The 2019 elections as a ‘resurrection’
In my column last week, I raised the question of why the ruling party and its nationalist party ally are pushing so hard to further weaken the opposition with a new election law and other measures, if they are likely to win the next election in 2019. To answer this, the ruling party’s ambition is not simply to win the successive local and presidential election, based on my speculations.
Turkey has been living in limbo after the July 15, 2016 coup attempt and the April 2017 referendum, in which it adopted a presidential system. Since then, the old order has dissolved and the way has been paved for the establishment of the “New Turkey” project. It seems that the 2019 election will complete the process of transformation.
As President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated in one of his weekend party congress speeches, “the old book will be closed.” Since the political system changed from the parliamentary system to the presidential system in last year’s referendum, Turkey needs to rewrite its constitution to formalize the new system and end the current hybrid regime. It is not just a technical matter, nor is it about adopting more centralized rule with an executive domination.
The “New Turkey” project is supposed to be a full-fledged transformation of the founding principles, official ideology and new definitions of identity and citizenship. The ruling party is seeking the legitimacy of an overwhelming election victory to realize such a regime change. It is going to be the “resurrection” (diriliş) of the nation in their terms and as such, it should be taken seriously.
Kemalists have long suggested that the Islamists have always been after the dissolution of the secular republican regime and have been working to establish an “Islamic state.” Since the 1990s, we democrats have challenged this view, not sheerly out of naivety, but as a matter of political principles in the name of democratization. It had been so, since Turkey had badly in need of democratization at the time. However, Kemalists dismissed democratic demands due to skepticism about the Islamists’ hidden agenda.
Moreover, they justified the authoritarian implementation of secularist principles and explicitly or implicitly relied on the military hegemony over politics in order to guard a secular republic. That is how the democrats of Turkey ended up disenchanted by the Kemalist secularists and became engaged with the Islamists who reinvented themselves as “conservative democrats.”
Finally, the experiment failed due to various and complex reasons and Turkey ended up with the transformation of the regime, from a secular/nationalist/authoritarian one to an Islamist/nationalist/authoritarian one. It was not simply the folly of democrats, nor the hypocrisy of Islamists alone, but the transformation of a complex issue all along.
I do not know if the “New Turkey” project will survive the tests of time and will be able to respond to the challenges of ruling a very complex, plural and advanced society. Despite its shortcomings, Turkey is a society that is too advanced to be ruled under the guidelines of the shallow politics of Islamism and Turkish nationalism disguised as Ottoman nostalgia. I cannot see how the Kurds of Turkey will adjust themselves to the new regime, which is going to be sealed by the alliance of ultra-nationalists. I only know it is going to be Turkey’s course heading into the 2019 elections.