The Turkish original of this article was published as AK Parti ve liberal veya sosyal demokrat seçmen on 19th June 2015.
In his article on “Calls for emergency rule versus what is actually normality” (Serbestiyet, 16th June 2015), Etyen Mahçupyan notes that AKP members “have less and less liking for a politics of threates and menaces, too Islamic a language, and historical bombast.” Instead, they “prefer to have the AKP govern Turkey in all its diversity by reaching out to everyone,” and it is “the language for this that they would like to hear.” He adds that the critical outlook and discontent within the AKP far exceeds those who refrained from voting in these elections,” but that “despite various dissatisfactions the great majority still kept supporting its party.”
In point of fact, the votes the AKP has been getting are not limited to the conservative religious electorate that constitutes its own social base. There can be no doubt that within the conservative faithful, there is also a vein of Turkish nationalism, but especially Kurdish voters step closer to the AKP whenever it keeps moving toward change and democratization, and distance themselves from it whenever the party turns static. Voters who define themselves as liberals or social democrats also do the same. This is clearly reflected in the 58 percent that the AKP attained in the 2010 referendum and its 41 percent plurality of 7th June. Hence, as Mahçupyan too emphasizes, “the AKP leadership has got to grasp the fact that its voters are the most democratic voters in this country.”
Included among those who despite everything voted for the AKP on 7th June is a portion of liberals or social democrats. Those “liberal intellectuals” who, despite the ongoing Solution Process, took just a week to cross over to the opposition during the Gezi events, and who have been feeding an exaggerated degree of “anti-Erdoğanism” to the Western media — sometimes to the point of a general hostility to Turkey — do not really represent all Turkish liberals or social democrats. This goes against the image of “liberals withdrawing their support from the AKP” that has been projected by both the Turkish and the Western media in order to force all democrats to fall in line with it. For when you look at the big picture, there are other democrats who see that despite all the mistakes committed by the AKP, including putting a freeze on the Solution Process, that Process would be eliminated altogether by promoting other parties.
It has to be said that the “Turkish style presidential system” publicized simultaneously with the launching of the Solution Process was the AKP’s single biggest mistake. First, the timing was wrong because there was no three-fifths majority to take such a constitution to a popular vote. Second, whatever the importance some may have attached to it, the question of a political system [whether presidential or parliamentary] was only one sub-title within the New Constitution that Turkey urgently needs, and it was wrong to convey the impression that the AKP wanted a new constitution only to install a presidential system. Let us not forget that even before the Gezi events, the Western media had started publishing items intended to impress an image of “a changing and increasingly authoritarian Erdoğan” on the public.
Despite all these negative indicators, during the AKP’s election campaign the presidential system was prioritized way ahead of a New Constitution. This was rather unfortunate, especially as it was precisely what the AKP’s detractors wanted. But once it happened, every effort should have been made to present to the electorate a detailed picture of just what sort of system they had in mind, and thereby to try and demonstrate that it wasn’t as “bad” as it was made out to be. Instead, it was only the very vague and vacuous “Turkish style” aspect that was highlighted. Worse yet, it the context of debates over an “authoritarian president” it was the Mexican model, which is arguably the most problematic example of a presidential system, that was referred to.
As I have already indicated, what Turkey needs first and foremost is a new constitution based on universal democratic principles. Provided it aspires to the example of the world’s democratic countries, this constitution could set up a parliamentary, semi-presidential, or presidential system. Hence the question of what system to adopt is not a primary but secondary issue. Naturally, for liberal democrats the top priority is not the system but the quality of democracy.
All this notwithstanding, and as I have indicated above, among the 41 percent plurality achieved by the AKP on 7th June were numbers of liberals or social democrats who acted with the big picture in mind. Arte’s former Turkey representative Ariel Bonzon, who interviewed me and some other Serbestiyet writers on the eve of the general elections, refers to this as a realpolitik sort of attitude. Not in the sense of abandoning their own view or ideals, but attaching greater importance to Turkey’s interests as a whole.
This much may perhaps be granted: The CHP and the MHP, as two parties just marking time and waiting for their turn to come purely as a result of the AKP’s wear and tear, plus the HDP, whose alignment with the first two on what earthly logic I am still incapable of comprehending – contributing at the ballot box to the absolute majority these three have gained was and is in no sense a contribution to the further democratization of Turkey. While the very opposite may have been proclaimed by an entire chorus of the opposition and the Western media before and after the elections, the anti-AKP bloc that CHP chairman Kılıçdaroğlu has exaggeratedly jacked up to 60 percent simply does not add up to “more democracy.” Within this bloc, does support for a democratic constitution and the successful completion of the Solution Process really exceed the HDP’s own [13 percent] vote in any way?
Just as it is not that difficult to guess the answer to that question, so it would not be wrong to estimate that the vast majority of those who do demand more democracy are to be found not among this 60 percent bloc but rather on the AKP front, which fully corresponds to the views I quoted from Mahçupyan at the outset. And if that is the case, the top AKP staff who in the wake of the elections are working on where things went wrong would do well to start by paying greater attention to those views and warnings coming from liberal democrats whom they haven’t really heeded so far.
Actually, Prime Minister Davutoğlu had shown himself to be very open-minded on this question by appointing Etyen Mahçupyan as one of his “chief advisors.” In his post-election talks, too, he has been painstakingly emphasizing that the party has got to be renovated. His approach is that “the AKP is to be renewed and a New Turkey is to be founded.” Surely this has to be understood in terms of not just the rise of new names within the party, but also of party policies coming to be based more and more on an axis of universal democracy. Especially it is transition to a democratic state of law that is meant by the notion of a New Turkey.