Guest writer: Erdogan or chaos, that has been the tune of the latest campaign cycles. But Erdogan himself is a master og managing and steering chaos, writes Furkan Sorcac.
It was April or May of 1996, I was sitting in a park with a friend in Ankara, eating our potato chips, drinking coke and watching people passing by when he said to me, “You know, it won’t be Erbakan who will change the regime of this country and bring Sharia law”. Erbakan, leader of the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi) then, was a prominent figure in Turkish politics, mostly feared by the secular masses, hated by the politically dominant Turkish army and mainstream media. He was generally suspected to have an agenda to promote Islamic fundamentalism in the state. My friend continued: “No, it will be a completely different leader that will do that. Erbakan loves his country too much to throw it into such chaos. It will be a younger, more charismatic, more power hungry figure that will bring the Sharia law upon us.”
I lost contact with that friend of mine but this bizarre prophecy echoed in my mind several times when I saw Erdogan talking on TV, throwing some core values of Turkish state into turbulence, polarizing people for political gain. He certainly did not bring Sharia law to Turkey. Did he ever want to, we can never know but he did change the regime on Sunday, 16th of April.
If you’re here on this website and reading this article, you probably know much more about the recent Turkish referendum than your neighbour. So let us not go into the details that brewed Turkey into this shift. Instead we shall look at some results and try to reach some conclusions and not-so-brave predictions therefrom.
Turkey has three major cities: Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. These are followed by three others with over two million population: Bursa, Antalya and Adana. Out of these six cities, in the constitutional referendum it was only Bursa that voted “Yes” and that with only a 5.5% margin. The other five that voted “No” (Izmir notably with a 69%) together generates approximately 42% of Turkey’s GDP. If we go into district detail, the results are even more dramatic. For example, in Kocaeli which generates 4,7% of GDP alone, the rich, more developed centre district voted “No” despite the majority “Yes” in the province.
Erdogan certainly sees these numbers, having meetings with his advisors, going into much more detail in statistical data but “the bigger picture” (a term his supporters like to use a lot) will not change much no matter how or where you look at the numbers from: You cannot force a regime change in a country despite the middle-class, the productive engine of a country, or else all you will have is chaos.
Well, if there is anyone in Turkey that can manage and steer chaos, it is Erdogan. He proved he’s capable of this several times, last time being right after June 2015 elections. He is experienced, he has the tools, he has a mobile and fanatic support behind him. So what will be different this time, you may ask. Not much if you let Erdogan set the rules and continue with the status quo. For the last 8 years, Erdogan had a severely divided opposition against him. Three dominant factors in the Turkish political opposition, secular social democrats, nationalists and Kurds could hardly agree even on basic subjects. So Erdogan had a lot of room for manoeuvre. Depending on the subject, he managed to pull one of these to his side or at least provoked disbelief and disparities between them. There is no reason that shows us it will certainly be different than before, this time. If the political climate does not change, he will easily keep it the way he wants it to be: Controlled chaos and polarization until 2019.
However, he has one other problem and that is an interesting one. Before the referendum, we heard and read some AK Parti supporters declaring that they will vote “No” in this one while in any future general election, they would still vote for their party. While early predictions show that they are only 5-10% of AK Parti voters, these people, for the first time in their fifteen years record of voting for the winning side, lost. Whether they think presidential system is already in order or they already know it will come into force in 2019, they voted for something their party did not agree with. They will live the next two years under a system they didn’t vote for. This will create an identity crisis and weaken their connection to their party and Erdogan. They will not have to disregard or whitewash the government’s actions because they voted for it; exactly the opposite is possible: They will (hopefully) feel like the opposition, see things from the other side and empathize more with the “other”. My guess is (and I promise you, it’s not a wild one) at least half of these people will look elsewhere to vote for in the next elections.
2019 will be the year of elections in Turkey. First, we will have the Local elections, then in November comes the presidential and general elections. What should the opposition do in this case? I will give you three elements for you to exercise your brain with in future, so that you can see how things develop in accordance with them, and come into your own conclusions and predictions for 2019.
- A presidential candidate that will bring together the majority of the opposition is certainly needed. This is slightly harder than cold fusion but still possible. Secular democrats and nationalists have a lot in common and a significant part of Kurds have a tendency to move towards a conservative and pragmatic leader.
- Erdogan’s allies should be overthrown. Currently, his biggest ally in domestic politics is Devlet Bahceli, ironically, leader of the nationalist party, MHP. His second biggest ally is whoever is not pro-HDP among Kurds. Nationalists should find a new leader for their own party and secular democrats (CHP) should start working on gaining Kurds back before it’s too late. It may be too late to save HDP seeing their leader is in jail and an alliance that involves any element that even slightly reminds of PKK irritates the nationalists to no end.
- Stay and stay away from Europe. European Union may dislike Erdogan or they fail to co-operate with him but Europe is a cul-de-sac, a dead end, a guillotine for the Turkish opposition. There is absolutely no way any support from EU or any European institution/country is regarded as a positive thing among Turkish people. Turkey is done with the EU application, it is dead in Turks’ mind and it will stay so at least for the foreseeable future.
Erdogan and AK Parti has all the power in Turkey now, complete, absolute power. They can pass any bill from the parliament, they can arrest, hire, promote any person they like within the state, they can steer the country in the direction they want given the space and time for it. But all this power comes with a cost: No more excuses. Over 50% of Turkish population gave them what and all they wanted. They cannot ask for more, there is actually no more power or authority to demand. They cannot blame anyone within Turkey, anymore. A power hungry, addicted leader and his party has no more power to feed from, all is there and in their hands, and whether willingly or not, they did this to themselves. Rubicon is passed and die is cast. There is no turning back. This is why above photograph of Erdogan becomes much more meaningful, even though it was shot at the night he won the ultimate election of his political career.