Turkey’s unfinished revolution

Turkey’s unfinished revolution

Turkey missed a great opportunity for a very necessary “political restoration” after the June elections. Such a restoration could only have been implemented by a grand coalition of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Republican People’s Party (CHP), as beyond just being an ordinary coalition government, it would have also been the only chance – and necessary step – to end the country’s political and social polarization and reverse the process of democratic regression and the rise of conservative authoritarianism. 

However, it has emerged that such a restoration is next to “mission impossible” for Turkey. Now, it is very important to inquire why it could never happen. It did not happen because the AKP has ceased to be an ordinary political party, as AKP rule turned out to be a revolutionary mission some time ago. After all, we all know that political compromise is not possible under revolutionary politics; it is a contradiction in terms. AKP politicians and supporters are not shy about their revolutionary goals and consider a majority AKP government not only desirable but a sine qua non on the matter. Theirs is an “unfinished revolution” to be completed.   

In fact, political and social polarization has deeper roots than it seems from the outside. From the beginning of the republican regime, there has always been tension between secularist republicans and conservatives of all sorts. Still, the conflict was manageable until the ruling AKP regressed from defining itself as a conservative democratic movement to identifying with the Islamist politics of resentment and authoritarianism. After the AKP managed to get enough political power to turn itself into a state party which sought and mostly managed to control all political space, Turkish politics have become dominated by the terms of an “unfinished revolution.”

The ruling party engaged in almost revolutionary changes after its second term. In fact, it all started with the introduction of the elected presidency; it could not totally change the parliamentary system, but found a way to create a hybrid system which was designed to pave the way for the presidential system. Especially after the 2010 referendum on constitutional amendments, perhaps it was not designed to change the judicial system altogether but managed to modify it so that it became dominated by the executive. At the same time, it managed to sideline judicial checks using its power and finally denounced judicial processes as coups against the government as in the case of corruption probes against AKP politicians and their relatives in December 2013. 

In addition, the AKP culminated its efforts in its third term to promote more Islamic education and more Islamic schools. Moreover, under AKP rule, Turkey has witnessed a partial capital transfer to “the new economic elite,” that is, party cronies, by using state power over the economy. The AKP tried and mostly managed to shape the media along similar lines to suppress any dissent. Finally, Turkish foreign policy has been radically altered to fulfill the ideals of neo-Ottomanist/neo-nationalist/neo-Islamist lines which complement each other. The National Intelligence Organization (MİT) is designed to be dominated by the governing party, together with its ideology and personnel, and has gained unusual pre-eminence for a democratic country.

Unfinished revolutions may not be as unsettling in many ways as completed ones, but revolutionary politics disguised as democratic politics can be more unsettling in other ways. Political ambivalence leads not only to social apathy but also crises of political legitimacy, representation and orientation. The next election is going to be a political parody under the current circumstances.