How and why has politics come to an end?

Translated by: Cansu Şafak, Sinan Akgünay, Edgar Şar, Aylin Yardımcı, Oğul Tuna, Mert Erinç

Edited by: Melissa Clissold

Subtitles: Egemen Gök

Broadcast date: Oct 30, 2018

Hello, good day. For a long time in Turkey, “politics” has been pursued only on Tuesdays, when parliamentary group meetings take place. When the parliament is closed, the door of politics is indeed locked. And the parliamentary group meetings have begun to resemble one another. Us journalists, when we want to extract headings or excerpts from these meetings, we usually come across polemical sentences and back-to-back arguments. The fact that politics has come to a standstill in Turkey is made clear to us every Tuesday. My view is that for some time now, politics has ceased to exist in Turkey. We can say that it has ceased to exist, or is even dead.

The June elections were perhaps a milestone. The elections that Erdoğan extended and renewed in November. If the necessities that sprung out of these election results had been addressed, and if Turkey had been governed by a coalition government, I think politics would have been dealt with in a different way, and in this sense, Turkey’s democratic track record would have been more successful. But after those months during which Turkey went through a period of terror, after Erdoğan’s refusal to accept the election results, I think politics has been put to an end. The latest June 24 elections were perhaps a dying breath. That breath was a confrontation through which the fractions who aren’t happy with Erdoğan could manifest themselves, a final moment. And that moment was concluded with a failure through the Muharrem İnce experience. The very last dying breath was taken through his failure to make it to the second round.

We see that interest in politics has been very low since that day. From that day onwards, even though the country is facing very serious problems, specifically with the economic situation, we see that the pursuit of politics has come to a complete halt. This is a very meaningful development. At a time when people are getting poorer by the day, purchasing power is dropping, companies are going bankrupt and unemployment is likely to rise, it would be expected from the opposition to offer a viable alternative. But when we look at what has been going on so far – there is nothing at hand. Here, the problem isn’t only the opposition. The government is also far from pursuing concrete policies. They have been attempting to dynamise politics with things like opening a new airport. 

All fractions are happy with polarisation

Why is this the case? How can this be overcome? I think one of the main reasons behind this is that every segment of the political spectrum is content with this polarisation, which is at its peak; this is being used as a tool to please their own base, their own supporters and circles. So, to express this in the famous words of Çetin Altan, as “Turk’s propaganda on the Turk”, we can see this as people of the same neighbourhood egging each other on, comforting each other, or comparing their anger. This is true for both sides. Politicians in Turkey – with Erdoğan heading this – have long given up on trying to offer assertive, lasting, sincere and convincing statements to those that oppose them. Erdoğan’s “you’re either with me or with them” attitude has been present for a long time, and has become amplified in recent years.

Of course he doesn’t state this as an explicit “whoever does not like me, and does not vote for me should disappear”, but he does express variations on this that are fairly close, such as the “love me or leave me” slogan. Erdoğan prioritises preserving his base and supporters above all else. He believes that this preservation will guarantee him every election – which has indeed turned out to be the case. And with this he has convinced his base that if he goes, all of their achievements and rights will be lost. If there are those among Erdoğan’s supporters who now think that Erdoğan is tired and unable to provide a vision, and is starting to cause problems rather than offer solutions, which there are, they nevertheless believe that any alternatives to him will be worse, therefore begrudgingly continue their support of him. 

No opposition camp

When we look at the opposition camp at this point -I call it “the opposition camp” but it is uncertain whether such a camp even exists- we see that the MHP used to be the most important element of the opposition, and used to nominate a joint presidential candidate with the CHP against Erdoğan. And right now, if we put aside the most recent hitches, they have become a shield for Erdoğan. The Good Party positioned itself in the opposition alliance -the Nation Alliance- in the last elections.

However, although Meral Akşener made very strong statements against Erdoğan and his government every Tuesday (similar to what Bahçeli did in the past), we are observing that Akşener and her party is approaching the ruling party in a cautious way. Meanwhile, although HDP is an opposition party, none of the other opposition parties want to stand next to HDP. Moreover, CHP, which approaches HDP in a relatively understanding perspective, also prefers to hold a clear distance with HDP. The Felicity Party (SP) almost became invisible after the big election disappointment in June. Therefore, it is not possible to talk about an “opposition front”. Perhaps this is one of the most important accomplishments of Erdoğan. Put differently, by mainly playing the HDP card, Erdoğan prevents the opposition in forming an “opposition front” and acting collectively. 

When we look at the opposition parties, although we see lots of criticism against Erdoğan, we don’t see any arguments or any perspectives towards persuading the supporters of the ruling party.  At different periods CHP tried to attract these people by standing together with individuals who are assumed to be close to the government, who don’t come from the CHP tradition and are very broadly considered as “right wing”. These attempts generally resulted in failures. During the last several days CHP has been busy with intensive “internal lobbying” activities for the mayor and municipal council candidacies in areas which the party is very likely to win. Apart from Kılıçdaroğlu’s several statements or criticisms, everyone in the party organisation is completely busy with his or her own business. There is a struggle and race within the party for secured seats. Yet, we see no effort towards winning other regions which the party has any chance, especially from AKP. I’m sure CHP would argue otherwise, however, this is what I see. Right now the party is announcing its candidates for many seats which it doesn’t have a good chance of winning, however the candidacies for mayors and other positions which the party is very likely to win will be announced at the last minute.  For these positions there will be a lot of internal lobbying. 

Remembering Levent Gültekin’s remarks

In sum, there is a state of polarisation, which everyone is content with and because of this very polarisation, politics has become something that everyone produces in his/her circle and nowhere else. Herein, I must mention Levent Gültekin. He has been dwelling on this more often and in a more convincing way than me, I must admit. I think, anyone, any politician and political party that has a credible perspective to overcome this polarisation has got a promising future. This perspective may not come from the opposition as we know it but maybe a new movement with fresh faces will emerge to take on this task. However, there are currently no signals for such an emergence – there is a total exhaustion. But again, I think those, who are able to develop a new perspective of politics that addresses everyone in the society has a quite a future. Otherwise everyone will continue pursuing its own populism, right or left, in order just to keep what he/she already has. Well, this undoubtedly shows that politics has bottomed out.  

This we can easily measure here at Medyascope, since all our journalistic activities are carried out through social media. We can easily figure out how much a topic draws interest. Once upon a time, for instance, everything we published regarding the Kurdish issue and HDP was attracting so much interest; particularly prior to June 7th elections when Selahattin Demirtaş was co-chair of the party. This somewhat continued until November 1st elections and stopped afterwards. Well, this doesn’t mean that its constituents have left HDP but there is a huge indifference and disinterest. I have been witnessing it very closely.   

Muharrem İnce, when he first started to rally, he drew quite a big interest. This continued until the end but from the election night onwards, we observed that this interest experienced a free fall. İYİ Party and Meral Akşener, even before the foundation of the party, held a lot of interest.   

After the founding of the party, it worked out for a while; but again after realising that the true rival of Erdoğan was Muharrem İnce, not Meral Akşener,  support decreased. And I observe that for many, İYİ Party has lost its attractiveness because it has not been able to creare a breakthrough since the elections, even if they did not get unpleasant results to me for such a short period. There could be many other examples. Felicity Party held some interest after the rise of Temel Karamollaoğlu but now there is indifference.

Never-ending frustrations

Is this a phase? I don’t think so. People are hoping for something, they’re expectant, they are waiting for something and they are ready to trust in any kind of exit or different perspective; but they are disappointed quickly — and one by one. At this point we could especially emphasize the opposition’s disappointment after June 24 elections. First, because of Muharrem İnce and of the Good Party, which could not reach a great success, then the weak performance of Felicity Party, HDP being the longest remaining party and CHP’s receiving far fewer votes: Due to all these reasons, people got tired, lost enthusiasm. They have an arabesque approach, saying that “Nothing is going to change, this is our fate.” Even if someone creates new politics, they don’t come up with an idea, which could overcome weariness, exhaustion and disappointment. Consequently, when we look at the ruling party, or indeed Erdoğan –because there is no more  ruling party– is really pleased, I think, that the politics has hit rock bottom. Because he is also facing a serious crisis. If people are regaining their interest in politics, that would mean standing against Erdoğan. So he is nothing more than polemics — starting with Kılıçdaroğlu’s personality, the construction he calls “mentality of CHP” to the discussions on İsmet İnönü. He prefers keeping politics on the low, using nationalistic discourse occasionally  –PKK is not a subject of this discourse lately instead a narrative on “the east of Euphrates”. In case of politics’ scaling up, the political and ideological crisis that Erdoğan goes through could become possibly more apparent.
Therefore, he is keeping the level low and those who intend to oppose him do so by accepting that low level Erdoğan has set. They think that opposition is only about criticising Erdoğan and that’s briefly what they practice as politics. Recently, Meral Akşener has also been doing this more often, just as Devlet Bahçeli had been until a few years ago.

Will there be new actors?

With these existing actors, I don’t think politics can be carried above its current low level. That requires either new actors to step up, or the existing actors to change significantly by undergoing some serious self-criticism and improving their visions. When we first heard the word “vision” being used in speeches of Turgut Özal, we used to mock him as we had a leftist perspective. However, we now see that regardless of being in the left or right, no one at all can provide any perspective, not just to his or her own base, but instead to Turkey as a whole. Everybody is far away from going beyond boilerplate statements to provide a detailed perspective. Let’s not say everybody, but a vast majority is happy just to maintain his or her existence, and considers it sufficient. Many speak out only to the extent of sufficiency. Both the government and the opposition have this mindset, which perfectly serves each other’s existential benefits. It has brought us to a point where politics has disappeared.

Will there be new actors? Will new perspectives, new leaders and new formations emerge? There is no sign of it at the moment. Furthermore, there is no “street” either. The government oppressed the street and prohibited street protests to a large extent. Turkey is in such a deadlock. However, given how much of a politicised country Turkey is, I don’t think it can carry the deadweight of this lack of politics for a long time. Of course, the prediction that some things will inevitably change does not necessarily mean that this change will be in a positive direction. It can also get even worse after this dark silence. In fact, we see that it’s generally getting worse all around the world.
Lastly, a personal note: I will not be here for a week. I will be travelling. So, there won’t be roadcasts of my commentaries during this period. Unless anything extraordinary comes up, I will take this week as a vacation. That is all I have to say, have a good day.

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