Our dumb times
I wrote in this column “Why is AKP the mirror image of the average voter?” more than seven years ago (Hürriyet Daily News, March 29, 2006).
Here are some excerpts:
“The average Justice and Development Party (AKP) politician is the mirror image of the average Turkish voter: devoutly Muslim but pragmatist, anti-Western in genes but pro-European Union in anticipation of economic/political benefits, collectivist in theory but individualist in practice, and moralist when ‘the other’ goes corrupt but tolerant [to corruption] when ‘we’ do. Hence, the unusually large margin of tolerance for corruption and mal-governance in Turkey.”
That column quoted a devout, pro-AKP businessman as honestly explaining his behavioral patterns that “[the] party identity brings him financial and bureaucratic advantages over the others;” that “he thought the AKP corrupted public money, but he would not feel cheated because ‘any government would do the same.’”
“Corruption, nepotism and partisanship are not generally considered non-democratic practices. On the contrary, they are accepted as natural fault lines of any democratically elected government, especially in oriental cultures. That’s where mal-governance becomes endemic and, worse, part of the democratic culture.
“All that, however, does not change the typology of the average Turkish voter, the one who is willing to tolerate corruption as long as things go smoothly for him, his family, friends and their families and friends. The AKP is perhaps doing the right thing. Why should they care about clean governance when others don’t?”
Privately, the average Turk should be confessing to himself, perhaps subconsciously, that he would “steal like others” if he were in the same powerful position of the others who are accused of corruption. One of my favorite proverbs this culture has produced is: “He who touches honey licks his finger” (along, of course, with “a sister-in-law is sweeter than honey”).
I felt compelled to remind of what I wrote a long time ago to help rookies in Turkish affairs understand why, instead of a cold welcome at the peak of the corruption scandal, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been given a hero’s welcome by party loyalists across Turkey, including a bizarre-looking group who greeted the prime minister after having wrapped themselves in white clothes which symbolize death in the Islamic tradition. Message taken: We can die for you!
Anyone who thinks a corruption scandal of this size and prominence, particularly because it was disclosed a few months before local polls, should be a game changer in Turkish politics can be disappointed. This may not be the first time that morality is a super-luxury and too scarce a commodity in Turkish politics.
The scandal will probably further anger the anti-AKP camp; but it may further reinforce the pro-AKP camp - the men who wrapped themselves in white clothes. It is probably too premature to expect a plunge in AKP’s popularity because of the scandal, although it may change the voting attitude of mildly pro-AKP, part-time pro-AKP, tactical pro-AKP and the undecided voter. There is, of course, the fact that Mr. Erdoğan’s worst enemy is Mr. Erdoğan, as evinced by his self-destructive strategy.
All the same, the core AKP voter, no doubt, would prefer to be more interested in manifestations of piety and what s/he personally gets from the AKP rule, rather than if some AKP men had plundered public money. The always smart, but these days increasingly nervous Mr. Erdogan is perfectly aware of the unspoken “mirror image relationship” between his party and its loyalists. Hence, his repeated pragmatic challenge to anyone who may challenge him around corruption allegations: Come and defeat me at the ballot box!
That, however, does not mean Turkish politics from now on will progress as if nothing had happened.
The AKP has the means and the political base to minimize the damage. The scandal won’t make the same effect it would have made had it erupted under the rule of any other political party. All the same, there is damage, and whatever its magnitude is, it is probably irreversible.
Meanwhile, the House of the AKP can always safely rely on the loyalty of the average Turkish voter, its mirror image.