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January 31, 2012, Tuesday

Liberals parting ways with AKP?

This is the question. Has the so-called “alliance” between the intellectual liberal segments -- opinion leaders -- and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government come to the end of the road? In almost every interview I do these days, I have been asked this question.

There is a short and long answer to this. The short one -- to spare you time -- is, not yet. The short answer, to spare you time, is that this alliance is not over yet. And this is simply because Turkey’s “business” is an unfinished one; a developing story. It means new ideas, new formations, changing loyalties and nuances in ideologies. The question is legitimate. The journey, with the AKP in the driving seat, has almost completed a decade, and there is enough ground now to discuss the term “mental fatigue,” or “entropy,” with regard to its management. It is normal in this context; it is not too distant from the examples of Tory rule under Margret Thatcher or Christian Democrat rule under Helmut Kohl.

What has accelerated the discussion here is much more than that because it involves actors, some of whom suffer from a lack of a democratic alternative -- an interlocutor that will represent the basic values of freedom, rights and equality. As long as this status quo remains unchallenged, no “reformation” should be expected. Instead, the frustrated actors who have been the driving engines of change will project their impatience with the only interlocutor that seems to exist, the ruling AKP, which still pushes for transformation, but whose moves that go back and forth are now more visible than ever.

According to a recent survey by Kadir Has University, liberals and democrats -- defined slightly separately -- constitute around 9 percent of the masses. But the loudest and boldest portion of them is powerfully present in the media. From the very beginning, the AKP leadership has remained thankful to them because they were ideologically equipped to conceptualize its ideology and define its path -- through membership in the EU and upholding Western values.

When we mention liberals or democrats, we speak about a group that is not monolithic: they come from the right and left, and also from pious circles. So, as keenly as they have observed and contributed to the process of transformation, their negative reactions have varied, depending on the subject that disturbed them. Some have focused on the freedom and rights of Sunnite segments, some on the very EU process itself, some on the Kurdish issue and the Alevis, others on non-Muslims. Their drive has not been consistent, and it has also revealed their deep, internal divisions, rifts and disagreements.

What unites them is impatience; the growing sense that the AKP has now entered a phase, where the “sweet taste of power” overwhelms the need for completing the transformation, crowning it with steps to institutionalize democracy.

There are areas that make the unease concrete: The choice to “defeat” the Kurdish political movement by mass arrests (the Kurdish Communities Union [KCK] operations); the “silence” in dealing with key issues, such as opening the Halki Seminary; the visible pressure on the media; and the sloppy, often ruthless ways of dealing with legal investigations and trials. All of them cover the critical parts of the performance of the government and the ruling party as a whole. The liberals’ weariness displays itself more powerfully because of the insensitivities and the arrogance of power that they are very sensitive about. Most of journalists that have been sacked are leftists who let the ideology of and the hatred for the AKP get in the way of their jobs -- they were acting like consistent “missionaries.” But others in the liberal segment have been cautious to follow the AKP’s adventures on a “case by case” basis, and reacted whenever they saw flaws or sidestepping. It has been much more risky to take that position, and they were targeted by the left viciously. “Do not be impatient,” was the recent call of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to all those who have loudly criticized his government. Yet, it is the same prime minister who filed two libel cases against Taraf Editor-in-Chief Ahmet Altan and novelist-columnist Perihan Mağden, a popular columnist for the same paper. These are, to say the least, very mixed messages. Erdoğan’s pretext against the critique is that he has 50 percent of the country’s support, but he seems to ignore the fact that voices for freedom have never been successfully silenced in this country. By wrongly focusing on the critical parts of the liberals and democrats, by belittling their position, he not only alienates them more but also makes them vulnerable in a climate still dominated by the tutelage of bureaucracy, exposing them to threats in a culture defined by obedience. He may be pushing too far.

Previous articles of the columnist