The narrowing scope for democratic politics in Turkey

The narrowing scope for democratic politics in Turkey

The scope for democratic politics has always been limited in Turkey, but apart from during military coup eras it has never been as narrow as it is today. 

The politics of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his party have become a kind of “revolutionary movement” to create a “New Turkey.” This “New Turkey” is said to mark a break from “100 years of Western domination,” supposedly enforced by Western powers to distract Turkey from its glorious past and leadership of the world’s Muslims. In the words of the prime minister a few days ago, the president is the “legendary leader” of the party, leading a historic mission. That is why he must be immune to criticism, since to oppose him and his mission only plays into the hands of Turkey’s enemies.

According to this mindset, Turkey is actually under attack from global and regional powers because the rise of Turkey as a regional and global Muslim power frightens all - friends and foes alike. According to the view currently governing Turkey, internal dissidents and external powers are collaborating to plot against Turkey and to hinder its historical march.

Once “dissent” is defined as “treason” by the president and his government, we have reached the end of democratic politics. If the situation was not bad enough for democratic politics, there is now also a renewed war-like situation in the predominantly Kurdish southeast, where the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) continues to lead an armed rebellion. Since the PKK restarted attacks last summer (in a response to the government’s attacks, as the PKK sees it), Kurdish politics have become another big obstacle in the path of democratic politics. That is why the governing party managed to consolidate nationalist votes and get overwhelming majority in the Nov. 1, 2015 election. It has used this opportunity to implement politics of security and to suspend political freedoms. A vicious circle has taken hold of militarization of the Kurdish conflict and enforcement of authoritarian politics.

Worse is the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) loss of legitimacy because of its inability to handle the situation. HDP politicians have almost helped the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) convince public opinion that Kurdish politics and the HDP itself have nothing to do with democratic politics and are simply pawns of the PKK. Most recently, a condolence visit by a HDP MP to the family of the suicide bomber of the Feb. 17 Ankara attack, which killed 29 and injured many more, invited a harsh response from the government and further undermined the HDP’s democratic legitimacy. It is now even more difficult for democrats who call for peace and negotiations with Kurds, and it seems that both the AKP and the HDP are doing everything they can to narrow the space for democratic politics, in a sense collaborating to silence democratic dissent.

President Erdoğan recently called on parliament to lift the immunities of HDP deputies, putting the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and all kinds of democratic dissent in a very difficult position when it comes to defending political rights and freedoms. The HDP still does not seem to understand the seriousness of the matter, rejecting any criticism of itself as “surrender to government pressure” at best and “siding with security politics” at worse. What’s more, party members have defended the HDP deputy’s visit as a matter of “condolence culture,” despite the fact that the visit was paid in a “condolence house” decorated with the bomber’s photos and there was an atmosphere of praise among some other visitors.

This is the most disappointing part of the whole picture of Turkey’s politics and the prospect of the democratic struggle. Not only do the ruling party and its mentality not bother about democratic legitimacy, neither does the HDP opposition. It too can fail to distinguish between democratic and non-democratic means; it too dislikes criticism. So it is no wonder that democratic space is narrowing and democratic dissent is being increasingly marginalized in today’s Turkey.