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1st November 2015 “re-run” elections in Turkey and the role of gender in the process
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In the light of recent events, the 1st November 2015 General Election in Turkey appear all but forgotten. As usual when war drums start rumbling, gender issues which have been so relevant for the success of HDP in June and the regained position of AKP in November are fast dropping in the background. Yet issues at stake in the current regional crisis are not only those of power and petrol but involve competing gender, family and welfare models. The major shift between the 2011 elections and those of June 7th 2011, and the subsequent quick reversal between the latter and the 1st November 2015 re-run election, as Erdogan defines it, “re-fixing” of the disrupted political power of AKP, can also be explained by this.
Table 1: 2011, 7th June 2015 and 1st November 2015 General Elections Results
7th June 2015
1st November 2015
Justice and Development Party- AKP
Republican People’s Party- CHP
Nationalist Movement Party-MHP
People’s Democracy Party- HDP*
* HDP party members entered to the 2011 election as independent candidates, rather than under the party of HDP
If we look at general data (table 1.) we can see that in June 2015 AKP mainly lost votes to MHP, the ultraconservative Nationalist Movement Party, who benefited from the government’s announced 10-item list of priorities for the resolution of the Kurdish issue, and to HDP, the progressive pro-Kurdish party, who for the first time succeeded in going beyond the 10% threshold and enter the parliament. Then in the new elections held in November 2015, after it had proved impossible to form a coalition government, 45% of MHP’s seats returned to AKP, especially in the small Anatolian cities and AKP also regained at least 18 seats from HDP, mostly in Southeast and Eastern electoral districts, in part a consequence of HDP voters failing to turnout. As for the Republican Party- CHP, data show that it has an entrenched voter segment in society but does not succeed in attracting the votes of other segments.
Among the variables which appear to have influenced the reversal of the June results both Kurdish and security issues appear relevant. Immediately after the June election results, AKP reversed its strategy, putting the resolution process of the Kurdish issue aside. The AKP-dominated temporary government’s new strategy produced increasing insecurity and instability in the country which, at the beginning, worked against AKP. Citizens failed to understand the sudden rekindling of conflict between the state and Kurdistan Workers’ Party- PKK and howled AKP authorities during martyr funerals. But gradually anger and disappointment shifted towards the Kurds as a consequence of PKK’s role in the persistent inner conflict, and the majority of citizens stopped questioning the obvious security deficiencies exposed by terrorist attacks and curfews.
In the meantime in Southeast cities Kurdish citizens experienced the two major terrorist attacks, Diyarbakir and Suruc, as well as repeated curfews which caused death of civilians including children, while in other regions they were victims of humilitating lynches (a man who shared his photo wearing the local Kurdish costume was tortured and made to kiss the Ataturk statue) and aggressions by groups who called themselves nationalists, who attacked HDP buildings in several cities (and also set fire to a bookstore). There were also the economic consequences of the political instability following the June elections, especially the increasing inflation rate, which had a deep impact on people’s live and prompted all parties, during the campaign for the November elections, to promise a significant increase in minimum wage and pensions (today citizens are waiting for the government’s promised 30% increase in minimum wage).
In spite of all this, it is striking – considering the reliability of Research Companies - that none foresaw the November elections results (Table 2). This suggests that the focus on nationalism and ethnic polarization has left out of the picture some important variables, including gender dynamics and parties’ gender policies, especially if we compare the very different HDP and AKP positions.
Table 2: Voting Behaviour Estimations of Research Companies for 1st November Election
HDP has applied women quotas and a co-chair system in the party for years. Its entrance in parliament in June 2015, with 81 seats, led to a consistent increase in the number of women MP: 98 out of a total of 550, which means an 18% rate never attained in Turkey before (and which retreated back to 15% - 82 women - in November). Moreover HDP’s percentage of women MPs remained between 38% and 40% throughout the last three general elections, notwithstanding the party’s dramatic shift in the total number of seats (Table 3), whereas AKP’s women MP rates have dropped from approximately 14% to 10%.
Table 3: Representation of Women MPs in the Parties in the Last 3 Parliaments in Turkey
7th June 2015
1st November 2015
Total N of MPs
N of Woman MPs
% of Woman MPs
The feminist stance of HDP women MPs was made visible in parliament, when they reacted to AKP’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc “Shush lady, be silent as a woman,” addressed to HDP’s deputy Nursel Aydoğan making a press statement requesting Arınç to apologize (and CHP did the same) or when they managed to establish a Women’s Parliamentary Group in order to respond collectively as women on politics and policy issues. Outside parliament, HDP women MPs actively engaged in the political situation which emerged during their five months incumbency, working together with other groups in many initiatives, especially the visit to Kurdish districts and cities under severe curfews: they went to Varto with Women’s Freedom Assembly and to Cizre with the Women for Peace Initiative, which included 25 female writers and academicians, producing a joint Women’s Peace Declaration released by Women’s and LGBTI Organizations For Peace.
Though HDP supports women’s political representation more than any other party, this has proved insufficient to re-attract votes in the November elections mainly because of the ongoing clashes on the Kurdish issue and the increased ethnic polarization. Moreover, despite the fact that HDP claims to be a nationwide party, taking in account the rights of every citizen with an integrative approach tn gender, ethnicity or class inequalities, AKP’s criticism of HDP as representing marginal groups (feminists, LGBTI, pro-Kurdish, leftists, Alevis and environmentalists) diverging from the tradition and moral values of society reflects the view of the majority, Turkish, Sunni-Muslim, homophobic, population.
Yet even more challenging are data telling us that that consistently in the last decade, women voted AK Party more than men, apparently indifferent to alarms about risks of limitations of women rights and liberties under AKP governments. To explain this it may be useful to turn to available analysis of moral values in Turkey and perceptions of gender roles, family oriented social policies and social transfers targeting women,, perceptions of AK P’s women MPs and the role of its well-organized women’s branches. What AKP offers women can be summarised as “the mainstreaming of an understanding between tradition and change”. The promotion of socio-economic and political opportunities for women expands their life space without fuelling rebellion to current social values and practices. Cosar and Yegenoglu describe AKP’s stand as a “new mode of patriarchy” at the intersection of various political discourses including Westernism, feminism, liberalism and Islamism. This selective strategy can be traced in the relationship between current moral values concerning gender and family and AKP’s social policies.
Table 4: Perceptions of Citizens on Family, Religion, Politics and Society, 2011
define themselves as religious
85% (Women 88%)
think that the head of the household should be man
76% (Women 71%)
think that woman should always obey to her husband
64% (Women 59%)
think that a child btw the age of 0-5 would harm if his/her mother’s works
think that marriage is an outmoded institution
6% (EU average 20%)
people who confirm of a woman’s giving birth to a child without having a stable lie with the man
7% (EU average 47%)
I wouldn’t want to be neighbour with a homo-sexual
I wouldn’t want to be neighbour with cohabits
Having more than one partner is acceptable for a man
23% (women 19%)
Men are better politicians than women
Data Source: Esmer, Yilmaz (2012), Values Map of Turkey
Thus a glance at the above table highlights widespread attitudes of a society – in a predominantly Muslim country - that well fits into the discourse of AKP. According to the same study trust in the family is acknowledged by 93% of the population in Turkey and AK Party’s emphasis on family well responds to this when stating: “It is clear that we owe to a large extent to our strong family structure the fact that we are still standing despite all the economic troubles”. The current economic troubles and their impact on the family strengthen the latter’s role as “an informal solidarity mechanism in the absence of state social welfare support”.
Today, despite the numbers announcing the increase of nuclear and ‘broken’ families, various forms of extended families are still alive especially among the working class. In some families each son has his own flat in the family apartment building (built with the earnings of the whole family) but all of them share their meals and some other expenses to save some money. At times young couples with one child move with the husband’s parents to the flat they bought together to avoid rent expenses. These data are consistent with those telling us that currently a significant number of families are not able to escape from poverty even if they work enough, that in 2009, 15.37% of the total employed labor forces were are defined as poor and that in 2014, according to OECD and Eurostat calculations, 11 million (approximately 15% of the population) lived under the 50% of the median income , and 16 milion (22,3%) were those living under the 60% of the median income are.
Turkey also has the lowest rate (32%) among OECD countries in terms of female labor force participation, together with a high rate of female participation in informal labor (around 50%) . As a consequence women in families provide the carework for children, elderly and disabled members who heavily rely on them since institutions, summing public and private, can provide nursing-home care for only for 0.4% of the elderly population, only 2.4% of the children receive nursery-school care and only 28.8% of the children aged 3-5 years go to kinder-garden (National Education Ministry’s data for 2013-2014)  , whereas in households with 0-5 aged children 89.6% of the care-work is done by mothers (according to data from the Turkish Statistical Institute’s).
Considering that unpaid female family carework has always existed in the country, but that the in past it received almost no regular welfare support, the social transfers of AKP governments to families with disabled and elderly members, as well as widowed women, and the conditional cash transfers to the 6% population at t he bottom of society, make the reasons AKP’s electoral support among lower classes of society, and especially among women, quite understandable. Public expenditure for social transfers has increased from 0.50% in 2002 to 1,35% in 2013 and today along 2.258.734 households benefiting from regular social transfers there are also 1.997.306 receiving irregular social transfers . From 2007 to 2014 the number of care labourers receiving a monthly care salary for the care of the disabled has increased from 30.638 to 449.769. Social transfers are directed to family formation - consistently AKP’s vision of the family as a way to solve every social discontent – and disadvantaged groups (disabled and elderly citizens, women and children). The main caregiver for all these groups being women, the main policy trend is oriented to transfers as incentivation to keeping dependent persons at home.
AKP does not have any problem in orienting its policies to support female carework since it believes that the primary role of women is motherhood and that looking after the needy is in the nature of Turkey’s altruistic women. But AK P is also very keen on policies that help women who are both in family carework and in the labour market in balancing work and family life. It offers incentives for mothers with pension schemes, through public coverage of the maternity period and, during the last electoral campaign, it promised a 20% of additional state wedding aids based on the couple’s savings in their dowry account. It further promised that when these couples will have children they will enjoy child benefits for every child, local municipalities will open public kinder-gardens and women will see their maternity leaves per child increased.
Seen on this background one can understand the effect of Prime Minister Davutoglu’s promise, one week before the November election, on “finding spouses to unmarried voters” while campaigning in the Southeast city of Sanliurfa: “You have a job, salary and food. What's left? A spouse. We [the AK Party] want the people of this land to reproduce. When you say you need a spouse, you go to your parents. Hopefully they will find you an appropriate spouse. If they cannot, you can turn to us. … We will make sure you have a job, a house and a spouse”. Though it was ridiculed by other party leaders and social media, and cleverly questioned by some women politicians, in the light of a 51% rate of pre-arranged marriages in Turkey of which approximately 9% without the consent of one spouse, it was predictable that government support to marriage, including finding spouses, would sound positive to many citizens.
 Coşar S. & Yeğenoğlu M. (2011), “New Grounds for Patriarchy in Turkey? Gender Policy in the Age of AKP”, South European Society and Politics, 16:4, 555-573.
 The Ministry of Family and Social Policies, (2013), Research on Family Structure in Turkiye: Findings and Recommendation
 Bogazici University Social Policy Forum, (2014), Social Policy in Turkey: Principles, Problems, Solution Suggestions
 Citak, Z. and Tur, O. (2008), “Women Between Tradition and Change: The Justice and Development Party Experience in Turkey”, Middle Eastern Studies, 44:3, 455-469, pp. 461-2.
 Gunes Ayata A. & Tütüncü F. (2008), “Party Politics of the AKP (2002–2007) and the Predicaments of Women at the Intersection of the Westernist, Islamist and Feminist Discourses in Turkey”, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 35:3, 363-384.
 AK Party, 1st of November Election Declaration