Boycott is no option
In my view there is no doubt that the new election law undermines the legitimacy of democratic politics. The new law and arrangements are controversial not only concerning election security but they are obviously designed to empower the pre-election alliance between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and to weaken the opposition in the next parliament.
It may seem curious that the governing party needs to further protect its power despite the fact that the opposition is already weak and has no chance of seriously challenging the governing power block. I do not think that the governing party is unaware of the opposition’s weakness and feels a serious theat.
I think the reason behind all attempts to further weaken the political opposition is that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his party do not believe in the importance and legitimacy of political opposition for good governance. It is not only that the existence of the opposition is perceived as a hindrance, but that politics is more about “ruling” than “governance” in their view. For the same reason, the current rule is resentful of separation of powers and skeptical of the institutions of checks and balances.
In fact, we live in dangerous times, and there is a rising global trend of resentment to democratic governance and searches for strong leaders and majority dominance. This does not mean that global trends alone determine Turkey’s political fate but that the global political atmosphere is encouraging Turkey’s new path. Moreover, it is not only the political mentality of Turkey’s ruling Islamists and nationalists that enforces the democracy deficit, but also the fact that the political opposition is in a state of bankruptcy. The Republicans have been inept and confused for a long time, while Kurdish politics deteriorates as Kurdish politicians are misguided by their leadership and distracted by regional aspirations.
There appears to be no way out of the political stalemate for Turkey’s democrats. So there is every reason for disenchantment and boycotting the next elections may seem a justified response. Nonetheless, boycotting elections almost never works, as it is intended to delegitimize the winners of the game. On the contrary, it often proves to be inefficient and even counterproductive. After all, the rulers who seek to exclude all forms of opposition are also those who do not believe in the meaning of protest and dissent.
It is no coincidence that Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım has dismissed those lawmakers contemplating a boycott as old trouble makers. “If you look at the background of those lawmakers… you will see they are activists in their university years, protesters and boycotters. They have developed this habit,” he said.
Indeed, Yıldırım comes from the opposite political background of conservatives and Islamists who never protested but complied with the authorities and waited until they become politically powerful to express their resentments. As politics is a zero-sum game in their minds, boycotting elections will be a bonus for them. Finally, those who believe in democratic struggle should insist in keeping some space in parliament regardless of the shortcomings.