Taksim protest to change Ankara balances

Taksim protest to change Ankara balances

There are two aspects of possible changes in the political balances that are likely to be triggered by the Taksim wave of protests: The administration front and the opposition front.

There are three main actors on the administration front: President Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, and his deputy, Bülent Arınç. Arınç is on the stage because Erdoğan left him as acting prime minister for the duration of his ongoing North Africa tour. However, he is not just a “supporting role” actor, as he is among the triumvirate who lay the foundations of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) back in 2001, together with Gül and Erdoğan.

Gül intervened in the Taksim protests at two critical points - on June 1 and June 3 - when many people were afraid that an escalation could result in more bloodshed. Gül’s sensitive interventions versus Erdoğan’s uncompromising line toned down the police’s roughness against demonstrators. In both cases, Gül made clear that his position was different, quite moderate and less emphatic than Erdoğan’s. 

As Erdoğan left for Morocco on June 3, Gül made his second statement and immediately invited Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) to the Presidential Palace on top of the Çankaya Hill in Ankara. Such a meeting would have been almost impossible given the current tension between Kılıçdaroğlu and Erdoğan; one calling the other a “dictator,” and the other calling the opposition leader “subversive.” On June 4, Gül invited Arınç to Çankaya, after which Arınç made a statement to calm the atmosphere, with self-criticism that it was the “excessive use of force” and “gas” used by the police that had caused everything to “go crazy” on the first day of the protest. 

Arınç had also arranged a meeting with Sırrı Süreyya Önder, the leftist Turkish-origin deputy for the Kurdish problem focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), who after meeting with Arınç went up to Çankaya Hill to meet with Gül.

Önder is a key figure here, as a three span bridge between the administration, the opposition and the street. He was there on the first day of the protests (Taksim is his constituency), preventing an excavator uprooting a tree. He is also a messenger between the BDP, the government and Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as a part of Erdoğan’s efforts to find a political solution to the Kurdish problem.

All the efforts carried out by Gül have caused his star to become brighter, as Turkey approaches the presidential elections in August 2014. Gül has the right to be a candidate again, but Erdoğan wants Çankaya too, but with more powers and less checks-and-balances. Gül is openly against increased powers for the presidency, emphasizing that many in the country have fears that it could lead to one-man-rule through the ballot box. That’s why he underlined in his second intervention in the Taksim protests that although elections are a must in democracies, they are not the whole story. Gül might find more support within the AK Parti following the Taksim theatre.

On the opposition side, besides the very personal role of Önder from the BDP, is the CHP head Kılıçdaroğlu.

Most of the masses who took the streets across the country are actually the natural potential of the CHP, especially the modernist and secular women who think their lifestyles are threatened by the conservative AK Parti. However, very few of them are actually led by or organized under the CHP. 
There is actually a chance for Kılıçdaroğlu to turn that potential into kinetic energy for his party, but given the current fragmented structure of the CHP – which is more under the influence of the nationalist wing in the party echelons, despite the majority social democratic grassroots - Kılıçdaroğlu has his own problems to deal with.

Whatever happens, the Taksim wave of protests is likely to move and shake the political balances in the Turkish capital, both on the government and the opposition fronts.