The secret to the 49 percent

The secret to the 49 percent

A month has passed since the constitutional referendum granted expansive powers to the President of Turkey.

But it’s not just that. France has voted in favor of the EU despite all sceptics. So after all, the EU is not crumbling. The old continent is not on the verge of dying. Which is why President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will be visiting Brussels this month, seeking dialogue if not legitimacy.

Dr. Mehmet Şahin of Gazi University explained Erdoğan’s rapprochement last week on private broadcaster CNN Türk. “Within three weeks, there will be trips to Beijing, Washington and Brussels. Erdoğan is sending a clear message to all these capitals: ‘You have to do business with me.’ The question marks hanging over the Presidency are gone.” However, many observers would disagree.

Erdoğan is grateful to the 49 percent of the electorate who voted “No.” Not only have they proved to be a resilient opposition who refused to be crushed under immense campaign pressure, but they have also become Turkey’s leverage in world capitals. But it is too early to be optimistic.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is still dwelling on the referendum results. Pressure on academia, media and NGO’s has increased considerably since the results came out. There is no sign of reconciliation. Members of daily Cumhuriyet’s editorial board are still in jail despite the releases of some highly important figures related to the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ).

Beneath all the storm and dust, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş’s remarks signal a turning point for the 49 percent. From his jail cell in Edirne, the co-chair initiated the debate on widening the “No” coalition with possible alliances from the “Yes” camp. “Everyone should be ready for new alliances within the common denominator of democracy,” he said, adding, “24 hours in politics is a long time and there will be major changes until 2019.”

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Mersin deputy Aytuğ Atıcı surprisingly threw his support behind Demirtaş on May 8, saying, “When the principles are common, the leader figure becomes a secondary issue.” Atıcı also signaled possible alliances with the HDP on the ground.

The core of a potential “No” coalition stems from the Gezi Park protests that happened four years ago. The young teenagers who participated in the protests in Gezi Park are college students now. The young university students who took the streets for the park are now seeking jobs, with fears of being knocked down by AKP cronyism and nepotism. Even young conservative voters who had detested Gezi’s rebellion are now questioning the government’s practices. The secret to the 49 percent should be to keep that promise alive and dialogue vibrant. But, whom with? 

CHP’s young lawmakers like Selin Sayek Böke and Özgur Özel might be good advocates of their own cause in their own backyard, but can they really expand their influence and leave a mark on the voters in conservative neighborhoods? Why can Özel still not get a majority vote from the coal mine town of his constituency Soma, for example? Or, besides all the highly-respected economic knowledge that Böke has; why do we not see her grocery shopping to buy tomatoes, and speak about the economic realities of the street?

Maybe it is about time we listen to Demirtaş’s message with a clear mind. After all, Turkey has seen several leaders rise from their ashes after their time behind bars.