Voices From Uptown

How And Why Has Authoritarianism Won In Turkey?

Photo by Yasin Akgül|AFP

Turkey entered a horror tunnel after June 7th 2015. On that day, one of the most important general elections in the history of the Republic was held. The results were shocking for the government circles. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lost their majority in the parliament. Such a result would not be taken to be so extraordinary in a democratic country. But Turkey had been located on a different path since 2013, when the Gezi Revolt erupted as a reaction to this path change. One of the AKP MP’s tweeted saying “the society chose the chaos” after the election results declared. It has really been a chaos that prevailed afterwards so far.

First of all the peace process between the State and the Kurdish rebels which had been going on for the last two years halted. Military operations were on the stage once more. Offices of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), Kurdish and communist left based party whose leader promised to prevent Erdoğan from changing the political regime into a presidential one, raided by furious nationalist mobs. Although AKP lost the majority in the parliament, it also closed the doors for a coalition government. As a result, the Parliament decided for a renewed election in November, 2015. During these days, the Islamic State (IS) also started a wave of suicide bomber attacks targeting communists and Kurds. The most dramatic one was the attack in Ankara, on October 10th 2015. While the people were gathering for a meeting demanding peace and restart of the negotiations between the sides of the Kurdish conflict, two IS bombers exploded themselves and killed 103 people. Policemen reached the scene before the ambulances and attacked the residual activists with tear gas.

The unexpectedly rapid change in the political environment shocked the opposition in general. During the peace process, the alienation between the Kurdish movement and the other wings of the political opposition began disappearing. The convergence accelerated by the Gezi Revolt and peaked at the June elections. But the military operations, uprising of the nationalist movement, convergence between the different statist factions of the political arena resulted in the divergence of the democratic opposition once more. The fractures among the democratic forces have always provided the best tools for the repressive statist forces to take the dissent under control. Consequently, in the renewed elections in November 2015, AKP had a landslide. The results of this election gave a huge momentum to the process of a regime change, towards an extraordinary presidential system without any kind of checks and balances.

However, the period between the Gezi Uprising and the June 2015 elections had clearly revealed that the expectations of at least the half of the society was in the other way round. There was a strong opposition against Erdoğan’s regime changing agenda. As a populist leader, Erdogan knows very well how to consolidate his social power base and pump their motivation up. But before 2013, he also had a quite effective ability to obtain consent from people who were not directly supporting him. Gezi Revolt signified the vanishing of this ability. After 2013, an era of a blossoming civil society predominated. Dissent was everywhere, at schools, factories, urban neighborhoods, parks, stadiums etc. It would not be easy to convince these highly enthusiastic democracy seekers to an authoritarian political change. Since then, extreme repression against all sources of democratic opposition has become a fixed means for the government.

First victims of this wave of repression were the democratic institutions organized around the municipalities in the cities where Kurdish population was the majority. Clashes in the urban sectors were the excuses of the Internal Affairs Ministry’s verdicts of dismissing the elected mayors after the breakdown of the peace process. According to the law, when a mayor was dismissed because of a judicial investigation, a placeholder should be elected among the members of the local assembly. But the government suspended that law and appointed trustees to the top of the local governments. Although this is still an informal procedure, Erdoğan threatened once more they will dismiss the elected mayors after March 2019 local elections if they have links with the terrorist organizations. In fact, such candidates can be easily declined by the Electoral Council before the elections.

Additionally, thousands of activists of HDP were arrested and imprisoned. A number of MPs of the party, including the chairman and chairwomen are in prison for more than two years. Abolishing the parliamentarian status of HDP MPs has become an ordinary process since then.

After three plebiscites and elections from 2015 November to 2018 June we can easily conclude that Turkish political regime has lost nearly all of its democratic aspects. Most of the political elites support this shift in the name of “beka”(perpetuity) of the state. They think that Turkey is under an existential threat, especially because of the developments in the Northern Syria and this condition may justify all kinds of cruel acts carried out by the State. In their eyes, there is a very thin line between an opposition member and a traitor. That is how Erdogan has managed to stitch a power bloc around him as a savior of the nation in its life-or-death struggle. The crises which had been triggered by the government itself are used to legitimize its eliminating all the checks-and-balances on one man’s will.

will be continued…