High voltage

High voltage

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), having received 50 percent of the votes, should be described as “center-right” from the sociological point of view. However, debate is rising as to whether its policies are becoming more radical. 

In recent years the AK Party’s relationship with liberals and the Gülen community has been deteriorating, criticism about the party’s authoritarianism has risen, the discourse of party spokespeople has become harsher and more ideological, and issues about freedom of the press have become more prominent. All of this leads to the discussion: “Where is the AK Party heading?” 

Tension and polarization - not only among intellectuals, but also in society - is rising. The anger of the AK Party grassroots and of those against the ruling party is increasing. Clashes between the masses were prevented in Afyon and at the İzmir Fair only with difficulty. We can also see that concern about “social clashes” has increased in government statements. 

I spoke to public opinion researcher Adil Gür. While the number of those who said, “I will never vote for the AK Party, whatever they do” was 23 percent in 2007, this figure rose to 27 percent in 2011, and in February 2013 it was 34 percent.

These masses, which have become more reactionary to the governing party, were also among those who used and drove the roads and bridges built by the government, and took their share of the increased national income. However, it is not possible to understand the psychology of the masses and the polarization in society by viewing this picture through the discourse of the prime minister, with his question: “What is it that you are lacking?”

It is the same reason that those intellectuals, who supported the AK Party during its difficult and weak times, today criticize it with academic concepts such as “authoritarianism, radicalization, and distancing from the center-right,” and it is the reason why the reaction in society’s psychology is rising. 

An easing of the social tension is only possible with the government abandoning its attitude causing the critics of radicalization and authoritarianism, for it to return to its former calm and inclusive stance.

Friend-enemy discourse 

Of course, AK Party spokespeople reject these criticisms and react angrily. Moreover, they say things like, “We know our friends and enemies.” This kind of view prevents any understanding of the issue, and it deepens polarization.

Yes, “animosity” theories expressed with words such as “foreign powers, interest rate lobbies and their tools” do motivate supporters. Consequently, this is what is happening. 

Maybe the AK Party is applying the “rage is an art” practice to constantly motivate its grassroots. Nevertheless, it is exactly this policy that leads to the criticism of “authoritarianism” and “radicalization,” and sharpens the reactions in society. For Turkey to be a “manageable” society in the next term, it is crucially necessary that the AK Party sees that this is a downward spiral. Otherwise, it will become more difficult to keep the streets calm. 

I asked another question to Adil Gür. How many of those who have voted for the AK Party say they could vote for another party. The answer is 21 percent. For other parties, this rate is around 8 to 10 percent. This means that quite a lot of AK Party voters, if they can find “another party” they can vote for, will easily do so. This must be the reflex of the “center-right” tradition, which is anxious about hawkish politics. 

Erdoğan has eliminated the “other party” option by making transfers from the Democrat Party (DP) and the HAS Party that finished off those parties. I do not expect a serious fall in the votes of the ruling party in the next elections. However, the government should be able to see that for society to be “manageable” is just as important as receiving votes.

In our country, which is experiencing ethnic and politic polarizations, “unmanageability” is a serious threat. The government should take the criticism of “radicalization and authoritarianism” seriously and should be more tolerant, moderate and inclusive in order to lower the social tension. 

Taha Akyol is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published on Sept. 4. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.