Why is tension escalating in Turkish politics?
Like the rest of the world, Turkey currently has three main agendas: Continuing the fight against the spread of the novel coronavirus, planning the gradual reopening of the country, and responding to the economic impacts of COVID-19.
In addition to these, growing tension in Turkish politics in the last two weeks is being observed. What is ineffable concerning this recent tension is the fact that it tends to go beyond a normal, routine “government versus opposition” confrontation. Turkey has never been a tension-free country in terms of internal politics, but this recent flare-up is somehow different from our experiences in the near past.
On the one corner of this polarization are the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and on the other corner is the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
This tension is very much visible in the statements of the leaders of these three political parties. AKP and MHP officials accuse the CHP of trying to provoke a new coup against the government and of abetting foreign plotters who are trying to destroy the Turkish economy. They also objected to the opposition municipalities to launch aid campaigns for the people financially suffering from the measures taken in the fight against the coronavirus.
The CHP slams the AKP government for its wrong economic policies that will eventually bring about an almost bankrupt economy. It also criticizes the government for a continued crackdown on dissidents by using its influence over the judiciary as was observed in recently launched probes against the senior CHP officials, including deputy parliamentary leaders, Özgür Özel and Engin Özkoç, as well as CHP Istanbul head, Canan Kaftancıoğlu.
The target of the AKP-MHP duo is not solely the CHP but likeminded civil society organizations like bar associations, unions, and media outlets, according to the main opposition officials. An attempt to amend a law on the bar associations and heavy fines issued against the opposition channels are seen examples of this campaign.
At a time when Turkey is struggling to defeat the coronavirus and fix the wounded economy, it’s difficult to explain this escalation in politics. Plus, both the government and opposition officials have repeatedly stressed that they don’t envisage early polls in the coming period.
Some analysts link this fresh strain with the impending economic downturn. The impacts of the ongoing dire strait on the Turkish economy will have a long-term repercussion on the social and political life in Turkey and the government is trying to take control of the political arena from now on, they suggest. These analysts also think that heavy pressure on the CHP as well as the opposition civil society organization and the media would help distraction from the economic problems and turn their volume down.
An ongoing debate about the institutional CHP and its chairman, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, would also cast a shadow on the performances of the CHP’s mayors in Istanbul and Ankara, Ekrem İmamoğlu and Mansur Yavaş who are being presented as very successful in providing aid to those who are in need in their respective constituencies.
One thing both the government and the opposition ignore is that the coronavirus will be in our lives much longer than they think. There seems to be a decrease in the number of new infected cases and deaths in Turkey, but a victory against a fatal pandemic can never be won on paper. Political deliberations, therefore, must continue to prioritize the struggle against the contagious disease in political and social unity. This is what the nation really needs during this difficult time.