Presidential elections and Kurds

Presidential elections and Kurds

It is not clear yet if President Abdullah Gül will truly decline to play any part in the game of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Nevertheless, Gül recently made it clear that he will not duly agree to become Erdoğan’s Medvedev. He seems reluctant not only to become a minor politician under the hegemonic power of Erdoğan, but he also may be concerned about the gloomy prospects of Turkish politics.

There are good reasons to think that he does not want to be identified with Erdoğan’s current politics as Turkey slides toward becoming a non-democratic country and a problematic ally for the West. One may think that it is still too early to elaborate on that topic, yet Erdoğan’s circle seems content with the idea that Erdoğan can go it alone. Erdoğan also may think that it is better to have an absolute loyalist as prime minister when he becomes the president since he still considers constructing some sort of presidential system and may be planning to realize his dream after he becomes the president even if he could not do it before.  In this case, absolute loyalty will be more important since Gül has declared his preference for the parliamentary system.

Another major issue concerning Erdoğan’s presidency is his willingness to do a deal with the Kurdish political movement to ensure their support. So far, Kurdish politicians have exposed either diverse or ambiguous attitudes concerning the issue. In fact, it is very difficult for Kurds both to decline and to accept the deal. On one hand, it is perfectly understandable for Kurds to consider such a deal as a “historical chance.” On the other, if Kurds incline to make such a deal, it will mean they do not care for the prospects of democracy for the rest of the country and it will ruin their democratic and moral credibility not only in the eyes of their democratic Turkish supporters, but also create a split within the Kurdish movement. The best solution would be “to engage in implicit rather than explicit ways” with the governing party. It may be what the Kurds and AKP have in mind, since the so-called “peace process” has worked along these lines. Erdoğan is a master of manipulation; so far he has not only managed to reinvent himself as “the only man who can solve the Kurdish issue,” but also managed to keep Kurdish expectations alive without satisfying most of their demands.

Most importantly, he has managed to present his authoritarian measures as “gains” for Kurds. For instance, Erdoğan has been very clever about putting all the blame on the Gülen movement for all misdeeds against the Kurds and moreover convinced the Kurdish movement to join him in his fight against “the plot” or the ‘Dec. 17” of the Gülenists. That is why it was not a surprise that PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan’s Newroz message echoed Erdoğan’s discourse  of “coup,” “plot” and “foreign conspiracy.” More recently, the new Intelligence law was presented as an insurance for negotiations with the Kurdish movement. The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) reacted against this justification, but nobody can claim that many Kurds will not be more convinced by Erdoğan’s justification. Moreover, it is no secret that many Kurds believe that there is a chance to build “de facto autonomy” under Erdoğan’s tacit approval.

More recently, Erdoğan has proposed a new, narrowed election system based on the winner-takes-all principle, but it is notorious for producing the least democratic representation. Coming from Erdoğan, it is not a surprise not to care about changing the election system for less democratic representation, but so far nobody seems concerned by this system in terms of its possible connection with Erdogan’s way of manipulating Kurdish politics. This election system may also aim to be viewed as “a chance for de facto Kurdish autonomy” and seek Kurdish support since it may pave the way for Kurdish parties to have more representation in Kurdish regions.  

Turkey failed to see the risks of replacing “military hegemony over civil politics” with that of civil political hegemony over society. It is assumed that the empowerment of civil politics will automatically lead to democratization. Now, we should not fail to see the risks of replacing a centralized authoritarian political system with decentralized authoritarian and corrupt politics by assuming that decentralization automatically leads to democratization.