Roads, bridges, airports – and religion – over democracy

Roads, bridges, airports – and religion – over democracy

There may be a thousand different reasons why the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) remains the unrivalled choice of the Turkish voter. The findings of a recent study support the idea that the general voting pattern in Turkey is strongly related to socio-political and cultural preferences that go into producing the average Turkish voter, probably as in any other country, but not with the same outcome as in any other country.  

The “Survey of Social-Political Trends 2015,” by Kadir Has University, suggests that democratic credentials, sadly, are not among the priorities with which the Turkish voter would judge governance.  

The survey found that 56.5 percent of Turks do not think Turkey is a democratic country (7.4 percent think it “definitely” is while 36.1 percent think it is some). Similarly, 59 percent of them think that there is no freedom of thought (7.9 percent said there “definitely” is freedom of thought while 33.1 percent said there is some). And those who think there “definitely” is a free press in the country stand at a mere 9 percent. Another 31.3 percent think there is some free press. In other words, 59.7 percent of Turks do not think they have a free press.  

When narrowed into the AKP voters’ mindset, the study looks gloomier. For instance, only 58.3 percent of those who vote for the AKP think Turkey is a democratic country; 56.7 percent think there is freedom of thought in the country and 54.8 percent think there is free press.  

In conclusion, nearly half of all AKP voters do not think they live in a democratic country where there is freedom of thought and free press. And they are happy to vote for the party without blaming it for the democratic deficit it, ideally, should have minimized. This is worrying.  

The survey also found that nearly two-thirds of Turks (65 percent) think that the judiciary is being politicized, compared with 49.6 percent in 2011 (and 58.7 percent in 2014).  

Put together, the Turks are happy to vote for the same government knowing that they do not live in a democratic country or do not enjoy the mental comfort of trusting non-partisan, independent judges and prosecutors. This is even more worrying.  

That voting behavior will encourage any government, not just the AKP, to systematically ignore the virtues of democratic culture. It gives a silent nod and carte blanche to systematic intimidation of dissent and a public approval of majoritarianism over pluralism.  

One can empirically guess that there must be millions [perhaps tens of millions] of Turks who think that the journalists put behind bars on charges of terrorism and espionage have been put behind bars for good reason, not for what they have written.  

Pollsters, for instance, should ask the public whether they side with the academics detained for their “peace” declaration or with the convicted mob leader who promised “to take a shower in their blood.” Or just ask them whether they would prefer a better income in a less democratic and more autocratic governance or vice versa. The results may be shockingly – or not-so-shockingly – embarrassing. 

Most Turks, apparently, think that they belong to the mainstream thinking of the blend of conservative and nationalist ideologies. Therefore, they believe, the democratic deficit they believe exists in Turkey, or the politicized judiciary, would in no way pose a threat to their well-being. This is not only realistic but also pragmatic, featuring a strong individual profit-maximizer motive.  

The AKP, when it burst onto the political scene, promised “justice” and “development,” as its name suggests. It has delivered development. As for justice, the voter does not seem to care much; so why should the AKP’s policy-makers? Perhaps they are not doing the right thing. But they are doing the politically pragmatic thing.