Turkey has been going through a noticeable political impasse since the spring of 2013, in parallel with the failure of the economic model of the government and increasing protests within society. The first “big bang” that unveiled this deadlock was the Gezi Park protests that happened exactly seven years ago. The “stick” policy the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has clung on to since then has only temporarily suppressed the matter.
After the Gezi Park protests, many other crises came and went. The December 17-25, 2013 corruption scandal, the loss of support that caused the repetition of the 2015 elections, the strategy of solving the Kurdish issue through violence, the coup attempt in 2016, the questionable constitutional referendum in 2017, governing in 2018 that could only be maintained with the support of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and finally, the “erosion” that had become clearly noticeable in the 2019 local elections. In addition, the chronic traumatic effect of the deep economic crisis that has become almost constant since the summer of 2018 should be added as well alongside the multidimensional crises experienced in international relations.
The essential policy that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the MHP coalition has been able to adopt, at this point, has been this: Put the entire society under severe pressure, almost ban the discussion of issues, wipe the third party (i.e. the HDP, the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party) from both the ballot box and the parliament, demonize all other opposition actors with this strategy as well, and constantly point to the HDP to “neutralize” it and sabotage any union prospects it may have.
Under the aforementioned conditions, the HDP said it would announce its “strategy line and attitude document” for a “new era.” Of course, the new line and the attitude mentioned in the press release stirred curiosity. The other day, HDP co-heads Pervin Buldan and Mithat Sancar declared this line and attitude through principles described in nine articles. Maybe it should be said in the beginning that the matters expressed in these nine articles do not have any content that could be defined as a very new strategic or attitudinal change. However, it is possible to find, in the “style” and the “atmosphere” of the document and in certain details, traces of a strategy concerning the party’s plan for a possible “post-AKP” era, with messages mainly directed toward other parts of the opposition. The broad political space and power the HDP possesses makes its strategy and attitude regarding the future of the country significant.
Thus, accepting that there would be no harm in doing some mental exercise, we can discuss what the totality of the document is offering. For this, we may go back to, as I referred at the beginning of the piece, seven years ago, and establish the relationship between the transformation and the “possible tomorrow.”
The new period that started in the summer of 2013 changed certain essential orientations of the government and the opposition, the texture of alliances, and even their subjective structures. If a concrete example is needed here, we can start by saying that the Gezi incidents have also changed the AKP as well as other political entities.
The AKP was previously a type of a coalition in which politicians with a Milli Görüş (National Vision, a religious-political movement founded in 1969) background stood at the center. Members of other political classes with different “roots” were also present, including certain bureaucrats and technocrats, and various sects and communities. Certain capital owner segments, a significant part of small- and medium-size producers, landowners, town notables and even a remarkable portion of the labor class were also part of the party. The AKP showed dexterity in “representing” a complex social base. Erdoğan, on the other hand, was like a strong spokesperson on behalf of both that coalition and the classes it was assumed to be representing. Since the summer of 2013, this image rapidly changed in favor of Erdoğan. Political figures in the AKP who were assumed to be strong were speedily eliminated, deactivated or were allowed to stay only if they were supportive and beneficial to the build-up of the new Erdoğan cult. The AKP as a party started to be replaced by Erdoğan as a leader. Thus, Erdoğan started to personally represent the conventional right politics that had been concentrated in the party for a while. The relationship with the MHP, which started out as a close relationship and evolved into a forced coalition, is not inconsistent with this. First, the MHP, even though it is a right-wing party, is also an “institution” that is also able to engage different aspects of political power, the state and the bureaucracy. Second, this coalition is the concrete indication of the weakness and fragility of Erdoğan’s bid to represent the entirety of the right.
The three parties that have recently joined bourgeois/mainstream politics in Turkey (İyi, Future, and Deva) naturally became countrywide talking points. It is interesting that these three new parties form a palette that again has a nationalist strain, conservative strain, and liberal-right strain. Among the three new parties, the İyi Party broke away from MHP, while the Future Party and the Deva Party broke away from the AKP. The fact that they are from the coalition that makes the government today can be seen, along with other factors, as a sign that right-wing policies come up short in finding answers to solutions. The new parties are a result of the search associated with this. These parties have emerged as a sign of dissociation.
After all, this mobility in the right wing also shows that there is a desire to become valuable instruments in the search for an “exit” from the crisis Turkey is in.
While the government is using all of the state’s resources to pretend that such a situation does not exist (even though justice, the security forces and legislation have long been neutralized due to one-man rule), this is actually a kind of stalemate between two different trends in the future of capitalism in Turkey. It is a historical phenomenon that both the executive classes in the country and the international system are taking more than one option regarding the future of Turkey into account. The governing alliance indeed also sees this, but it is on an extremely fragile platform in terms of both its own domestic balances and its relations with society. It is also face-to-face with gigantic issues it needs to solve. Despite this, it is first using the HDP card, then the nationalist and religious cards in order to unbalance any possible “opposition alliance.” It is partially successful in this.
The HDP document and its explanation have stated this dual situation regarding the near future. I think it has important messages for the other components of the opposition. It, first of all, confirms its own democratic-left position with frequent emphasis on labor, social equality and income equality. Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu walked from Ankara to Istanbul in the summer of 2017 with the basic slogan of “Rights, Law, Justice.” This is written at the beginning of the article 1 of the HDP document, taking a big step towards contact within the left.
Basically, the document rejects the appointment of trustees as replacements for HDP mayors in the name of the entire opposition. It delivers a message about unification around issues in democracy.
It centers the call to go back to the parliamentarian system, which all actors agree on, from Kılıçdaroğlu and Akşener to Babacan and Davutoğlu, as a wider operational platform.
Instead of extensive and detailed expressions about the solution to the Kurdish issue, the document highlights an approach that can be summarized as a “peaceful” solution, indicating it will not be on the side of increasing tensions in the short term in this aspect. Throughout the entire text, it stresses that Turkey’s real problem is the current administration system, which is described as the “institutionalization of fascism.” It emphasizes that a restoration process against this has priority. It declares its intent not to “fight anybody” in this process. It also says that it would contribute to the opposition overall.
The document also says that it does not have any organic expectations regarding the right wing of any possible restoration. It says it will continue its contact and cooperation with the society’s democratic and left forces.
For the “restoration” that has been hanging above Turkey for some while, HDP is suggesting a kind of “loose cooperation” compared to others volunteering more strongly. It kindly expresses that a possible restoration that does not include HDP as an actor does not have a strong likelihood of success. In my opinion, in the last statement, the document is talking more in terms of what it is not saying, rather than what it is saying.