Toward more or less polarization?

Toward more or less polarization?

At the end of this week, the political design of “New Turkey” will be settled. Tayyip Erdoğan will sit in the presidential chair on Thursday, apparently with an impressive ceremony. Ahmet Davutoğlu will officially be nominated as the new prime minister, and also will announce his Cabinet. Several seats will change, but the ruling concept (that of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP) will remain constant, if not reassured.

You can also assume that the same AKP rule will continue in the foreseeable future. Erdoğan has five safe years as president ahead of him, and he may get re-elected in 2019. In 2015, there will be general (parliamentary) elections, and it seems almost certain that the AKP, probably still under Davutoğlu, will again win.

What is not that easy to foresee is what this will bring to Turkey. There are, in a very broad sense, two possible options: The bad scenario and the better scenario.

The better scenario is that in the new AKP era, Turkey could gradually ease the high level of polarization that it has been drawn into over the past two years. Erdoğan may feel more secure about the “coup attempts” against himself, and thus decrease the hype of his political counter-insurgency.

Davutoğlu, as a polite and gentle voice, could initiate a more civilized political discourse, and curb some of the authoritarian practices such as dictates to the media. Meanwhile, the opposition could realize that simply bashing Erdoğan will not help them much, and instead focus on dealing with their own shortcomings and reinventing themselves.

In this better scenario, the polarization of the past two years, and the authoritarianism that it has fed, would go down in history as a temporary phenomenon, peaking at a “revolutionary moment” and then easing gradually in the post-revolutionary phase.

The bad scenario, however, is that the AKP might only continue doing more of what it has been doing, sparking more reactions from society and responding with a more iron fist. A possible course, for example, is for the government to trigger massive protests such as the Gezi Park movement with its dictates, relying on more security measures, only to provoke more activism on the opposition side, in a perfect vicious cycle.

In this bad scenario, the “revolutionary moment” would extend into future years, if not decades, only to be matched by an increasingly fierce resistance.

It is really hard to guess at this point. Much depends on what the AKP revolution really means in the minds of its makers. If it just means the consolidation of electoral democracy, and pride and power for religious conservatives, then that is fine. The “counter-revolutionary” forces can live with that. But if it is a deeper project to re-engineer society, in order to reverse the Westernization of the past century and re-construct the nation based on conservative Islamic lines, then neither the revolution nor the resistance will ever end. More polarization, and ultimately destabilization, will follow.

My sense is that there are Islamist elements within the AKP that hope for such an Islamist nation-building (and some of them are speaking loudly these days), but they are also balanced by pragmatists. If Abdullah Gül had stayed in the picture, the victory of the pragmatists would be secured.

But it still is not hopeless. For, at the very least, the AKP has to keep the economy running, and it can do this only by curbing its ideologues and relying on rational moderates such as Economy Minister Ali Babacan.