On May 14 Turkish voters can determine which way modern Turkey, founded by the Turkish general Mustafa Kemal in 1923, will turn in the coming century.
As Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan correctly assessed on a recent visit to Malatya, an earthquake-stricken city, “Turkey will experience a historic election. These elections will determine not only the next 5 years of our country and nation, but also the next quarter century, half a century.”
Erdogan hit the nail on the head when he stated that two different mindsets and two different visions for Turkey are competing.
Faced with the massive destruction and loss of life caused by the earthquake, the president emphasized 650,000 homes would be built, 319,000 of them within a year.
But in a volte-face, which normally would be met with a howl of condemnation, Erdogan had the day before announced that building code violations, which had benefited from the government’s construction amnesties, would be classified as a serious crime.
Erdogan also promoted Turkey’s defence capacity. When his AKP (Justice and Development Party) came to power in 2002, Turkey was only responsible for 20 percent of its defence production, which by now has increased to 80 percent. Three days earlier the TCG Anadolu, an amphibious assault vessel designed to carry light aircraft, UCAVs (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles) and tanks was delivered to the Naval Forces Command.
At the handover Erdogan declared the Anadolu would be a game changer and “a symbol that will reinforce our position as an assertive country in the world and a leader in our region.”
In Malatya family values were the centerpiece of his speech. “We have a holy family institution. Our family institution is sacred.” And he made clear: “We have no business with LGBT.”
Under the AKP, women’s rights in Turkey have had a rough ride. Two years ago Erdogan through a presidential decree withdrew Turkey from the Istanbul Convention (2011), which aims at preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Ironically, Turkey was the first country to sign and the only country to withdraw.
Religious conservatives and nationalists opposed the convention as a tool of Western imperialist powers to control Turkish society, undermine traditional family values and foster homosexuality. Consequently, Erdogan seized the opportunity to boost his waning support with the decree.
In 2010 the We Will Stop Femicide Platform in Turkey (KCDP) was founded to combat the high level of domestic violence and femicide. Characteristically, prosecutors have filed a lawsuit against the platform, accusing them of activity against law and morals.
In essence, what the coming elections are about is values. A century ago Mustafa Kemal dragged Turkey kicking and screaming into the West. Opposition was suppressed with, for example, the draconian administration of the Hat Law and Independence Tribunals. The Sheikh Said revolt in 1925 was primarily directed against the abolition of the caliphate and called for the restoration of Holy Law.
It was Erdogan who, as prime minister in 2011, took the unprecedented step of apologizing for the 1938 massacre of Kurdish Alevis and Armenians in Dersim. This, however, was directed at the opposition CHP (Republican People’s Party), Atatürk’s party, whose leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, himself an Alevi, is competing with Erdogan for the presidency.
Despite the victory of the Democratic Party in 1950, and following three successful military coups, the CHP had stultified, which paved the way for the advent of the AKP in 2001. Its ideological roots were formed by Necmettin Erbakan’s Welfare Party (RP), which was banned in 1998 for being “a centre of activities contrary to the principles of secularism.”
With its election victory in 2002, the AKP set out as reformist, moderate and neo-liberal, but by 2013 a disappointed British liberal supporter, Andrew Duff, concluded that the AKP had replaced Kemalism with Islamism.
After the attempted coup in 2016, Erdogan parted company with his erstwhile ally, Fethullah Gülen, who had provided the educated cadres for the AKP, which was, and for the most part still is, a grassroots movement.
In Malatya Erdogan referred to the six-party opposition as the 7-party alliance, thereby including the Kurdish-based HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party), whose co-chair Selahattin Demirtas has been in prison since 2016.
By inference and specifically, the CHP and its leader were tarred with the PKK brush, and Erdogan even alleged a link with the Gülen movement. Steven Cook’s conclusion is that a clean Kılıcdaroglu opposition victory is the least likely scenario. Of one thing we can be sure, as Wellington said after Waterloo: it will be “the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life.”
The views and opinions expressed above are the author’s and do not reflect those of the Free Turkish Press.