“We brought close to 9,000 people today and that is just from our neighborhood of Esenyurt”, said 48-year-old Abidin. “But there were also so many others coming from all over Istanbul. There were even ferries that carried close to 800 people today”, he added. Abidin was among designated drivers in charge of bringing people to the electoral rally organized by the AK Party and held in Istanbul’s Maltepe district on May 17. Interrupting Abidin’s approximate calculations, a young man standing next to Abidin, says there were three million people on the square. Looking back at square it is hard to calculate the exact turnout but certainly three million is an overstretch but the young man is certain its three million to be exact.
The “parallels” are ought to get us but they wont win
On June 7, Turkey will cast its vote for its new 550 seat Grand National Assembly in a party list proportional representation system. To make it in, the party must overcome the 10% threshold, which has always been disputed by the opposition groups. Because according to the present voting system, any votes cast below 10% are automatically transferred to the winning party. The threshold does not apply to the independents.
The new Assembly will form Turkey’s 25th parliament. AKP is seeking 4th consecutive year in the government in these elections. If the party wins all 330 seats then President Erdogan will have the necessary backing at the parliament to change the constitution. But in order to bypass the referendum, the party needs 367 seats. AKP’s agenda includes switching to a presidential system, advancing the solution with the Kurdish rebels and revised constitution.
But the Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu mentions none of these, as he took stage at the Maltepe Square yesterday. Instead, PM Davutoglu focused on AKP’s achievements since coming to power, and the vicious intentions of the Bermuda triangle of key opposition parties together with parallel structures to topple the party. He did not mention whom exactly these parallel structures represent but this is a political tool introduced by the then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan shortly after the Gezi Protests and the corruption probe. The so-called parallel structures were after destroying Turkey and preventing its growth.
Back on the stage Davutoglu was giving an example of a university entrance exam scoring calculation – four incorrect answers take one correct answer. AK Party constituted the only one correct answer while the opposition CHP, MHP, DHP plus the “parallels” were the incorrect answers. “They cannot come to power so instead they are planning to get together and get in the way of the AKP with their coalition. But they cannot win. How can they prevent us with Istanbul backing us up?! Are we going to teach them a lesson on June 7?” shouted Davutoglu with his cracking voice having traveled across 40 provinces already. “Yes” the crowd cheered back. Davutoglu repeats the question this time even louder, “Yes”, yells the crowd raising in the air the AKP flags they were given when coming onto the square.
On the other side of the stage, some people were leaving. “It is normal, they have been here for hours now. They are tired. It is crowded and many of the families came with their children. People want to go home”, said Abidin as he phoned his last passenger who was missing before he headed back to the bus he was driving back to Esenyurt.
As crowds continued to leave even with PM still addressing the crowd from the stage one rally attendant turned around and said, “They have done the most good. I am their big supporter and wanted to tell you this”, he says as he rushes off to join his bus.
A 44 year-old state employee Ahmet (who preferred not to give his real name nor his place of work) confirmed what the other passer by said. “Everything is changing for the better. Look at these people [pointing at the leaving crowd], they might have no money in their pockets but as least they are peaceful”, said Ahmet. But is there anything Ahmet would like to see improve? He nods, “the salaries of state employees”.
The rally organized in Istanbul was important for the ruling AK Party. This is one of the three biggest cities of Turkey. During last year’s presidential elections, over 3.5 million voters cast their ballots for the AKP. The party is determined to get just as much. That is why much effort was put in bringing as many people as possible to the electoral rally in Istanbul. “We are three million gathered here”, yelled presenter at the rally yesterday. It was not surprising that the young man who interrupted Abidin earlier on, also believed there were 3 million.
But concerns mount about AKP’s plans once elected. Critics of the AKP say the party will do all that is necessary to diminish any separation of powers within Turkey’s political and legal system. There is also the issue of freedoms. In a recent interview with Today’s Zaman, the founder of Oy ve Otesi association (volunteer election observation organization), Sercan Celebi said, “After the Gezi protests, the majority of people have realized that they will not be able to lead their lives independently of the political process. The sphere of freedom has been restricted, and as long as we are not part of the processes, we realize that things will become worse”.
Sitting on a bench and taking a rest after the rally, 66 year-old Ibrahim Sahin says although he is AKP supporter this should be their last term. “They should let go in the next elections” (which are scheduled for 2019). “This country was in shambles. I moved to Istanbul from Ordu in 1962-63 and I have seen it all – the difficulties. I remember even saying to myself that if this is the way the country is run then the end is imminent. Now, some fifty years alter I see a transformed Turkey. Things have changed to the better thanks to the work of the AK Party”. Ibrahim Sahin is retired state employee and he is also the first AKP supporter who was frank about AKP’s ruling style. “It is a matter of experience, you need to give others a chance to get experience”, he adds as he enjoys the sunset over Marmara.
Will AKP give a chance to other parties in transparent elections or will it continue its grip on power? June 7 elections will show.