Why we should stop insisting that Turkish gov't can’t govern

Dinçer Demirkent writes: While the state of emergency has ended, its effects are permanent. Rather than instating that the AKP-MHP cannot govern, we ought to generate an effective opposition strategy and cease to assume Turkey is still a democracy. We are in need of a paradigm shift.

Dinçer Demirkent

I would like to discuss the claim that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its partner, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), are no longer capable of governing. I find this statement problematic for two reasons. Firstly, this notion contributes to the opposition being trapped in the regime’s strategies. Second, this idea arises each time society is overwhelmed with disappointment. This notion, however, is not entirely baseless. 


The AKP-MHP coalition was formed when the AKP was no longer able to come to power alone after the June 7 2015 general elections. This alliance is based on a regime in which not only executive powers but all extensive powers belong to one person, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the head of the AKP, the dominant partner of the coalition. This regime is based on de-institutionalization. It replicates what authoritarian regimes worldwide do, i.e. subverting the country’s institutions and making them dysfunctional. Through this process of “conquest”, the institutions lose their executive qualities. 

For instance, an institution that is normally tasked with collecting data and providing it to the country’s executives so that they set their strategies accordingly, is now tasked with creating an imaginary success story through the manipulation of that data. Of course, when social and financial conditions are dire and the people struggle to make a living, this data cannot be truly concealed. What happens then is that the institutions loses their credibility. This applies to the data on inflation and unemployment as well as the data that was put forward by the Ministry of Health during the pandemic. 

When the Health Minister conceals the data that directly concerns our lives with what it refers to as “national interest,” it only further contributes to ill governance. This flimsily governance is laid bare by the government’s rhetorical discourse of “national interest” and “survival.” In a country in which people are crippled with debt, only a handful of oligarchs receive their share of this much-trumpeted “success.” Everyone – including the nationalists and conservatives who benefit from the AKP-MHP block – know this. But as privileges granted by the government shrink, the number of people who castigate its shoddy governance rises.  


A process of de-publicization took place in parallel to de-institutionalization. Through this same mentality of “conquest,” the media have largely been made dysfunctional. Yet even the “conquered” media cannot fulfill their propaganda duty. The television channels aren’t being watched and the newspapers aren’t being read. The media have effectively lost their ability to manipulate, which governments in the past had largely employed. Big-budget propaganda initiatives such as the Directorate of Communications and ideological apparatuses such as the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) have also lost their hegemonic qualities.  


By de-institutionalizing and de-publicizing, the government deprives its citizens of their rights. Courts and prisons now host social media users, journalists, legislators and human rights defenders. People from all walks of life in this country know that former co-chair of the Pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş is being kept prison on no legal grounds. And the regime does not even bother trying to appear legitimate in its actions. 

This regime treats its citizens as criminals even if they have been acquitted by a court, thus preventing them from using their rights. Millions of citizens are stripped of their civic rights, including simple villagers who defend their land and water sources, or physicians who publicize facts regarding public health. The engineer who opposes urban plunder, the lawyer who defends his client, the worker who demands a fair salary and the teacher who wishes for a peace environment for her students are amongst these millions of citizens who suffer this fate. 

Liberal blindness    

All of the above suggest the claim that the AKP-MHP coalition can no longer govern is not baseless. Unfortunately, those who share this opinion assume Turkey is a democracy. Liberal blindness (in “liberalism”, I include the left-minded ultranationalists) assumes this issue can be solved through a liberal paradigm. That is the reason why liberals are unable to counter each of the government’s strategies. They react in the manner the regimes wants them to. The regime has lost its democratic legitimacy, but it keeps on ruling. 

For instance, an amendment in the Legal Profession Act was made to allow multiple bar associations. The Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB) is the organization that registers the majority of lawyers in the country. Their representation capacity was extensively reduced with this amendment, while minor bar associations will be represented disproportionately. In order to divide bars, a second bar (which will be the regime’s bar) will be introduced. Thus, the regime will have a say in TBB. The bars will lose their power to defend their profession and the law. After the number of signatures collected was insufficient to form a second bar in Ankara, the government pressured the lawyers that work for state institutions to give their signatures. The election process for certain organizations was arbitrarily postponed due to the pandemic. For instance, political parties or trade unions can hold their general assemblies, though the bars cannot. This practice will carry on until the amendment reaches its aim and bar associations are conquered. 

For example, in the eastern province Kars, mayor Ayhan Bilgen was re-arrested last week with the same charges that had been overturned by the Constitutional Court. There was a secret witness incident. A trustee was immediately appointed to the position. The trustee, the governor of Kars, took office. Before taking up his position, he performed his prayers in front of the municipality building alongside several policemen, guards and the press. 

With an amendment that was introduced with a statutory decree during the state of emergency, the municipal law was changed. The trustee not only takes over the duties of a mayor, but he is able to abolish the elected city council, which also happened in Kars. 

Now, in Kars, there is no elected mayor, no elected council members and no elected local government. The state has taken over the administration in Kars. The basis of this seizure is an amended article in the municipal law, by a state of emergency decree. While the state of emergency has ended, its effects are permanent. 

Rather than instating that the AKP-MHP cannot govern, we ought to generate an effective opposition strategy and cease to assume Turkey is still a democracy. We are in need of a paradigm shift.