be, and who are these AKP supporters who would defect to this new AP? I don't see it (but tell me on Twitter what I'm missing, please).

One possibility is that simply being a new alternative could be an advantage if there is an economic or political crisis, much as AKP was in 2002. However, this is a pretty hopeful strategy for a new party to take!

My suspicion is that this new party is more likely to take away votes from existing CHP and MHP supporters. This will do nothing to harm AKP going forward.

The danger for the opposition?
The deeper problem is the continued existence of Turkey's 10% threshold. New parties in Turkey face a very high barrier to entry, and it is quite possible that this new Anadolu Partisi could get 8-9% of the vote. If it does, then it will win no seats, and it may even harm the vote and seat shares of CHP and MHP. The 'worst-case' scenario might be if it takes enough votes from MHP to push them under 10%. In this case, Turkey could get something like a replay of the 2002 election, in which AKP gains a huge parliamentary supermajority with less than 50% of the votes. In that case, say hello to a new constitution!

The way forward?
In short, the way forward for the Turkish opposition remains to find a way to gain the loyalty of some portion of current AKP supporters. I have suggested before trying to attract the loyalties of working poor voters by adopting a strategy to improve working conditions, workers' rights, and wages. Offered a real alternative on economic policy, some working poor would be likely to vote their material interests rather than their religious identity. Right now, they don't have to choose as long as AKP is the obvious choice for their religious identity and at least an equal choice for their economic interests.

There may be other strategies besides this 'social democratic' approach. But the opposition needs to think in terms of gaining the votes of current AKP supporters rather than just shifting around their own supporters' votes between different parties.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Lessons from a divided Berlin?

Reading this article (a bit of a puff piece, really) about the ongoing ramifications of the fall of the Berlin Wall (25 years ago tomorrow) reminds me of one point that's worth emphasizing when we think about the current international crises in Ukraine, Iraq and Syria--and throw West Africa, Libya, and Palestine in there if you like.

"History" was incredibly messy and drawn-out as it actually happened. Take the early years of the Cold War, some of which Kaplan recounts in the article. US Presidents in the two-decade period from 1944 to 1963 were blamed in real time for any and all of the following:

  • Conceding too much territorial control to Stalin at the Yalta conference
  • Failing to protect Czechoslovakia and Poland in 1948-9
  • Failing to project resolve to the Soviets over South Korea, thus inviting the invasion in 1950
  • Failing to support the 1956 uprising in Hungary
  • The Bay of Pigs 
  • Kennedy being "bullied" by Khrushchev in Berlin and Cuba because he was seen as young and naive
  • Failing to stop the building of the Berlin Wall
And those are just off the top of my head.

We tend to forget these details, or how much blame they inspired, in large part because the outcome seems to vindicate the choices made then. And in part because the details fade into the distance.

The same, I'd point out, could be said about the conduct of any major war or political crises the US has gone through.

It's worth remembering all of this in the current situation.

What was foolish about the critics of FDR, Truman, and Eisenhower at the time was the same as what is foolish about many of Obama's critics today: they fail to account in any way for what is actually possible given military, diplomatic, and economic realities. Critics of Eisenhower wanted him to "do something" to protect Hungary in 1956--ignoring the fact that the US was relatively powerless to stop the Soviets from crushing the uprising in Budapest. In a similar vein, many of the critics want Obama to "do something" to stop the Assad regime, or ISIS, or Russia--but offer few (if any) serious recommendations about what to do.

None of this is to say that Obama (or "the West" in general) has made the right choices in the Middle East, Ukraine, or anywhere else--or that events in these areas are bound to work out as well as the Cold War ultimately did for the US.

However, it should remind us of two essential points: First, all actors are constrained by their own abilities, the willingness of other actors to cooperate, and the strength of their (potential) rivals. That was why liberating Hungary wasn't really a possibility in 1956 and why the same is likely true about Syria or Ukraine today. In no case does "determination" or "leadership" substitute for these basic facts on the ground. Second, international politics is generally a "long game." While this truth often entails terrible suffering for the people caught up in it (and it is genuinely terrible for the people of Iraq and Syria), it has unfortunately been this way for much of history.