American politics vs. Turkish politics

American politics vs. Turkish politics

Yesterday I had a nice drive in the residential neighborhoods of this nice city. One of the eye-catching details was the political signs many people put up in their frontyards. Some read “Romney, Ryan,” others read, “Obama, Biden.” They were, in other words, expressions of support for either the Republican or the Democratic candidates in upcoming presidential elections.

As I could count, the pro-Romney and the pro-Obama signs were almost equal in number, which testifies to the fact that Colorado, the state that Denver is in, is a “swing state.” Sometimes Republicans win, sometimes Democrats. And although there are many fixed states whose color never changes, the United States overall is a “swing state,” where elections can never be taken for granted by any party.

When you look at this as a Turk, you immediately see the problem at home: Turkey is not a “swing state,” in which two equally powerful parties compete with each other. Not at all. Currently, polls show that the incumbent AKP (Justice and Development Party) still has at least 50 percent of the votes whereas its main competitor, the CHP (People’s Republican Party) fluctuates around 25 percent. That is why nobody expects the CHP to really challenge the AKP in the next election, or in the ones to come.

This, of course, has very bad consequences. The AKP folks feel so confident - if not over confident - that they don’t have to bother to reach out to new voter groups. Their power increasingly looks absolute and absolute power, as Lord Acton saw well, leads to nothing other than corruption.

The CHP folks, on the other hand, feel ever more desperate and hopeless. They see no chance to come to power anytime soon, so they don’t feel very motivated. The institutions they used to rely on - the military and the high judiciary - are no longer their ideological buddies, so they feel very powerless.

This is the boredom that Turkish politics has unfortunately achieved, after an exciting effort to get rid of a quasi-military regime. The defeater of that military tutelage, the AKP, seems to have initiated “the end of history” as one commentator recently put it.

However, there are two possible ways to get out of this “end of history,” and bring some excitement back to Turkish politics.

The first way would be an end of the AKP. Thank God, nobody expects this via a military coup anymore. But there is another possibility: The AKP might not be able to survive the loss of Tayyip Erdoğan, after his very likely election to the presidency in 2014. (Hence Erdoğan is apparently busy with pre-constructing the post-Erdoğan AKP.)

The second possible way is what I would much prefer to see: Not the downfall of the AKP, but the rise of the CHP as an able, competent, promising opposition. So far, the CHP has never been like that (with a brief exception in the late 70s), because it has been the “state party,” which attracted mainly the ideological voters. The AKP has its ideological voters as well, for sure, but it also gets support from many pragmatic voters who just want a better economy and effective method of governing.

The CHP needs to do a lot of soul searching and internal reform in order to attract the same pragmatic voters. But that is what we need if we want to have a normal spectrum in the long-time abnormal Turkish politics.