Is Gül an alternative?

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s popularity has embraced the entire political »»

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s popularity has embraced the entire political stage in Turkey. We could say that the light bulb that symbolizes the Justice and Development Party (AKP) is represented by Erdoğan himself and that even the party has become part of his popularity. Apparently the prime minister is not uncomfortable with this; additionally, he uses every chance to ensure this perception becomes stronger.

Even though he is aware it will not remain an important item on the daily agenda, he attracts attention to the abortion issue or the construction of new mosques and makes suggestions that anger secular circles over urban aesthetics. By doing so, he makes sure opposition politics are based on what he says; it is as if the prime minister deliberately leads his opponents into a trap.

However, reality is more complicated, and the criticism against the AKP cannot be based on a simple discourse of objection because there is a government that makes mistakes on many issues and becomes more vulnerable because it is not eager to fix those mistakes. The Interior Ministry is like a fifth appendage planted by the opposition within the government. Every decision by the ministry and all statements by the minister attract a great deal of reactions and fury. Even though it is argued there is no press freedom in Turkey, this government is the one that has been criticized most fiercely over the last five decades. Those who insult or criticize the government are not harmed. In short, for a political party that would like to raise opposition to the AKP, the psychological environment is fairly appropriate. It is possible to act as a proper opposition party by raising discussions on real issues that concern the people rather than just responding to what Erdoğan has said.

However, there are two problems. First, the AKP remains the representative and speaker of demands for social transformation and democratization in Turkey, whereas the opposition parties serve as the representatives of an ideological guardianship that would not be able to generate hope for the future. For example, the parties are currently making extensive suggestions for inclusions in the new constitution on different issues, including Turkishness, citizenship, secularism, the language of education and local administrations; these suggestions are published almost exclusively in Islamic papers because it is obvious that the suggestions closest to the standards of universal rights and freedoms are always made by the AKP.

This is ironic because the AKP is a party that is becoming more authoritarian while having an image of being more democratic in Turkey. It should also be acknowledged that this tendency to become more authoritarian should be attributed to a desire to have control over the pace of change in the country. It should also be noted that the opposition parties are more authoritarian than the government in ideological terms. This explains why the opposition parties are so weak.

Another reason for the inability of the opposition to touch upon real issues and for its tendency to focus on Erdoğan’s style and discourse is that such an attitude has some sort of meaning in society. Like the Republican People’s Party (CHP), secular people pay attention to the prime minister himself; they do not care about the ongoing social transformation. As such, the opposition turns to its desire to appeal to its support base; however, in doing so, it leaves the ground to the AKP.

For some, this may seem pretty pessimistic because it implies that the AKP will remain in power for at least 10 more years and that Erdoğan will always be there on the political stage. For this reason, they now hope that the AKP will be divided. Gül is the only person who could compete with Erdoğan and, for this reason, they see the approaching presidential election as an opportunity. Despair may lead to a dream suggesting even the remedy should be sought within the AKP. However, this is not a realistic dream -- but not because Gül does not have a chance of being elected president.

A recent public survey shows that 52.5 percent of respondents hold positive views of Erdoğan, while 62.5 percent feel that Gül is successful. Put simply, the people who like Erdoğan also like Gül; however, the reverse is not necessarily correct. Still, this does not make Gül a meaningful candidate because this would force the Islamic circles to pick their side and Gül would suddenly become the candidate of the neo-nationalists, seculars and far rightists. In such a tense situation, the real problem would be if he won the election; as the last president of the old regime, Gül would become a despised figure who betrayed the social transformation.

The AKP is the outcome of a social phenomenon. It belongs to a culture where political ambition and interests do not get attention and are instead condemned. What matters is not the position acquired; what matters is how you look at people’s faces when you walk down the street. For this reason, we need to stop dreaming and to see that it is not possible to escape from politics.