‘People’s Republic of Turkey’

‘People’s Republic of Turkey’

Good morning to a new era! The supporters of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan call it the dawn of the “New Turkey.” Indeed, the presidential election marks a radical change and has started the process of a completely new political system that will culminate in a “People’s Republic.” Erdoğan supporters use the term of “nation” instead of “people,” since right-wing politicians always avoid the left-wing term of “people” and prefer “nation” (millet in Turkish). But millet has a slightly different meaning than nation in Turkish, because it refers to “real members of the national community,” according to which, millet can exclude alienated Turks like secularists, those who live a liberal life, cosmopolitans, and all who do not care for “our own values.” It is how the term millet is being used nowadays in Turkey.

Otherwise, all populist regimes of domination have similar traits; they not only define “popular support” above anything else as the source of political legitimacy, but also claim total hegemony in the name of people and of the “popular will.” Erdoğan and his supporters campaigned in the name of “a cause,” of “a leader” and of “a dramatic change in Turkey’s history.” They claimed that it was not an ordinary election of a president, but a show of support for a historic-political “cause” and for “the leader” of this cause.

They defined their cause as the reversion of “a historical failure;” according to this view, Turkey wasted a century by imitating and allying with the West, and lost “its own soul” and its capacity to become a regional and even a global actor. After Abdülhamid II’s deposition, Turkey surrendered to Western domination and now it is Erdoğan who has started a process of “correction.” According to this mindset, Erdoğan’s critics are no ordinary political adversaries but the enemies of Turkey’s interests and hindrance for the bright future; they are also public enemies, collaborationists with foreign powers and, indeed, “the friends of Israel.” According to the advocates of “Erdoğan’s cause,” Turkey is the last bastion of Sunni power and Turkey’s political fate cannot be limited to the boundaries of Turkey but has major significance for the fate of Muslims elsewhere. “It is the awakening, resurrection [or “Baath”] of the ummah,” in the words of an academic who supports “the cause.”

That is why Erdoğan’s supporters call him “the leader,” “the chief,” “our man,” “the people’s/nation’s man” and “great master,” rather than the titles of ordinary politicians. These were the terms used during the election campaign, which was conducted in the name of supporting “the cause.”

“The AKP will not choose ‘a leader’ anymore but will choose a party president and new prime minister since there is one and only leader, Erdoğan,” said a journalist who is very close to the AKP.  

Erdoğan has already clarified his prospective presidential policies as “the chief in charge of everything,” since he would be chosen by popular vote for the first time after a new law on presidential elections. He has already declared that he will interfere in the executive by calling Cabinet meetings, act as an active politician in every way and know everything from investments and infrastructure to “the movements of the birds” as a Turkish saying goes (uçan kuştan haberi olmak). Nevertheless, since the current system does not give enough powers to the president (at least formally), Erdoğan will be pushing for a new Constitution and presidential system in the “Turkish style” as he and his supporters call it.

Quite a challenge for the fighters for more democracy in Turkey, isn’t it? However, the main opposition parties have been extremely inefficient by focusing on trivial matters and by engaging in minor polemics with Erdoğan. Democratic sociologists have been busy trying to compensate for their lack of understanding of conservative politics in Turkey while a one-party state is on its way.

The Kurdish opposition, meanwhile, has been understandably busy and concerned with regional Kurdish politics. As for the Kurdish party in Parliament, they chose to campaign for an abstract democratic future without bothering themselves with the urgent problems of democracy in Turkey. Now, it is time to face up to the realities of the coming “People’s Republic of Turkey.” Unfortunately, there is no easy cure for this “morning after.”