August 02, 2012, Thursday

Why is the prime minister being provocative?

The prime minister’s proposals and statements on cultural and moral issues, which were not included in the party program or revealed during the elections, are no longer viewed as strange or unusual. The prime minister’s reference to such delicate issues started with a discussion on cesarean section and abortion; he made further controversial statements on the construction of a mosque on Çamlıca Hill.

His strategy became more visible and strong when the sale of beer at a concert held at Bilgi University was prevented. Almost everybody interpreting this new strategy agrees that the prime minister wants to enter the process of elections by relying on cultural differences to guarantee the consolidation of his supporters and voters. The strategy suggests that some poor performances of the government could go unnoticed and that at the same time the presidential election in particular will trigger a cultural divide along certain lines.

However, those who make this analysis have to rely on an assumption that is not realistic in today’s Turkey: that the aggressive political style will attract attention and that the religious people will constitute the majority once the sides of the conflict are clarified. However, the qualitative and quantitative polls and studies carried out so far show that the Islamic circles in Turkey extend their support to their representatives as long as they try to represent the entire country.

In other words, if he relies on this policy, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will most likely lose support within his base. It is not possible to believe that the prime minister who sponsors public surveys every week and pays attention to the pulse of the people is not aware of this simple fact. The alcohol ban at the university was facilitated by the reluctance of the sponsoring company to resist. And when 67 percent of the people expressed dissatisfaction with the prime minister’s approach on abortion, neither Erdoğan nor the other officials made any single statement on the matter. The bill on the practice of abortion was passed without substantial changes.

The prime minister apparently deliberately raises discussions on some controversial issues that he is aware will provoke the secular circles, but when he realizes that some of them attract criticism and reaction from the Islamic circles as well, he retreats. This pragmatism could be explained by the prime minister’s state of mind: It could be argued that the prime minister is sick, that he is tired, that he is preparing to become president, that he has run out of patience to fulfill his desires, that fulfillment of his dreams depends on the creation of a strong Islamic community, that despite all of this he did not want to lose popular support and for this reason he is acting pragmatically.

There is probably some truth in this explanation. However, we will have a different picture when we consider this strategy within the context of Turkey: The Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) period of mastery has been a period in which reforms have been stalled, the government has moved closer to pro-state politics, the established bureaucracy has become more prestigious, and no significant step has been taken to address major issues. However, we will have local, presidential and parliamentary elections in the coming years. The main goal of the party is to win all these elections in order to ensure that it acquires the identity of a “founding party.” But how will the AKP win these elections given that no progress has been made on the political stage? The ideal situation would have been the tendency of the media and the secular circles to focus on some sort of Orientalism that would disturb the Islamic circles and lead them to ignore the true failures of the government. Such an environment would not only unite the Islamic circles with the AKP, but also lead to the emergence of critics within secular circles, and growing support for the AKP out of democratic considerations.

The question is what kind of strategy should be implemented to create such an environment. It is as though the prime minister asked this question himself and found an answer. For a while, a number of writers have been arguing that the real social conflict will take place in the cultural and moral sphere. Everyone has been busy discussing which ban the AKP might introduce. The prime minister gives them what they are looking for and the secular groups start to make interesting remarks that can be associated with Kemalism. And this fosters the state of alienation that Erdoğan has been looking for.

The Kemalist reflexes, fears and the accompanying shallowness and arrogance make the AKP government undefeatable and ensure that the government will not be held accountable for its failures.

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