Despite four coups throughout its history, democratic elections in Turkey are the unquestionable manifestations of the country's national will
In democracies, elections are critical points that determine political power. For the current government in democracies, elections are a time to face the public. In the 1990s, governments were written off by the people and early elections were called. With the general elections in 2002, the AK Party's rise to power initiated a new phase for Turkey and brought it into a new period of transformation.
Until 2005, the AK Party strengthened its power on the basis of the European Union harmonization process but has been facing an increasing polarization in domestic politics since the presidential and general elections in 2007. The main reason for this polarization was the Kemalists' struggle after the removal of their tutelage over politics. The new party in power caused great inconvenience to their vision for Turkey and their wish to project their own ideas on the public. The AK Party, however, legitimized its vision through elections.
The dominance of the tutelary system was eliminated with subsequent elections and plebiscites. The 2007 elections, the 2010 plebiscite and the 2011 elections were steps toward the institutionalization of democracy. For 12 years, the AK Party worked against political tensions -from coup attempts to the headscarf ban and the Kurdish issue- through two broad initiatives. The first was to institutionalize democracy. The second was Prime Minister Erdogan's leadership in crisis management and his capability to transform Turkey.
Tutelage is the center of the old political system. As such, it is necessary to rebuild the system and build a new center with strong leadership. The formula for the transformation of the Kemalist tutelage to a democratic system brought forth the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases. The government also recognized it is necessary for political stability and democratization to go hand in hand. Within this framework, the 2011 elections gave the AK Party a chance to rebuild the political system in Turkey.
The prioritization of the Republic's greatest predicament, the Kurdish issue, was a declaration of a new era in the journey toward transformation. However, Dec. 17, 2013 made evident transformation pains are not yet over. On the contrary, a new potential tutelage to replace the Kemalist hegemonic bloc emerged. The ghost of Kemalism was still there. Trying to downgrade the old tutelary oligarchy created a void, which would not be filled until a new democratic center had been formed.
The security and judicial institutions of the state and those who wanted to shape politics outside the democratic framework had created a new version of tutelage. This time, a new struggle developed with the Feb. 7 National Intelligence Organization (MIT) crisis and the prep school debate. This struggle, which arose right before the upcoming local elections on March 30, 2014, is a struggle between two former allies, AK Part and the Gülen Movement. On one side is a legitimately elected government.
On the other is a religious community that should be relegated to the civil sphere but is said to have established a structure within key institutions of the state.
The upcoming election is a crucial moment for the AK Party, needed to highlight the support of the people in the party's mission to promote political stability while fighting this new tutelage. It is also important to subject state institutions to a comprehensive democratic reconstruction and to reduce Turkey's tension and polarization by creating a new foundation of collective agreement. And to do all of this in the environment of the elections truly requires Herculean effort.
About the author
Burhanettin Duran is General Coordinator of SETA Foundation and a professor at Social Sciences University of Ankara. He is also a member of Turkish Presidency Security and Foreign Policies Council.