The Turkish original of this article was published as Kalite makası on 8th October 2015.
In a country that is rapidly urbanizing, taking a socio-economic leap, and simultaneously hybridizing, maintaining the requisite “quality correspondences” between political parties and social groups or strata becomes a major problem. The carrying ability of politics depends on the extent to which it can keep reflecting society’s changing quality judgments. If this doesn’t work, the only way out for political parties becomes to work up huge threats and/or to create an atmosphere of all-out conflict. For only in such cases can society be persuaded to abandon its demand for quality and to acquiesce in whatever political fare it happens to be offered.
The last two years have seen the AKP, too, opting for the easy way out by beginning fall in line with all the other parties. In the face of its increasing foreign and domestic isolation, the government has reacted by turning ever more inward, which has then been used to deepen that isolation. For a mass party like the AKP that had shown itself able to transcend its own identity, the correct option should have been to expand the space available for interaction and cooperation. Instead, what happened was that as the party adopted a posture of “standing firm” and not running away from any fight in the face of an existential threat, the need for spatial expansion was entirely forgotten. Indeed, with regard to the AKP’s intellectual ground this involution began to assume the dimensions of a mental blockage. After a point, every new incident began to be typecast as having been designed by a “meta-intellect,” as part of an overall plan against Turkey. The June election campaign further intensified this outlook, virtually elevating it to the status of a common sentiment, almost the psychological marker of being for or belonging to the AKP. Given this mindset, as well as the possibility that the HDP would be beating the [10 percent] electoral threshold, the AKP leadership probably acted to minimize its losses in what was looming like a knife-edge election outcome. The net result was to substitute loyalty for ability in making up its candidates’ lists. But loyalty was always going to be an ambiguous relationship, for while individual candidates might all be loyal to the centre, they were not necessarily loyal to each other. Indeed, in quite a few electoral districts there then appeared the phenomenon of certain candidates working against others on the same party list, or of party organizations refusing to work hard so that certain candidates might not be elected.
While all this was happening, those AKP voters capable of moving beyond an identity-grounded outlook were increasingly tending to absorb global norms, thereby raising the quality bar that they had in mind. Hence during the run-up to the elections there arose a “scissors gap of quality” between these voters and the party. At this point, the party’s very classical upper bodies turned into a disadvantage. For empathizing with and being able to address this pluralistic and individualized base truly required a special quality-sensitive approach.
Thus the AKP became increasingly unable to utilize its own natural intellectuals and also to reach out to the intellectual world outside it. Worse yet, a number of intellectuals who had come to lodge inside or on the periphery of the party then stepped to the foreground to praise and legitimize the situation. With a lot of them in the media, in the name of defending the AKP they came to uphold and embody a crude lack of quality. With the elections drawing very near, there was no alternative left to this whole approach except to try and consolidate the entire mass base of the AKP around the said lack of quality.
This process nullified the effectiveness of the AKP’s loci of high quality, and had a direct impact on the outcome. Now on the threshold of a new election, the party needs to take a fresh look at itself, and to make a move intended to close the scissors gap of quality. Otherwise it may not be able to escape resembling all the other parties.