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  • A rally for the Turkish Republican Party in Istanbul.

    A rally for the Turkish Republican Party in Istanbul. | Photo: AFP

Published 31 October 2015
A Turkish expert on history, feminism and culture, Günal says the election could be a turning point in the republic's history.

Turkey is going to polls for the second time this year in what many see as an attempt by the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, to secure enough seats in parliament to change the constitution and fulfill the wish of its founder and Turkey’s current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to transform the Turkish state into a presidential system.

In anticipation of the Nov. 1 elections, Erodgan and the AKP have sought to discredit the pro-Kurdish party HDP in hopes of either pushing the party out of parliament or attracting votes from the competing nationalist party, the MHP, which traditionally opposes any conciliation with Kurds in the country.

Ahead of Sunday's elections, teleSUR interviewed Dr. Asena Günal, the coordinator of the DEPO center for arts and culture in Istanbul, who has written extensively on feminism and the social and political history of the Turkish republic.

With a PhD in history and a history of collaborating with various civil society institutions, Asena’s projects deal with the past, but also seek to make individuals explore what kind of society we live in today and what future we would like to build.

What is at stake in these elections? Why is the world now watching?

These elections are taking place as Erdogan and his party could not accept losing their single party position. The results will show whether AKP will be losing its hegemony or not.

Are you expecting electoral fraud or other interferences on election day?

Many people are mobilized to prevent fraud. Not only the parties, but also an NGO (Oy ve Otesi) have been active in training people to control the election ballots. So I am not expecting any fraud or interference.

How has media coverage of the elections evolved over the course of the campaig? Have detentions of journalists helped or harmed President Erdogan's image within the country?

Media is polarized like the society is. AKP media and the state TV and radio channels cover Erdogan and AKP and slander the other media and the opposition parties, while the critical media is under serious threat. Nevertheless, the critical media was covering the opposition parties' campaign. The detention of journalists harmed Erdogan's image within the country, maybe not for his followers who already support him in his fight with the Gulen movement (an ally-turned-foe religious group).

What would a HDP victory look like, and what would it mean for the Kurdish movement? for feminists? for leftists?

In the last elections we were not sure whether HDP would get more than 10 percent. Their passing of the threshold and gaining 80 seats in the parliament was a victory. For these elections, not losing votes would be a victory as the war between the Turkish military and the Kurdish guerrillas (PKK), and the killing of the soldiers and the police by the PKK, might risk some of the former votes. If HDP does not lose votes and continues to be an important actor within Turkish/Kurdish politics, this would mean hope for the Kurds, leftists, feminists, LGBT people and environmentalists.

What is the biggest legacy of the AKP, in your eyes? How have the different parties addressed women's issues?

AKP polarized the society and tried to normalize one man/one party rule. But this was not accepted by a large section of the society and the last elections were a manifestation of that.

AKP has a typical patriarchal policy for women. Although there are few women in high positions in the party, the general attitude is to reproduce the women's traditional roles as mothers, caregivers, housekeepers, especially through some social policy measures. Erdogan openly stated that man and woman are not equal. MHP do have a similar stance. The [secular party] CHP is much more egalitarian. It is only HDP that is feminist, not only in its discourse but also in its practice. HDP applies quotas, has a woman co-chair and collaborates with feminists.

Do you expect more or less violence after the elections?

I don't know. It depends on the attitude of AKP. If they don't accept the new results they would not hesitate to restart the active fight. But the country is tired of elections and the tension. So, if a new coalition can be formed, we would expect less violence.

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