Turks send message of democratic resilience to the world
Democracy is not a lose-lose game, it is a win-win game. Democratic elections are not about voting only for the party you want to see in government, but they are also about voting for an opposition that needs to be strong enough to represent voices that differ from those who supported the ruling party.
The local election results in Turkey seem to have proven that supporters of the opposition parties have learned that lesson. Many among the supporters of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) had reached the peak of their disappointment during the last presidential elections. Especially the fact that CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, as well as the CHP’s presidential candidate’s disappearances on the night of the elections, had angered and further intensified the frustration among opposition supporters that the CHP cadres are not worth fighting for. “Why do I have to spend a sleepless night keeping an eye on the ballot boxes when CHP executives are nowhere to be seen,” many thought. They felt abandoned.
And in the following months, many started to say that they will no longer vote for the CHP and that they will not go to the ballot box. But at the end it seems they have understood that going to the ballot box is not just about fighting for a specific opposition party. It is about fighting for your democratic right to show legitimate dissent against the ruling parties.
You can feel you are abandoned by a party. But as a reaction you should not abandon democracy. In the Turkish context, avoiding the ballot box means you abandon your right for legitimate dissent. Most probably those who voted for the CHP- İYİ (Good) Party alliance don’t particularly approve Kılıçdaroğlu’s leadership. Most probably most of them were not even convinced the opposition alliance Istanbul candidate, Ekrem İmamoğlu, was the right one. They did not even know him to start with. But they chose to go to the ballot box, to show the country’s governing coalition that they matter, that they cannot be ignored and that they are there to monitor the government’s performance, which is their democratic right.
It was the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) that insisted voters should vote for the ruling coalition for Turkey’s “survival/security” against “domestic and international threats.”
While political analysis could question to what degree this message factored in for those who voted for the ruling coalition, by contrast it was probably the urge for “democratic survival” that also factored in for those who voted for the opposition.
And these votes in favor of the opposition parties have come despite the fact that the press chose to prioritize the ruling coalition during its coverage so much that opposition candidates could not find proper airtime to give their messages. It came despite the fact that the ruling coalition accused the opposition coalition of cooperating with “terrorists.” The opposition supporters were not discouraged when they were told that if mayors from the opposition are elected they might be replaced as they might face legal cases or that they will not be able to work properly as they will not have the support of the central government. All this was not enough to discourage the already very demoralized voters. Many went to the ballot box certain that the opposition will not win, but that at least they would make their presence felt by the ruling party.
This message of democratic resilience is especially important in terms of the message that is being sent to the world. Some in the international circles are too quick to categorize Turkey under the “third world country with high tendency to slide into authoritarianism.” Falsely convinced that democracy cannot exist in a majority Muslim country, some feel vindicated to see the opposition will lose each time so they can prove they are right.
Turks have passed the test of democracy, what about the state?
Turks have passed the test of democracy. But we still have to wait to see whether the Turkish state will pass the test. In that sense, whether it finds the objection of the ruling coalition or the opposition coalition right or wrong, the Supreme Election Board (YSK) has to pass from the democracy test. It has to show it is an unbiased institution, immune to pressure from anywhere it might come. It should make sure that the democracy test given by the ordinary citizen is not marred. That test will be crucial as Turkey is heading toward difficult economic times. As the Turkish economy remains interlinked with the foreign markets, the YSK’s fair and objective stance will not only consolidate Turkish democracy, but it will also indirectly give a boost to the economy as investor confidence might increase seeing the independence of state institutions.