The dramatic ruling of the Court of Cassation on main opposition party Istanbul chairwoman Canan Kaftancıoğlu leaves a few doubts over concerns that Turkey’s upcoming elections face extremely serious dangers. The threats looming over the country include the eradication of the will of the opposition by all means necessary or, in case of doubts on the part of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his political partners in power, a postponement/cancellation of the polls altogether.
The ruling may or may not lead to the imprisonment of Kaftancıoğlu, but one outcome of it is certain: It automatically blocks her from all sorts of political activity. This makes the ruling an entirely political decision, as has been the case with Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş, whose political future is uncertain. Both figures – younger than the average of the corrosive political class of Turkey – represent, in the eyes of the regime, an open threat to its existence and continuity, with the pair being seen as having profiles that promote democratic change.
Kaftancıoğlu has long time under the spotlight of Erdoğan and his ultranationalist partner, Devlet Bahçeli. She was a key figure, who due to her vast networks into the voter segments of the pro-Kurdish HDP, helped bring down the 25 year-long municipality rule of the AKP and its Islamist predecessor in Istanbul. Thanks to her intense and relentless lobbying behind closed doors, Kurdish voters in Istanbul were persuaded to vote for the candidate of the main-opposition, secularist CHP, Ekrem İmamoglu.
The historic defeat in 2019 was one of the most serious blows to Erdoğan, who by then seemed invincible. Erdoğan, renowned for his vindictiveness, has never forgotten about the role of Kaftancıoğlu. It was for the regime a strategic blow, and for Erdoğan a clear case for revenge.
The ruling opens an entirely new phase in the increasingly chaotic stage of Turkish politics, which seems a hostage to the intensifying arbitrariness on Erdoğan’s part. After a series of “slow motion coups” that spans back to the days of Gezi Park protests and onwards, it seems that the demonisation and criminalisation moves now encircle Turkey’s oldest political establishment, the main opposition CHP.
The move aims a deep stab in the midst of the CHP, which struggles with leadership issues and internal fights between the various cliques within. Most importantly, it aims to intimidate the party’s conservative flanks in order not to advance towards a de-facto election alliance with the HDP.
About a week ago, Turkey’s controversial Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu openly declared on a TV show, that the government aimed to “complete what was unfinished during July 15 (2016 coup attempt).” Some days ago, he did not conceal his words, revealing the content of a private conversation between Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and “an EU ambassador,” implying that the chat may have been bugged.
Further turbulence will ensue, for certain. Fears are rising that Turkey is rapidly shifting to a hard-core autocratic rule, with some observers claiming that it is rather a purely totalitarian one. Soylu has recently been accused of being a “criminal” by a nationalist opponent Ümit Ozdağ and suspicions are rising that he is one of the top figures of organised crime. The concerns on election safety are on the rise, because Soylu will be responsible as the minister of interior, to mobilize the security forces. He enjoys no trust among the opposition. A second concern is the Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdağ, who is widely regarded as the “yes man” of Erdoğan.
It is now an established fact that by the official practices of the regime the judiciary is almost entirely subordinated to the executive power, as well as key institutions, such as the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) and the Supreme Electoral Board (YSK), both of which are overwhelmingly dominated by “the servants of the presidential palace”.
While RTÜK raises the pressure over what remains of the opposition’s partisan TV channels, YSK is seen as the key to “delete” all candidates in the election, seen as “undesired” by the Erdoğan and Bahçeli.
The Kaftancıoğlu case must therefore be seen in this wider context and not as an individual judicial blunder. The Osman Kavala case must have already shown where Turkey is heading, and all the judicial assassinations that have taken place in Turkey in the past decade (approximately 50,000 political prisoners in a NATO member country) is an indicator on what is to come. There should be no doubt that Turkey faces chaotic circumstances, maybe sooner than predicted.