Turkey’s exemplary civil initiative is under threat

Turkey’s exemplary civil initiative is under threat

In contrast to diehard enemies of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), I usually argue that not everything about the ruling party is evil. Something good can come out of something bad.

Vote and Beyond, a civil initiative which was started to monitor the elections, is a direct by-product of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s authoritarian rule.

It was established after the Gezi incidents. In contrast to some illegal groups who resort to violence to make their voices heard, Vote and Beyond wanted to rely on knowledge to make sure their views were taken into account. And for that they needed to ensure elections are held in a fair, secure and free manner on election day.

The volunteers for Vote and Beyond are not there to favor any particular party. While it could be said their presence helps the parties which are not sufficiently represented at the ballot boxes, volunteers have intervened in favor of the ruling party as well.

I have a diehard Kemalist friend who hates the AKP and works as an election volunteer in Ankara. “I will never let anything take place which might be against the AKP,” she told me once. She is what Erdoğan would demonize as “they.” Erdoğan’s favorite word, “they,” means for him “those non–pious, privileged classes” who discriminate against “us,” the “underprivileged, devout Muslims.”

Yet she comes from a conservative family. Her headscarved mother was a pious practicing Muslim, while his father had a modest income which was not even enough to make ends meet. As three kids they finished their education under dire circumstances.

My friend is secular but a pious Muslim as well. The reason why she won’t have anything unfair happening against the AKP is the fact that (unlike some other Kemalists) she has internalized a democratic culture. But most probably she must also behaves like that due to fear of God too; whereas I can fairly say that AKP’s active supporters, despite being devout practicing Muslims, don’t fear God for any wrong doing as they are the modern day Machiavellis who believe the end justifies the means.

Politics of fear

This is the only way we can explain their plain lies and smear campaign. Their current target is Vote and Beyond. And unfortunately it seems they have succeeded in scaring some of the potential volunteers. “I did not intend to volunteer this time; my daughters forced me to volunteer this time too. Do you think they might attack us?” asked a friend of mine. In contrast the Kurds and Alevis, those who have endorsed a secular yet apolitical lifestyle, are not used to being “on the field.” The Gezi incidents were their first experience and they were pushed back in front of tear gas. As I said, they then decided to use other democratic methods to resist Turkey sliding into an authoritarian regime. 

In their past experiences volunteers did not complain about AKP representatives at the ballot boxes. On the contrary, it proved to be a good exercise to see that they are not “the evil” they thought they would be. Let’s hope that AKP volunteers and supporters behave themselves in these elections too.

But one thing is for sure: Those who are spreading fear are the ones who have more to fear. If certain prominent AKP names started intimidating an initiative equidistant to all parties like Vote and Beyond, it’s a sign they fear they won’t be able to get enough votes to secure a majority in parliament. And this extreme fear about failing to form a single-party government is also a sign they must have too much hidden in the closet.