The governor of the biggest city in Turkey, Ali Yerlikaya, has stated that people went to their workplaces even when they were sick with COVID-19 because they were afraid of losing their jobs. He said that this was the reason the disease is spreading uncontrollably. Another governor warned citizens to wear masks but was snapped at by one of them who told him “I want to die.” When a shopkeeper supportive of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) saw his much-adored leader right in front of him in town, the first thing that came to his mind was to tell him that he and his fellow shopkeepers were not able to bring home bread. In another incident, the leader of the coalition partner (MHP) launched a campaign for the donation of free bread to the poor through local bakeries, and he called those who criticized this campaign “enemies of bread.” Miners seeking their rights are marching alongside all workers whose rights have been snatched from them, even the pro-government trade unions that avoid conflict with the ruling powers. All are about to start marching. Despite every effort to conceal them, statistics are being revealed from every corner. These are all true troubles that are not able to be controlled, and the reactions to them are reflexes. These deep problems come to the surface in almost every piece of research or survey without any special effort. The problems that had not been taken care of are advancing toward the main agenda of the country in an unstoppable march.
While responses stemming from “real” problems are moving toward the political agenda in a more visible way, there is an interesting trend in the agenda for other topics. The president of the country is calling for a boycott of goods of a country that is its military partner in NATO and commercial partner through the EU. The president has entered a new stage in which he personalizes the polemics he has with his counterparts in the world to the extreme. The tension is systematically escalated, which in turn expands the volume of incoming negative reactions. For instance, attacking Macron grows into a response that becomes bigger than Macron. With every showdown, responses come from most unexpected places. Fields of conflict are diversified so that we are not short on tension, but none of them provide more opportunities. Instead, they cause us to have no place at any table. Political tension takes turns focusing on domestic and international matters, but it can only be effective when its dose is constantly increased. As the dose increases, so do its side effects. Issues build up. In the business of managing the political agenda through raising tensions, the actions are weakened due to “herd immunity.”
For a long time in Turkey, a perception has prevailed that the government has a political agenda arena that it can easily manage. This is a stance that hosts the question “What does the government want to do and how can it get results based on this?” Assumptions are made based on the answers to this question. This type of logic, in which the opposition is involved to a great extent, nurtures pessimist-optimist debates as well as extremely unnecessary realist deadlocks.
In this line of thinking, political developments are only defined by the government’s capabilities and opportunities; there are global and local versions of this. When this is taken as the only and the most decisive parameter, then it restricts alternative thoughts and the search for new options. This aspect of the issue is a problem that the opposition has not been able to solve yet. However, this routine has started producing problems for the government also. The option or assumption of creating “another” reality so very easily actually builds a wall between themselves and reality. Every fact looks like an “exaggeration.”
I have been trying for some time to point out the mistake or narrowing effect of handling politics as a matter of arithmetics. I am trying to explain that an opposition that relies on survey results and the trapping of the government through arithmetic will not be able to achieve its “expected results.” All those polls that show that the government has lost its majority, I think, have inflated figures, but nobody is exerting any energy to interpret them properly.
Recent polls conducted by KONDA, Metropoll and MAK show that the government continues to lose votes. The core vote of the government, it seems, has receded to a new low. However, the opposition has apparently not achieved a significant leap either. These figures are used by the opposition somewhat as evidence for behind a hope for change. The government, on the other hand, is building its entire strategy upon minimizing this numerical crisis. However, the situation that neither of them can fully comprehend and relate to is that the government is not losing due to its opposition, it is losing due to reality.
After last year's local elections, there was much debate about who and what the decisive factor was in the defeat. In particular, the HDP and the İYİ Party were much discussed as the main factors. Also, several analyses are being done today on the arithmetic effects of these two parties. Two new parties that were added to the equation, Deva and the Future Party, are also added to calculatations with their possible projections.
Of course, the ability of opposition actors to motivate grassroots support and hold them within the opposition alliance was very effective when it came to the election results and the loss of the ruling party. It will likely happen again.
However, as the repeated Istanbul elections have clearly demonstrated, the factor that caused the government’s defeat in the local elections were the “facts” that it failed to relate to. The main problem was that the government had lost its contact with reality. Just like in 2009, when there was no İYİ Party or HDP factor, a decline in the votes of AKP was seen. Just like today, there are many who have broken away from the ruling parties and joined the “undecided” group. The most effective factor in this switch is clear.
It is no surprise that the economic crisis, worsening indicators and intensified hardships all affect the votes for the government. However, in Turkey and in fact elsewhere, it is being debated how this does not function directly or rationally. It must be identity and polarization politics, populist manipulations or the deteriorating political arena that impact “reality” and alter the course. It can change the way the process works with the effect it can have on the "truth."
No matter how you call it — you can call it that the truth has a habit of coming out, or you can attribute it to the natural flow of life, but this tool of control is not infinite. Even if problems and discontent can be managed for a while or diverted elsewhere, the state of losing contact with the reality pops up from its hidden place with a smile. Sometimes a virus comes and exposes you; sometimes your trusted “management” skills fail you. Governments may get by by managing the pressure created by facts, but they also pay the price of losing contact with reality to such an extreme level. However, simultaneously, the opposition also cannot relate to the reality the government has lost contact with. It joins the boycott calls by snapping, “Why don’t you close down Renault?” Since the opposition can also barely form a relationship with reality, it cannot turn the government’s loss into its own gain. Just as important as which parties will join which alliances is which block will stay closer to reality.