A day in Konya

A day in Konya

Is Turkey a credible democracy? Though it appears to be a question with malicious intentions, indeed it is a question to be wholeheartedly asked if we are to make an assessment about where Turkey has come over the past decade under “advanced democracy.” Why would I ask myself such a trivial question in this land of absolute ruler? Frustration, most probably, from the cacophonic political badgering I was subjected to while walking through the streets of Konya on Saturday.

Konya is known to be one of the most conservative towns of Turkey; the Sufi capital hosting at the Green Mosque the remains of great Sufi Mevlana Jalaladdin Rumi. None of the candidates there were as aloof as Ankara’s apparent mayor-for-life Melih Gökçek to promise to construct a grandiose “water canal” to the landlocked province complaining nowadays of drought. Yet, people are happy with the performance of the ruling Justice and Development Party, particularly because of the fast train that connected them with a 100-minute train to Ankara. Which party did youngsters support most? Using the ruling party’s campaign slogan a youngster replied to me: “I look at what’s being achieved, the fast train, not to empty promises in casting my vote.”

Will it be really so? At the local Sun TV and in talks with local journalist friends over lunch I asked the same question. Will Konya be voting over 65 percent for the candidate of the ruling party despite all the claims of graft? Is not corruption a big sin for Islam? My friends explained that the ruling party “retreated a lot” in Konya and “will not be able to get more than 55 percent of the vote.”

Thus, even for the most pious segment of the nation, apparently the teaching of religion, the religious taboos might not matter much in making their political preferences because they support their parties as if they are supporting a soccer club. Why are people so committed to support “their party”? Kezban Bayık, a local NGO-chairperson and an established journalist came up with an explanation: “We are yet to become individuals… People are acting along the lines of their communities, be it religious, ethnic or sports. When and if we develop self-confidence sufficient enough to become individuals, only then we will start moving towards a real democracy.”

Will that be the case? Is there indeed hope that Turks will become individuals with self-confidence sufficiently strong not to be fooled by politicians hoping to benefit from polarizing the society? While we were discussing that question in a rather pessimistic tone, I received an SMS from Cem Toker, leader of the Liberal Democrat Party expressing his fear that the ruling party might rig the elections. “What are you saying” I wrote back and while pondering whether to call him or not Toker called. He explained his complaint about under what grossly unequal conditions the campaign was being continued by parties, obstructions faced by his and other opposition parties from local officials and warned of probable electronic rigging of upcoming polls. “You are wrong, all the smart guys left the ruling party, they are now with the Gülenists” I quipped, he did not believe me.

Can the polls indeed be rigged? These polls are not just local, they are of existential importance for the man aspiring to become an absolute ruler but can he go that far?