By Abdullah Bozkurt
May 26, 2014
The undercurrent of growing discontent with the structure of the Turkish political system, currently dominated by the almost Baathist political Islamists under the polarizing figure of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, is a harbinger of a new era in Turkey.
The Islamists' moves have resulted in the ambivalence of Turks, who believe that Erdoğan's vision has faltered a great deal amid corruption, social tension, economic woes and foreign policy failures. That means the time is ripe for a realignment of Turkish politics.
An opening in the political spectrum is definitely there to exploit for potential contenders with a broad agenda, organizational structure and the necessary leadership skills. Neither nationalism nor social democratic values alone can offer a credible alternative ideology to rally the nation and become a strong challenger to Erdoğan's political machine. As was the case in the '80s and '90s, the new political party must be able to incorporate all four major ideological strands to appeal to liberals, conservatives, social democrats and nationalists in order to pave the way for enough traction necessary to pull Turkey's disparate political interests together.
The general sense among many Turks is that there is a growing void at the centre/centre-right of Turkish politics that can only be filled by a new progressive party that will appeal to Turks from all walks of life. This will happen with a new start-up political party or one that will branch out from an existing party with heavyweights who have some political capital to spend. Turkish politics have always been resilient, innovative and have proved time and again that they can produce viable alternatives to protect the republic's institutions. The military, judiciary, critical media and vibrant civil society groups stand as a bulwark against Erdoğan's intrusive ideological tilt in government while offering corrective measures against the encroachments of political zealots who may harm the interests of Turkey.
I think we have reached a critical juncture in Turkish politics. The fractured state institutions, deepening of divisions and highly fragmented Turkish society under values of political Islamism imposed under Erdoğan's stewardship prevent Turkey from making vital progress on many issues that need urgent attention for the security and viability of the Turkish state. Erdoğan's political discourse, intolerant of dissent and highly incoherent because of corruption scandals that have pushed his government into a defensive posture, has dealt a significant blow to Turkey's national interests both at home and abroad.
Erdoğan and his band of brothers try to manipulate the masses in Turkey into helping to maintain their power, corrupted at the core, by using government assets. This is the main reason thwarting Turkey from adopting true political, economic and social reforms. Erdoğan's announcement of new reform packages has proven to be merely window-dressing as it lacks substance and credibility. Even good pieces of legislation were apparently undermined during the implementation phase because they expose the dirty laundry the Erdoğan government has accumulated when they get put into motion. That inevitably pushes Islamists in the ruling party to be further disconnected from people and disillusioned with the reformist agenda.
Faced with significant political and non-political countervailing forces to his Islamist agenda, Erdoğan is obviously struggling to make his way ahead. The cumbersome Turkish bureaucracy, already notorious for its lacklustre performance, has been rendered more inefficient with a McCarthyist witch-hunt and an unprecedented reshuffle among government employees. Various government agencies have been bloated by incompetent political Islamist cronies who are not qualified to undertake the tasks government positions require. That leads to further mistakes in government as many political appointees continue to make errors of judgment. In the end, the government has to foot the bill, as in the case of the recent mining accident in Soma that killed 301 miners.
That means that Erdoğan, Turkey's divisive figure, will have to further amplify political Islamist ideology in order to downplay problems in governance. In the past, this ideology helped him ride out domestic challenges, albeit temporarily. He has no fall-back position left and has run out of reasonable choices. The only exit strategy is to play on divisions that will sideline debate on the substantive matters that the nation is struggling with. This Islamism is part of Erdoğan's overall organizational strategy and provides him with an ideologically motivated party cadre. He needs these loyal foot soldiers to do the canvassing in election times or to demonstrate en masse in rallies in order to prove to his challengers that he still has populist backing.
Moreover, Erdoğan often abuses religious values when he talks about the economy in order to give an impression that domestic troubles in the national economy are not due to failure on his government's part but rather have everything to do with the global economy, one that is ruled by interest-seeking and profit-maximizing Jewish money, according to many insiders in Erdoğan's close circle. His “interest lobby” remarks during the Gezi Park protests of May-June 2013 and in the aftermath of the corruption investigation that shook his government when the scandal incriminated him, his family members and close associates are a good illustration of his reliance on an Islamist agenda.
There is a strong association with ultra-leftist ideological leanings in the mindset of the people surrounding Erdoğan, which reveals itself as anti-American, anti-Israeli and anti-Western discourse. The fact that some of Erdoğan's close aides feel strong sympathy toward Iran also fuels the enthusiasm for West-bashing discourse in government. Hence when credit rating agencies shave off a couple notches in the sovereign rating of the Turkish economy based on structural deficiencies in economy or rising political uncertainty, Erdoğan and his aides attack these organizations as if they were driven by other interests. Erdoğan is quick to claim that credit agencies simply do not want to see Turkey growing economically. This helps Islamists shift the blame from their own doing to outsiders.
While in opposition, political Islamists complain about corruption, lack of transparency and accountability as well as unfair and unjust use of state coffers by ruling parties during elections. Yet when they come to power, similar complaints are downplayed and are in fact justified because Islamists pursue the lofty goal of a worldwide campaign to assert the supremacy of their religion. For that, they need financing, economic leverage and political capital at any expense. In other words, for political Islamists, the end justifies the means and it does not concern them whether the tools they employ are in conflict with mainstream Islamic values and ethics.
Since Islamists do not believe richness lies in diversity and plurality in society with their narrowly focused ideology of “one size fits all,” they try to impose their own views on others. On face value, they pretend to take on liberals and social democrats, yet in fact Islamists pose the gravest danger to conservative and faith-based groups, first and foremost. This is because they need to consolidate their support base in order to maintain power and conservatives are the main challenger for Islamists as they have more in common with these voters than leftists and liberals.
This is the main reason why Erdoğan attacks the Hizmet movement inspired by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen and tries to vilify this moderate cleric who has been highly critical of Erdoğan's abuse of Islam for political purposes. Gülen's unwavering stand against Erdoğan's cycle of corrupt power despite pressure, threats and intimidation has already exposed how much damage political Islamists have dealt to the religion of Islam as well as the Turkish nation. The appeal of politically exploited Islamist ideology has lost its shine and its strength has been diluted or broken during Erdoğan's version 2.0 regime. The pendulum will eventually swing back to the political center, where the majority of Turks cluster.
Now Turkey can finally move forward, even if it takes some time to realign the broken pieces in its social harmony and political cohesion. That is definitely good news.