Why Did The Opposition Lose?
AKP, as a populist movement, should be thought as the representative of a peripheral fraction of the capitalist classes which had not had a strong base in the state institutions. Therefore the political agenda of the party has always been to change the balances in the state. The support of the popular classes has served as an important leverage for the party to accomplish that everlasting goal. Especially after the plebiscite of 2010, with the support of the Gulenist organization in the bureaucracy, AKP felt himself free for the first time to start a great purge of the former dominant cadres in the state. These were mainly Kemalist-nationalist military members, upper echelons of the judiciary system and academy administrative. Court trials were used as effective tools to succeed. This purge created a serious Kemalist, conservative nationalist opposition out of the state.
Gezi Uprising represented an important moment of convergence of different types of dissent in Turkey. This enormous mobilization which made it a very extraordinary incident in modern Turkish history also followed another extraordinary process of peace negotiation between the Kurdish rebels and the state. The Kurdish issue had always been a taboo and the nationalistic sentiment of an ordinary Turkish citizen had made him feel very far away from the demands of the Kurdish minority and its political movement. But the peace process created a legitimate political space for the Kurdish problem and also weakened the hegemony of the hawkish statist-nationalist way of handling the issue. The Gezi Event matched with this particular moment. One of the most fascinating photographs was showing two activists, carrying a Turkish national flag and a pro-Kurdish party banner in the hand of each, running away from the police canisters hand in hand.
The crisis in the state had created a political opportunity frame for the dissent. While two power blocs were struggling for a dominant position in the state a third bloc for democracy found itself in an available situation. HDP constituted itself as a party of the “multitude” on this space. Through the years from 2013 to 2015 one may say that the party developed really with gigantic steps. June 7th elections in 2015 were the peak of this progress. The results were really incredible. Especially with the upthrust of its popular leader Selahattin Demirtaş HDP made a boom in the polls and became the third biggest party in the parliament.
But everything turned upside down after that pinnacle. During the period between the elections, June from November 2015, the power blocs in the state gave a pause to the struggle between themselves. When the peace process was halted and armed conflict has once more been active all the environment supporting HDP and the democracy forces disappeared rapidly. Repression of the state was so severe and effective. It was also supported by the paramilitary forces. The suicide attacks of the Islamic State created a widespread terrorization of the dissent. After October 10th attack in Ankara which was recorded as the most fatal terrorist attack of the Turkish history, the opposition in the streets had lost all its coherence. HDP stopped its public meetings during the election process after the bomb attacks. For the first time the activists had something more frightening than the security forces of the state. In addition, the armed rebels in Kurdish cities were suppressed by the special forces of the state. The level of violence was reminiscent of the 1990’s but the new generation of political activists had never experienced that in the new millennium. Violence climbed to its peak instantly and the political dissent could not have enough time to adopt itself.
Dissent is always confronted with repression. But if the dissent is able to find new tactics to confront the repression it will get stronger during the violent period. But that was not the case for Turkey. After 2015 elections, the rift between the regime elites vanished quickly and the dissent could not find a way to get through. Violence increased with an incredible acceleration in the Kurdish regions of the country. A kind of urban civil war created scenes of horror like the ones people got used to meet in Syria. This acceleration caused the urban middle classes living in metropolises like Istanbul, Ankara and İzmir move further from the Kurdish democratic movement and HDP. The democratic coalition began to occur during Gezi Uprising collapsed before it could be maturely built up. The securitization of the Kurdish issue once more employed to divide the dissent. Since the urban middle classes got rid of taking the responsibility of a quite dangerous peace struggle, the alliance of the regime elites built around Erdoğan was able to create a perception of a fatal threat to the existence of the Turkish State. The alliance of the Kurdish PYD with the US in the Northern Syria particularly fueled this paranoid.
The second most important reason of the easy defeat of the democratic movement in Turkey was the hegemony of AKP on many layers of the working classes. As a populist party, from its very first days AKP could obtain a powerful support from the precarious layers of the labor, especially the ones living in the shanty towns of the big cities. The strength of the labor organizations declined all through the era of AKP reign. Trade unions supporting the dissent lost their members rapidly. Even during the days of Gezi Uprising, organized and precarious strata of the labor located itself at a distance from the center of the struggle. The handicap of this decoupling revealed itself during the difficult days of the dissent. As the rise of right-wing populism all around the world proves, if the democracy movement is not able to gain the support of the precarious labor it is nearly impossible to confront the assaults of the Levaithanic state repression. Democracy movements are doomed to lose without the support of the poor.
Another factor that may explain the defeat is the leadership asymmetry. Since the regime elites have the opportunity to use all the resources that may be provided by a powerful state around a talented populist leader, the opposition was scattered. This asymmetry had not been that obvious before the elections because the regime elites could not unite around a common game plot. But after the elections, since Erdoğan lost his majority in the parliament he was convinced to surrender. This common leadership became even more powerful after the failed Gulenist coup of June 15th, 2016. The state of emergency provided very effective tools to the state to carry the variety of repression to new peaks. Especially emergency decrees were used very actively to purge the activists of the democracy movement. The message given by the decrees was taken “correctly” by the rank-and-file of the democratic organizations. The retreat of the democracy movement from the streets was accelerated by the decrees. Even the most basic citizenry rights of the purged people were denied easily with the excuse of their “terror” linkages. For most of them, there was not even a verdict by a court to justify their dismissal.
The destruction of the independence of the jurisdiction system also aided the regime elites to move quickly and silent the dissent. For example Osman Kavala who has been held in prison for nearly 400 hundred days does not know exactly why he is there since there is still not a bill of indictment. His lawyers also cannot reach the accusations since there is a confidentiality order on his trial. He is a well known businessman and democracy activist. There are conspiracy theories held him the man behind the Gezi Uprising wandering through the pages of the press supporting the government. Those kind of Kafkaesque stories are used to create a huge fear among the people supporting the dissent. The new power bloc used exemplary punishment as a tool to stabilize repression. The role of Turkey as a refugee reservoir convinced Western countries to turn a blind eye to the issue easily.
In the nutshell, the state has changed the political environment and increased the level of repression and the opposition could not get used to that new environment and lost its impact. The opposition as a whole could not extend its contention repertoire and confined itself to electoral politics. But after June 7th elections, also the character of the elections have changed. One cannot posit that Turkey still has democratic elections as an institution. The last three elections and plebiscites took place under extraordinary conditions. Even two of them were held under the state of emergency. The most incredible move of the Supreme Electoral Council was to change the rule which included the directives about the validity of a vote. This change was done when the polls had been open, on the day of the plebiscite organized for the adoption of the Presidential System. The opposition could neither compel the government for just and democratic elections nor employ alternative ways to defend democracy vigorously.
will be continued…