The politics of polarization in Turkey
Ahmet Erdi ÖZTÜRKTurkey is suffering from a busy political and social agenda, which reached its peak during Gezi Park protests and continued with the corruption investigations, local elections, extremely negative propaganda against civil society groups and finally presidential election campaigns. From this point of view, it is possible to argue this tiresome conjecture is an output of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s ambiguous and polarized policies.
Amid this unpleasant atmosphere, Turkey held its presidential elections on Aug. 10, 2014. For the first time in the Turkish political history, the head of state was elected by the popular vote in lieu of the Parliament. Despite the fact that the presidential election system seemed to run under the instruments of universal liberal democracy, its competitive authoritarian nature appeared due to inequality of opportunities during candidates’ campaign propagandas. To the media appearance statistics as of July 20, President-elect Recep Tayyip Erdoğan coverage in the State’s News Channel (TRT) corresponded to eight hours, whereas the other candidates Selahattin Demirtaş and Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu had one-and-a-half and three hours of coverage respectively between July 14-20. After taking all those variables into account, we now have the reality that Erdoğan has become the 12th president of Turkey.
In this respect, it is very possible to argue that both Turkey and the international community are wondering about the future of political and social polarization in Turkey, under the new president’s rule.
The increasing criticisms coming from the opposition parties, civil society organizations and a number of intellectuals is the current policy-making of the AKP government curtails the democratic transformation in Turkey. Accordingly, the obstacle Turkey faces now is not directly related to Erdoğan becoming the head of state, but with the contemporary democratic institutions, which have been significantly undermined throughout the recent years. Political decisions that are in favor of polarization have an impact on people’s memories with inerasable trauma as in the case of the Gezi Park protests. During the protests, serious number of deaths and permanent injuries happened; access to social media such as Twitter and YouTube was banned, promiscuous arrests occurred all around the country. And following, civil society organizations have been exposed to political pressure alongside with the companies that face a number of financial punishments from public institutions.
At this point, I would like to emphasize again the main reason for the political and social polarization in Turkey is not the presence of Erdoğan and the opposition to himself. The political and social tension stems from Erdoğan and his political team’s stance that is not compatible with contemporary democratic notions and institutions, including freedom of speech and media, a fair and equal election system and finally an accountable and transparent state apparatus. That is to say, Erdoğan and his team did not present a decent final score considering contemporary democratic principles at the end of their 12 years in the government. Distressingly, their political implementations and declarations are the main reasons of polarization in Turkey.
Regarding this context, we might claim that after Erdoğan’s presidency, these arguments and disagreements would continue within the similar axis, since Erdoğan and his political team have declared they would implement the previous same political methodology. After all, the crucial point would be the controversy between regular anti-democratic implementations and the regular constitutional system, which would motivate new chaotic political circumstances to emerge. Indeed, based on this fact, it is hard to predict to overstep this polarization into the new term. In this respect, it would be better to note that public opinion, political actors and civil society will play a crucial role for the future of Turkey’s democracy and alleviate the repercussions of growing polarization. In spite of the fact that Erdogan and his political team’s political interests would be important both for the future of Turkey and their own political career under his presidency, this cannot last for a long time with undemocratic implementations and polarization policies.