Monday, June 20, 2011

Turkey: Why do people vote for the AK Party?

Why do people vote for the AK Party?

Some foreign media outlets have become as blind as the Kemalists of Turkey in understanding what goes on in this country. One of them, following the Justice and Development’s (AK Party) landside victory last week, described Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan as a “good dictator.”
This degree of blindness is possible either with total ignorance or loss of interest. In the case of The Wall Street Journal I do not know which, but I know very well that people of this country would not vote for a dictator, good or bad. Would the American people vote for a dictator? I don’t think so. People do not elect dictators; they chose the one who has served or is expected to serve them.

The people of Turkey know very well what elections are all about. In the first free elections in 1950 they overthrew the dictators. So, the ballot box is very precious, a kind of magic box for the people who know that there they exercise the ultimate power to decide who will govern the country.

They have voted once more for the AK Party. It is now the first party to have won three consecutive elections while at the same time increasing its votes This was not even managed by the legendary Democrat Party (DP) in the 1950s, whose share of the vote dropped in its third term victory.

The June elections mark a record in Turkish democracy. The significance of this is better understood if we remember that from 1987 to 2002 five general elections took place, and in each one of them a different political party came first. This means that in recent years, the success of political parties fluctuated greatly as people would change their favorite political party until the emergence of the AK Party came about. Whatever they have found in the AK Party since 2002, people have stuck to it. Instead of questioning the choice and wisdom of the people, as is still done in Kemalist circles at home and abroad, it should be understood properly.

The magic is that the AK Party appears to have stood for change and stability at the same time. While change means new opportunities, stability guaranties holding onto what is already at hand. People ask for change simply because they ask for better, which does not happen in a static and hierarchic society. Change is expected to bring new opportunities to the economy as well as to politics. Thus for people, the AK Party is like a ladder -- it leads people up to a higher social, economic and political status. Yes, the AK Party receives votes from all segments of society. Among its voters are the poor and the rich, the Turks and the Kurds, the Islamists as well as the liberals. For all, the AK Party is seen as a ladder with which to climb up economically and socially. Thus, the AK Party functions as an agent of social mobilization. The last nine years in power proves that such a function has been performed by the AK Party. Its policies in education, health care, transportation, social security, etc., have had positive impacts on the lives of many.

Yet this is not the whole story: The democratic performance of the ruling party is also important for attracting voters. People who vote for the AK Party are mainly conservative, patriotic and democratic from the “center right.” They demand services and wish to have better living conditions, but they also want greater democracy, civilian control of the military and the non-interference of the state in their private affairs including what they believe in.

For these people the AK Party meant taming the Jacobin-Kemalist state and keeping its agents under control. Therefore the AK Party, for them, stands for expanding the realm of freedom, freedom of entrepreneurship as well as freedom of religion, association and expression.

As a result the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the main opposition party, has lost once more. In fact it has never won in the entire history of free elections in this country. This is so because the CHP is not a political party “designed” to win “free elections.” It was conceived as a mere instrument of the state to lead the masses under a single party government. It cannot compete with other political parties in a democracy as it represents the official ideology, the state and the privileged minority. Even if the party leaders appear to have changed, its very name, history and tradition say otherwise.

Whatever the rhetoric, the CHP is the party of a minority that is composed of staunch secularists, Kemalists and the old elite in bureaucracy and business. It cannot appeal to the masses to win elections as the people who represent the CHP still continue to look down on the people. For them people are to be educated, enlightened and put in order. This civilizing attitude is irritating for the ordinary people. They claim to sit at the top of the people as if they are the owner of the land and even the people living on it. Would people ever vote for such a patronizing attitude? They would not, of course, just as the people of a colonized country would not vote for the colonizers who claim to be on a civilizing mission.

The CHP is the party of the “old Turkey,” and as such it cannot win elections in the “new Turkey” where the official ideology is dead, institutions that would force it have lost its power in the process of democratization and people are increasingly celebrating their differences, be they ethic, religious, ideological or sexual as opposed to the homogenized vision of the nation by Kemalism.

The result is that the CHP has lost every election since 1950, while the parties that position themselves against what the CHP stands for have always won.

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