The cost of ‘pride and prejudice’
I had to write this column before seeing the election results, but no worries, as the political problem is not related to the electability of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), but its governability. Under those circumstances, the election results will not help us overcome the current political crisis. It is not to undermine the importance of democratic elections or the democratic legitimacy of majority support. We all know that democracy is not all about democratic elections but is also about the acknowledgment of democratic principles by elected governments. Otherwise, we simply end up with majoritarian rules.
Immediately after the general elections in 2011, I claimed that the AKP had turned into “the state party” and would be able “to rule with authority” but not be able “to govern democratically.” I thought so because the AKP had started to show signs of a “democracy deficit” long before the elections, and I had expressed my concerns at the end of 2009 about its slide toward civil authoritarian rule.
Nevertheless, I thought, Turkey had too diverse and complex a society to be governed by narrow-minded majoritarianism.
After the AKP turned into the “the state party,” Turkey started to build “a party state.” After all, not all authoritarian regimes come out of coups and revolutions; they also rise out of elections and ensure power through majority support. This is the case of AKP rule in Turkey. I do not mean to snub the majority as “ignorant and/or fanatic masses;” on the contrary, I believe that authoritarian rules are supported by the majority for various justified reasons.
In the case of the AKP, there is a conservative majority enchanted by AKP rule as a result of its resentment against secularist cultural and political hegemony. Even after the AKP came to power, they could not overcome their fears of political turnover; nevertheless, they started to enjoy a new kind of pride at having power in every way. The AKP’s political invincibility ensured the dignity of once-humiliated conservatives. That is why I believe that the AKP will not lose support from conservatives, while, for the same reason, it will lose its capability to govern.
This is so because Turkey is a diverse society in many ways, but the AKP has not been able to transcend the limits of being a party of resentful conservatives who still feel threatened and arrogant at the same time. As the AKP and its leader have started to oscillate between feeling powerful amid arrogance and fragile amid paranoia, it has become a story of “pride and prejudice.” On one hand, the feeling of omnipotence led the party and the leader to first be less compromising, on the other, the perception of threats against led them to be less tolerant of any dissent and even hostile toward all except conservative AKP supporters.
As for ideology, it is not just that the governing party simply went to its Islamist roots to justify its authoritarian politics as it diverged from center-right politics. In fact, the AKP created its own populist ideology on the foundation of rising conservative, lower- and middle-class economic aspirations on one hand and of an amalgam of moderate Islamism and irredentist vision of Turkish nationalism in the name of neo-Ottomanism on the other. On top of all this, it was all mixed up with a strong leadership cult.
Finally, it is the story of the rising of a “state party” and of a “party state,” but this cannot be the story of Turkey for long, since no matter who wins the elections, this is not a country to be ruled by an iron fist for long. Unfortunately, this is not to say that we will find a safe way out of this political chaos anytime soon. On the contrary, the combination of the AKP’s blind power politics and the fact that it is not sustainable promises more instability and deeper crises rather than hope for a better future.