Pluralistic convention rather than imagined unity
One does not need to be concerned just with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the new system that it imposed with last month’s referendum to be hopeless about Turkey’s democratic prospects, as one look at the politics in opposition circles also provides reason for worry.
First of all, we all know that the “no” camp is neither homogenous nor necessarily represents democratic values. The republicans who support the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), oppose the ruling party and its politics because they are first concerned by anti-secularism and then the democracy deficit, whereas the nationalist opposition voted “no” because they were more concerned about Kurdish separatism.
Many nationalist dissidents who withdrew their support from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) worry about the possibility of Kurdish federalism, which could be an outcome of the new presidential system. Kurds voted “no” because the ruling party ended the peace process, launched military operation in the Kurdish-populated southeast and jailed Kurdish politicians. The Islamist Felicity Party (SP) voted “no” not only because they think that the AKP is corrupt, but also because the ruling party has departed from true Islamist politics and has perhaps become a Western pawn, in their view.
We also know that some supporters of the AKP, mostly conservatives who are more educated and who live in big cities, withdrew their support because they were intimidated by the ruling party’s Islamist turn. It may feel good to know that some urbane and educated conservatives have started to become critical, but that is all. Otherwise, half of Turkey voted for an authoritarian presidential system and the “other half” is very divided along different political lines as mentioned above. Besides, the major problem is not that Turkish politics are very divided but that the introduction of a majoritarian system that hinders any party, political view and demand from being represented in the political arena, recognizing instead only the election victory of an absolute majority.
Nevertheless, it seems that the opposition circles have quickly adjusted to the new terms of politics and have already started to make political calculations to form a bloc to win the 2019 presidential elections. Most recently, a veteran CHP politician, Deniz Baykal, came up with a possible figure for the “no” bloc’s candidate, ex-President Abdullah Gül. Others suggest a broad alliance of “no” voters under person X. The names of a nationalist politician, Meral Akşener, who was expelled from the MHP, and veteran Kurdish politician Ahmet Turk, who was a Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) mayor in Mardin before being removed from his post under the state of emergency, are supposed to be some of the major members of the imagined grand alliance for 2019.
Call me an incurable pessimist, but I cannot imagine any such grand political alliance that could challenge President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Besides, the only issue cannot and should not be merely challenging Erdoğan in the next presidential elections. Why should Kurds and secular democrats support a nationalist or another brand of Islamist to challenge Erdoğan and vice versa? Why should Kurds even support an anti-Kurdish secularist? Why should all opposition circles unite to vote for ex-President Gül (even if he finally makes his mind to run for the elections), given that he is another major AKP politician that has emerged to be “a reluctant rival” of Erdoğan? Some are suggesting a totally new name and face in politics to unite all “no” voters. Excuse me for being sarcastic, but I cannot imagine anybody but a juggler who could do that.
I think that what Turkey needs is for all political views to be organized and represented separately to freely voice their vision for a democratic Turkey, rather than trying to suppress differences. I am aware of the fact that if all different political parties and groups name a presidential candidate, it only plays into the hands of the governing party and its leader, Erdoğan. But then again, different political parties and groups can negotiate for a democratic convention to return to a parliamentarian system only after they define and debate their politics in a pluralistic manner rather than a monolithic way.