Until recently, it used to be considered almost blasphemous to talk about “the rise of authoritarian politics in Turkey.” This fact alone is indeed a sign of authoritarian politics and/or authoritarian political cultures that it takes a long time to be alarmed by the signs of authoritarianism. The democrats of Turkey have long thought that authoritarianism is particular to Kemalism and its remnants, like the secularist military and judicial hegemony.
Now, “democrats” claim to be disappointed and even shocked by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s statements and Justice and Development Party (AKP) policies concerning the Uludere incident and abortion, which have been linked together in a curious way by PM Erdoğan himself. Finally, democrats have started to question the sincerity of the AKP on democratization or have begun to focus on Erdoğan’s personality.
There is no doubt that charismatic leaders like Erdoğan have a tendency toward autocracy.
Nevertheless, it speaks of a shallow understanding of politics to focus on traits like the “sincerity” of a political party or focus on the “personal mood” of its leader.
The test of sincerity for a political party and its leader is only possible through scrutiny and an analysis of its politics. Apart from political developments which have offered clear signs of authoritarian leanings, Erdoğan and many AKP politicians have not been hypocritical about their political convictions.
Erdoğan is, in fact often praised for his boldness. A good example among AKP politicians is Professor Burhan Kuzu, the current head of the Parliamentary Constitution Commission and an eager advocate of the “presidential system” who unashamedly announced his support for “capital punishment” a year ago. Nobody, however, bothered to discuss the political discourse of not only AKP but of “conservative democrats” in general up until very recently.
Now, it is the debate on abortion which has naturally provoked a lot of controversy. It is widely accepted that Erdoğan wanted to manipulate public opinion and divert attention from the Uludere controversy. Even if that is true, his anti-abortion stance underlined his authoritarian conservative leanings since he not only stated that he was against the pro-choice idea but also started a process to illegalize abortion. Moreover, he improved upon his conservative discourse by supplementing it with the nationalist line that he was against abortion and Caesarian operations because he thinks they are plots to hinder population growth in Turkey. In his Diyarbakır
speech, he emphasized the importance of a young population for economic growth and for a strong country. Erdoğan wants more babies for a strong Turkey even if the mothers are reluctant.
In fact, even though some projections show that there could be problems related to a population decrease in future, there is no sign of a labor shortage problem in Turkey. On the contrary, unemployment is still a social, as well as economic problem. Besides, it is possible to overcome any labor force problem by relaxing immigration policies. Erdoğan’s “politics of benevolence” for poor countries could be reflected in immigration policies. I am sure poor Somalis would be more than happy if they were granted permission to reside and work in Turkey. Otherwise, the politics of population growth is nothing but a nationalist ambition.
The controversy on abortion is surely one of the conservative, authoritarian and nationalistic repercussions of Erdoğan and the AKP government – and I am afraid it will not be the last one.