The AKP is also at a crossroads
The Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) landslide victory on Nov. 1 has resulted in mixed reactions among those who are vehemently opposed to this party. The most obvious one is to blame the people who voted for the AKP.
A common refrain among these people is that 50 percent of Turks are downright stupid for choosing such a party. This harks back to remarks by Aziz Nesin, of one of Turkey’s most popular humorists, who died in 1995. During an interview in 1992, Nesin famously declared that 60 percent of Turks are stupid.
His remark is inevitably being recalled now by those who were shocked to see the AKP gain nearly 50 percent of the vote. It is debatable of course whether 60 percent of Turks are stupid.
One can argue that intellectual intelligence is not widespread among Turks, who are not known to be a nation of readers. But there is no shortage of practical intelligence among them. Take the villagers of Suşehri - which is attached to the central Anatolian city of Sivas - for example.
They were beaten and pepper gassed by the police and gendarmerie earlier this year during a protest over water rights. This did not prevent them from voting overwhelmingly for the AKP. The village prefect explained later that they voted this way because they saw the AKP, for all its sins, as the only realistic choice.
That remark touched the core of the matter. The reason why the AKP won these elections the way it did, according to many, is because there is no viable alternative to it. The AKP, many believe, at least has a coherent strategy which convinces people that he devil they know is better than the angel they don’t know.
Of course, as international monitors are declaring, these elections were not conducted in the most democratic of environments, given the pressures on the media and the near martial law conditions in southeastern Anatolia. Yet the rate of participation in them was 85.8 percent, which is even higher than the 83.92 percent for the elections held on June 7, which saw the AKP lose its parliamentary majority.
This means that for all the pressures on voters, an overwhelming number of Turks went to the ballot box.
This also means that a significant number of Turks also saw the way in which opposition parties squandered the chance they gained in the June elections and forced them to vote the way they did.
Put another way, it was not just democratic considerations that guided a large number of the voters this time. It was the belief that the opposition offered nothing to the country, a fact seen in the failed coalition talks after the June 7 election.
This drove many to the only practical conclusion they could arrive at, which was to continue with the AKP, rather than opting for a coalition that would spend more energy on squabbling over issues than solving them.
The fact that the economy reacted positively almost instantly after the elections also vindicated this positon for many. Needless to say the business community and foreign capital is happy over this outcome.
This leads us to another reaction among those who would not vote for the AKP under normal conditions. One observes an increasing number of people in this category who say: “If only the AKP behaved normally,” meaning if it did not try to impose its Islamic outlook or tamper with the secular system, “then I might have considered voting for it because a strong government is good for Turkey.”
The question now is whether this approach shows that Turks are stupid, or whether it sends a signal to the AKP showing that if it behaves more inclusively and advances genuine democracy, then it stands the chance of increasing its vote base even more.
Turkey is clearly at an important crossroads, but it seem the AKP may also be if it can address the fears of the 50 percent that did not vote for it over the next four years that it will remain in power.