June 21, 2012, Thursday

The AKP’s new republic

It would be strange if you had held no expectations for reform of the party you had supported in the elections, and then expected a party you had not voted for to introduce greater reforms and stability to the country. However, in the last elections the secular groups in Turkey applied this logic this without even knowing it.

Public surveys identify a sizeable group of people who say they would not support the government, despite liking its policies, and that they would vote for one of the opposition parties, despite not liking their opposition style. On the other hand, the main voter base of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) most likely supports this party due to a “natural affiliation” with it, without thinking about it extensively. And, in general, the performance of the ruling party has pleased this group of people. However, the recent discourse on the Kurdish issue and the prime minister’s anger seem to have raised slight unease in Islamic circles.

Secular voters based their support on a realistic political analysis. They held that the AKP was not democratic, and that for this reason it was pretty unlikely that this party would introduce radical and rapid change. However, the AKP has proved its democratic stance and style by properly conveying the demands of its support base to the political stage, and by restricting the influence of the Kemalist regime that controlled the public sphere for so many years. In other words, the AKP was, in the final analysis, expected to redefine the political system rather than introducing the most proper reforms. It was envisaged that this effort would inevitably lead to a democratic reform strategy in connection with the EU membership bid, and this has actually been the case.

In none of the elections did the AKP promise democracy as defined by the democrats. It has relied on a majority democracy, legitimized by the notion of nationhood. It has also supported this with the sentiment of sharing the legacy of the Ottoman past and of extending support to its victims. On the other hand, in line with the expectations of a large group of people who have not benefited from economic growth and benefits in Turkey for many years, it has assumed a right-wing development policy that is weak in terms of social sensitivity, and distributed the proceeds by pro-communitarian codes. In short, democracy is part of the AKP’s imagined Turkey because the party’s antidemocratic characteristics excluded Islamic groups. Otherwise the system would not bother these people or members of the AKP.

As long as democratic reform has remained a policy that the party needs to support, the AKP has pursued it, but there has never been an ideal of democracy to be achieved through this kind of reform strategy. Yet this is not something that we should find strange. Realistically, this is what should have been expected, because the emergence of a strong desire for democracy in Islamic circles was made possible by the demands of new generations attaching importance to democracy. On the other hand, the AKP remains a party that keeps itself open to renovation and restoration and naturalizes change. Therefore, the emergence of a democratic imagination is actually the result of AKP policy.

However, it should be noted that the actual goal of the AKP was never democracy; its main aim has been to found a new republic. This republic would be different from the previous one in two respects. Firstly, it would reconcile the regime with the people. The main problems with this are the recognition of the Sunni Muslims, their identity and culture, in the economic and social sphere, and their inclusion in decision-making mechanisms, and reconciliation with the Kurds, non-Muslims and Alevis. The government has taken some constructive (yet insufficient) steps in this field, giving up on such measures when they created risks for the ruling party. The second aspect of the republic that the AKP wants to create is reconciliation between political actors and the state. This would involve the removal of military and judicial guardianship from the state system and the natural infiltration and permeation of Islamic groups into state and bureaucratic mechanisms. The outcome would be a secular republic governed by religious people.

Apparently, this republic the AKP has in mind is not based on a democratic mindset, yet it is ostensibly more democratic than the previous republic. For this reason, it is not useful to criticize the AKP for its reluctance to rely on democratic principles while defending the former republic.

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