Wednesday, 09 April 2014

What the Columnists Say

Published in Roundup of Columnists

The March 30 municipal elections in Turkey are generally viewed as a resounding victory for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as a consequential defeat for the movement of Fethullah Gülen and for the opposition that was tacitly allied with the movement.  Still, commentators who are opposed to Erdogan point out that his party sustained a sizeable loss compared to the general elections in 2011 that cannot be ignored. They also ask if he is going to be able to govern a country that is as fractured and highly polarized as Turkey has become. The observation is made that every election since 2002 has demonstrated the existence of three, culturally distinct Turkeys, and that the March 30 elections showed that these differences have hardened to a point where the question becomes if the people of Turkey still has the will to live together.


Oral Çalışlar in Radikal hails the election results as a crucial victory for the will of the majority. Once again, those who try to design politics with extra-political methods were defeated by the choice of the society. In fact, that this was going to happen could be gleaned from the opinion surveys that showed that the people did not have any trust in the “operational front.” What turned these elections into a referendum was the opposition itself; it fell into the pit that it had dug. All the talk that Prime Minister Erdoğan was going to have to flee the country after March 30 demonstrated an utter lack of respect for the will of society, and was an insult to the intelligence of society. They once again forgot that it is society that decides who is going to stay and who is going to leave. The real world defeated the cyber world. The actor that lost most dramatically is the “cemaat” (the Gülen movement). Either their base did not heed their attacks against the AKP or their base was not as big as they had assumed. It is going to be really interesting to see how they deal with this reality. For the CHP, the election result is a historic defeat. It is apparent that the alliance that they struck with the “cemaat” did not pay off one bit. Prime Minister Erdoğan is a big winner, but it must also be recognized that Erdoğan and his party have been wounded by all that has happened the last couple of months; they need to calmly review what has transpired during this time and be open for new evaluations. The prime minister has the opportunity to set a deepened democracy as his target. He has the chance to build peace by embracing the Alevis, the Kurds, the seculars and all the colors of society.


Şahin Alpay in Zaman writes that the election results are an extraordinary victory for the AKP. That a governing party that has been the subject of the biggest corruption probe in the history of the country emerges from the election with 44 percent of the votes and with only a four point loss compared to the general elections in 2011 is unheard of in the history of the democracies. I guess this can be noted as Turkey’s contribution to the history of democracies. As long as there is no general degradation of their conditions, the voters don’t care about corruption. They may say, “All previous governments were taking bribes, this one is at least working hard.” Perhaps what needs to be underlined in particular is that the opposition parties are not seen to be fit to govern the municipalities, not to speak of the country. But nonetheless: Is the 56 percent that did not vote for the AKP going to resign itself to live under constant polarization, tension and increasing political pressure? Can the country be governed by a government that is tainted with suspicion? Can any of Turkey’s problems be solved with this government?


Ali Bayramoğlu in Yeni Şafak writes that the election results were primarily determined by the tension between the government and the “cemaat”. All other allegations and perspectives were overshadowed by this tension. The conservative voters reacted to what they saw as the illegitimate moves by the cemaat, and to the attempts of the CHP and the rest of the opposition to exploit these moves. Another conclusion is that the era of the “tapes”, “recordings”, is terminated. In other words, the illegitimate attempts to intervene in politics have run aground; these methods have gone bankrupt.  Another conclusion looking at the results is that the political moves of the “cemaat” have torn apart its sociological base and that its electoral influence has been nullified.


Orhan Bursalı in Cumhuriyet notes that the AKP’s votes went down to around 45 percent from 50 percent. This reveals the existence of a mass of voters that used to support the AKP but that are extremely sensitive to corruption and bribes. 5 of percent voters is the equivalent of nearly 3 million people. Don’t underestimate that and remember it for the future. This mass has understood the character of the regime and has taken a stance against it. Why then did not the AKP lose even more? The simple reason is that there is still great confidence in Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The “cemaat” sustained a major defeat; it may still continue its attacks against the government with new revelations. But its societal base has been revealed to be very weak. Did they have an effect of around 1 to 3 percent? Maybe. The votes that the AKP lost to the CHP and to the MHP may together account for the societal strength of the movement. The “cemaat” has been reduced to an “intellectual religious club.” Their sole strength resided within the state; and they are now fast losing that as well. And what about the CHP? Did its tacit alliance with the “cemaat” benefit it or not? Any conclusion at this point would be questionable. But what is certain is that the effect of being perceived as the ally of a group that is headed downhill can be negative from now on. The CHP should develop its own assets.


Umut Özkırımlı on the t24 news site writes that every election since 2002 has revealed the existence of three distinct Turkeys; each with its own set of values, and indeed different culture. The first Turkey is not even Turkey; it is Kurdistan, or Turkey’s Kurdistan. The BDP consolidated its firm grip of the Southeast in the elections and has laid the foundation of the transition to democratic autonomy. The second Turkey is the AKP’s Turkey. It is – I would like to underline this – the Turkey of the majority; it is Sunni, nationalist and conservative. It is concentrated to central and eastern Anatolia, but its geographical boundaries are in fact difficult to pin down; it is also highly present in the metropolitan areas. And ideologically it also encompasses the MHP voters. That is why we see that those who abandon the AKP choose the MHP. The third Turkey is, as we know, confined to the coasts and to the urban classes (but not only the middle class; as the Gezi protests showed, also a part of the lower classes are included in the third Turkey.) The third Turkey is in turn divided into two different groups that are in conflict: the neo-nationalist, die-hard secularists and the more liberal, pluralist section. What made the March 30 elections special was not only that they demonstrated that the differences have further hardened, but that the three Turkeys have lost the desire to live together at all. If the prime minister of a country can depict mass gatherings that assemble 3.5 million people as a coup, and if he calls a 15 year old that was killed by police during these demonstrations a “terrorist” and he urges the crowds to denounce his mourning mother, and still can receive 43 percent of the votes, then we truly need to question the will to live together. Meanwhile, people from the third Turkey are queuing outside the electoral offices expecting a recount of the votes; others from the third Turkey, the neo-nationalists, contemplate how the government can be overthrown hand in hand with the “cemaat”. And the Kurds, are rightly so, planning for their own future.

Read 7917 times Last modified on Thursday, 10 April 2014

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The Turkey Analyst is a publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Joint Center, designed to bring authoritative analysis and news on the rapidly developing domestic and foreign policy issues in Turkey. It includes topical analysis, as well as a summary of the Turkish media debate.


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