What do you expect to happen in the elections? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Why or why not?
For the first time since 2002, the AKP is not the favorite party in the election. The economy is not in good shape. Corruption and favoritism have been commonplace. The middle classes have virtually disappeared except for the new AKP riches. The poor who used to vote for the AKP have been suffering from the economic crisis and high inflation, despite the social benefits that the government distributes to five million households. Under such conditions, it is hard for the ruling party to win the election. In power for the last 21 years, the AKP has used up all of its arguments and promises. They still resort to identity politics and a polarizing language. This may hold the loyal supporters of the party voting for Erdogan and the AKP, but it is unlikely to attract around 5 million new votes. Moreover, the opposition is united to a large extent. It contains a wide range of political parties, including conservative ones that disarm the AKP’s identity assault. The opposition forces think that conditions are favorable for them, and thus, they are highly motivated.
But the AKP’s capacity to win elections should not be underestimated. They have the means to interfere in the election process to a degree to affect the results. All state institutions and resources have been mobilized in favor of the ruling party. This certainly raises the question of fairness. Besides, the ruling party has a powerful propaganda network that not only includes media outlets but also mosques, schools, state-owned companies, banks, etc. Even a TV serial not favorable to the ruling party’s social and political messages was banned the other week by the media regulatory body controlled by the government.
Throughout the election period, many journalists and even some candidates running for parliamentary seats have been detained. It is a great challenge for the opposition to defeat an authoritarian regime through an election that is neither free nor fair. The High Election Board, the judicial institution that supervises the election process, has also been politicized, constantly ruling in favor of the AKP. Above all, we do not know how the opposition will manage security of the ballot boxes and the counting process on election night. Failure to do this might grant an election victory for the ruling party.
Despite all these disadvantages for the opposition, and ruling party’s ability to interfere in the election process, it seems more likely, if not certain, that the opposition will prevail. This is because the ruling party has reached its electoral limits, and the majority of electorates have AKP fatigue.
Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Easier or harder times ahead? Why?
One can see a light at the end of the tunnel, but it still is hard to predict a certain electoral victory for the opposition. To win an election which is on all accounts not free or fair, against an authoritarian regime, is not easy.
If the opposition wins the election against all odds, that would not immediately herald a new democratic regime. But it would begin a transition period in which people would enjoy relative freedom and fairer treatment from the state authorities. Building democratic institutions, reforming the judiciary, and enhancing civil society will take a long time and great effort on the part of the new government in office.
But, the mere change of an authoritarian government through the ballot box would mean a lot in terms of accountability for the government and the people’s power to determine the fate of the nation. It will prove that no party, no leader, and no government are invincible however powerful they think they are—in the end, they are all held accountable by the people. A change in the election may set the ground for a new beginning for a democratic reconstruction as part of the restoration process.
The economy will be the greatest challenge for the opposition if they win the election, as they will face another round of local elections in March 2024. Before that, they will have to demonstrate some degree of success—which will be very difficult unless they conduct the economy in a way that generates trust and attracts foreign investments.
If the AKP wins the elections, no doubt an even more oppressive period will begin as the social, political, and intellectual sources of the opposition would come under government pressure. Moreover, as the AKP will not be able to overcome the economic crisis with its unorthodox policies, it will resort to suppressing social discontent by force.
In short, we may expect to see the AKP becoming more authoritarian if it wins the elections. But this would not solve the AKP’s problem of controlling the social restlessness fueled by economic hardship. Growing social discontent cannot be governed by increasing authoritarianism, which will only increase reaction against and discontent toward the government.
So if the opposition can remain united even despite losing the election, they may continue to represent the growing social discontent and put constraints on AKP rule up until the local 2024 elections. This, of course, requires the opposition to remain intact after losing the election—something that is both difficult and unlikely.
It is the Turkish Republic’s 100th anniversary. How has Turkey tumbled into this massive crisis at every level?
We used to analyze Turkish politics by distinguishing between the state and the government. The government was in charge of the economy and daily affairs of the country, without much say about the fundamentals of the regime such as the constitutional order, security affairs, and foreign policy. The state, on the other hand, supervised the government, interfered in times of political crises, and guarded the regime and what it stood for. The state was represented mainly by the military and the high judiciary, with their ideological commitment to Kemalism and secularism. This system was seen to provide checks and balances for both governmental and state elites.
Even this elementary system of checks and balances has disappeared. The AKP has gradually taken over the state since 2010. The ruling party controls all state institutions, including the judiciary and the military which were the backbones of the former system. All state institutions have been subordinated to the interests of the ruling party.
Turkey’s democratic institutions have never been strong. The state has a history of repressive policies directed at dissenting ideas, as well as ethnic and religious identities. As a result, those excluded from the state, namely, the Islamists and the Kurds, have come to shape Turkish politics for the last three decades. While the Kurds may have disrupted the regime, the Islamists have taken it over. Sitting on the top of a system that used to exclude them, the Islamists have used the democratic mandates derived from electoral success in order to alter the formerly Kemalist state in a way that serves their interests.
Because the institutions were weak and designed to serve whoever is in power, the system has become subservient to a party that controls the bureaucracy, economy, media, and civil society. The weak institutions that used to be guided by a republican ideology have come under AKP rule and started to serve its agenda instead.
Among those who have been excluded, the Kurds are now crucial for the opposition’s electoral victory. The opposition block stands no chance to beat the AKP without the support of Kurdish voters. It is an irony of history that the Kurds, who have been excluded and repressed by a republican regime, are now in a position to rescue the republic.
What do you see as the solution for a stable and peaceful Turkey, given the culture, demographic changes, and global instability? Any suggestions?
To solve Turkey’s problems regarding the economy, democracy, rule of law, corruption, and polarization, a governmental change is necessary. As the source of these problems, the AKP can no longer contribute to their solution.
The opposition will also struggle if it focuses only on the short term. Its advantages will be a renewed optimism and confidence triggered by a change in government. If the opposition establishes rational and effective economic governance, pursues a policy of peace and reconciliation in its regional and international affairs, and rebuilds a rule-of-law, Turkey can recover its economic and social dynamism.
To do this, the new government must not get bogged down in fruitless efforts of revenge, but instead focus on a process of restoration and reconstruction of economic prosperity, law, and social peace.
In this, the West should not leave Turkey without aid. A Turkey that has overcome an authoritarian regime through democratic struggle should be supported and integrated into the club of democracies. If Turkey manages to reverse the current process of authoritarianisation by the May 14 election, it should be treated like Greece, Spain, and Portugal following their transition to democracy after dictatorial regimes. Turkey will need support for the consolidation of its democracy and the stabilization of its economy.
In this, the revival of Turkey’s EU membership would be very helpful, and it must be wholeheartedly supported by Western powers. Cooperating with Turkey is a win-win decision for the West. A Turkey left to its own fate after an opposition victory in elections will cost the West more. If the opposition fails to deliver an economic recovery and democratic restoration, another backlash is likely to bring a new anti-Western nationalist force into power. Then Turkey will be lost forever for the West.