Even ruling elites cannot define the ‘New Turkey’

Even ruling elites cannot define the ‘New Turkey’

Opposition circles, or the “other half of Turkey,” are suffering from post-system change trauma. It is not just the end of the parliamentary system and the authoritarian sway that has been sealed after the July 2016 coup attempt and the April 2017 referendum, everybody feels a deeper transformation of the political regime underway. However, neither the opposition nor the ruling party is willing to acknowledge the true nature of this change. 

The failure of opposition circles to hinder the authoritarian sway has pushed them toward embracing simple rejectionism. The founding fathers of the ruling Justice and Development (AK Party) had declared their change of mind and denounced their Islamist past and ideology when the party was established. They claimed that they would henceforth define themselves as “conservative democrats.” Later they changed their course once again, but it is not a simple story of Islamists’ betrayal of democracy and democrats - it is also about the problem of democratic opposition in Turkey.  

Indeed, the real issue is about a more universal problem of democracies: Winning a majority vote is an essential part of the game, but in the end it may lead to authoritarianism, especially in the event of the weak institutionalization of checks and balances. That is the case of Turkey, and it is leading to a radical regime change. 

Bygones are bygones, and from now on the opposition should acknowledge the seriousness of the matter rather than engaging itself with more with trivial matters. The current authoritarian backlash in Turkey is being legitimized along Islamist/nationalist lines; the ruling party is keen on politicizing religion, and the opposition seems to be falling into this trap. 

This may also be a kind of escapism for the opposition, which has failed to construct a true democratic alternative and dynamic. Republican secularists have not been able to rid themselves of their militaristic/nationalistic backgrounds when it comes to the Kurdish issue, supporting government policies on key areas like voting to strip Kurdish politicians of their political immunities. Now they busy themselves with religious conservatism more than anything else.

As for the AK Party, it also avoids acknowledging the true nature of the political transformation in Turkey. It is obvious that it seeks to change the secular republic to a conservative Muslim state, but it still denies that this is its aim, despite the fact that it no longer faces any real political challenge and despite the fact that it is all powerful after so many authoritarian measures. Most recently, the party has felt the need to refuse claims voiced by one of its members on a TV program that they are working to found “a new state under the leadership of Erdogan.” 

It seems that the “New Turkey” project is a reality, but even its founders are not sure about its legitimacy. This must be another sign of escapism, as Islamists are generally always very reluctant to discuss what they really want. Indeed, perhaps they do not even know what they really want other than to get away from Kemalism, secularism and democracy.