What Future for Turkey?

What Future for Turkey?What Future for Turkey?

As Turkey goes to the polls on November 1 to elect a government for the second time this year, one wonders what is it this election is going to decide.

The crucial question is not whether this election will produce a single-party majority government or the possibility of coalition rule in line with the previous electoral verdict, but is on the future of democracy in this country and the formation of a political culture that respects the electoral mandate.

This is probably the first of its kind in the annals of history of democracy where citizens are forced to elect a single-party majority government, failing which, one election after another is thrust upon them until a majority government is elected as Anwar Alam, a Zirve University professor, writes in Today’s Zaman.

Since the June 7 election that denied the Justice and Development Party the majority, Turkey has witnessed troubling times, including the government’s sudden decision to end its peace negotiations and launch a war against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, facilitating America’s ability to conduct aerial attacks against ISIL, a climate of fear, rising inflation, deteriorating law and order, a decline in industrial outputs, the governmental takeover of private holding companies, bullying those corporations and media that do not support the incumbent government line and public policies; and the rising threat of terrorist attacks, as evidenced by the Ankara bombings.

The AKP government has linked these unfortunate developments to the absence of a stable government and is thus seeking a mandate for a decisive majority in exchange for security, reminding people of the bad days of coalition rule in recent history. Whether all these political actions and strategies will meet the expectations of the AKP or not eventually depends on the outcome of the election. However, in the process, the emerging democratic modern identity of the nation has been greatly compromised.

 Turkish Choice

In a single-party state system, people do not have any option, hence no expectation either.

The Turkish case was different when the AKP grew with a successive democratic mandate under a multi-party democratic system, and to a large extent honored the democratic mandate of the people before relapsing into the authoritarian mode of governance.

If it cannot form a government, it will remain the single-largest party and hence will retain the greater say in the course of running the coalition government. By any account, the prospect of a non-AKP government is bleak, considering the fact that the opposition is too weak to form a government on its own and too inflexible to form a coalition government without the AKP. The hardened, stubborn attitude of the Nationalist Movement Party foiled any prospect of a non-AKP coalition government in the last election simply on the grounds that it cannot have any alliance with the Peoples’ Democratic Party, a predominantly Kurdish party. Thus, the prospect of democratic rule in Turkey’s near future appears to be slim.

It is indeed strange to observe that while social relations with minority Kurdish people are acceptable to Sunni/secular majoritarian Turks, sharing in the power structure is not acceptable. This is certainly in part on account of the redefined Turkish conception of the republic or, for that matter, any modern nation state constructed on the principle of majoritarianism and homogeneity. Such political formation has the inherent tendency of suspecting the loyalty of its minority citizens -- whether religious or ethnic.

Thus, the formation of a democratic national identity demands an inclusive democratic government that goes beyond the principle of a majority government. Such a government can then be called a legitimate government, a government that reflects the aspiration of all sections of people and governs on the principle of national consensus, and not on the principle of majority. A government merely formed on the grounds of majority cannot be a legitimate government if it fails to represent the national aspiration or governs the country in a partisan manner.

An example from India is instructive in this regard. Even though current rightwing Hindu outfit, the Bharatiya Janata Party, claimed the majority on its own in the last parliamentary election for the first time in its history, the party preferred to form a coalition government called the National Democratic Alliance and attempted to evolve a national consensus on major issues of national interest.

Not long ago, the AKP was a model of “Muslim democracy,” partly on account of its inclusive politics that helped the party to secure political support from across all segments of social groups, including a good section of the Kurdish population. After the AKP switched over from majoritarianism politics and preferred an authoritarian mode of governance as a strategy for survival, it began to affect all aspects of national health: the economy, social harmony, the majority-minority relationship, relations with neighboring countries, governance, etc.

Only a credible “alternative Muslim political formation” vis-à-vis the AKP or political flexibility on the part of opposition parties to provide a non-AKP coalition government—the chances of which appear to be very remote—can stem the tide of de-democratization in the country.

However, only a vigilant democratic political culture with strong citizen participation in the affairs of governance can be a powerful deterrent for the kind of arbitrary rule that Turkey is currently witnessing.