The Turkish original of this article was published as AKP’nin sosyalle meselesi on 14th June 2015.
It is perfectly fair that in general, the election results should be read as the AKP’s failure to realize its potential. Despite its “New Turkey” discourse, the ruling party remained distant to a “new Turkish” sociology that it had itself nursed and nurtured into being. It based this concept only on itself, and expected that its constituency would loyally follow this Crimson Apple. But actually, New Turkey had been taking social shape for quite some time, giving rise to a hybrid and multi-layered human texture. What is even more interesting is that the vast majority of this new typology should be “natural” voters for the AKP.
We have had previous examples, too, of the AKP’s tendency to read and interprete public space in purely political terms, hence failing to come to grips with the social sphere. But insofar as these had to do with the social sphere of “other” elements of society, this failure to relate was rightly put down to the prevailing atmosphere of a streetfight, further reflecting an ancient, segmented background of communitarianism – all of which resulted in at least partly exonerating the AKP. Nevertheless, those who were in a position to closely observe those large sections of society imbued with Islamic sensitivities had long been noting a new dynamism in this field. Among conservatives the family had grown in importance, intra-family relations had changed, and together with increasing affluence the woman’s role had come to occupy center stage. Formerly it had been the man who procured the family’s livelihood and laid down what was best for everyone. But the new culture was no longer his work. It was now the woman who controlled spending, and who prioritized health, education, and leisure. In this new type of family, faith, too, changed shape, becoming freer and more individual. In parallel, community ties became more flexible, and there emerged an expanding space more tolerant of differences within the community.
Under the AKP it was Islamic society that became secularized. But such secularization did not imply gravitating into the orbit of authoritarian laicism. Instead, what happened was that on the one hand, ongoing mental secularization did lead to a gradual separation between religion and other fields of life. But at the same time, this actually enabled people to hold on to their faith while re-producing themselves within the overall framework of our contemporary, global postmodern culture.
Of course, at the moment this cannot be taken as representative of the entire AKP constituency. But you can rest assured that this is what its majority are going to be like ten years from now. We are facing a “new Turkey” dynamic that is taking shape right before our eyes and which appears to be unstoppable. And it would be a great mistake to suppose that a rising tide of such magnitude might rest content with the social and cultural advantages that it has already gained while continuing to adhere blindly to the party in politics.
There are not that many votes left that can still be lost to the HDP or the MHP. The AKP has retreated to a point very close to its core constituency. But at the same time, beyond the boundaries of that constituency there are other millions who are looking up to and whose expectations revolve around the AKP. Furthermore, those who break away from that core to become politically “individualized” are bound to increase over time. Finally, each new generation is going to start with that previously established distance as a benchmark. This is an major point to bear in mind.
Frankly, the fact of the matter is that in its so-called period of ultimate “mastery,” the AKP has ended up placing everything, including the search of its own internal differences for individualization, inside a straitjacket of politics. The more the party submerged itself in political fisticuffs, the more its lifeline to the social sphere slipped out of its hands. It is not on the numbers of party members or its organizational machinery that that connection depends. It is even possible for all those organizational tiers to have triggered negative reactions. For what mattered here was to be able to “reach out and communicate,” which the party leadership does not seem to have grasped — nay, to have even begun to perceive in any way.