On Nov. 1, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) received 49.5 percent of the vote to break the record for the highest number of consecutive election victories in Turkey's political history. While the ruling party's supporters were overjoyed with the crucial win, members of the opposition experienced mixed emotions. Turkey's largest political party, which some observers quickly pronounced dead after the June 7 parliamentary election, had made a comeback to secure another four years in the driver's seat. According to certain commentators, the historic performance could provide the momentum to keep the AK Party in power for another decade and potentially restructure the country's crisis-ridden political system.
At the moment of truth, the Republican elite criticized the people for their decision and threatened to leave the country unless the balance of power in the political arena changed, in their opinion, for the better. The initial reaction, of course, was bound to wear out before long: It is an undeniable fact that the AK Party took Turkey to the next level by investing in key areas, creating opportunities, increasing the nation's wealth and promoting diversity. Ironically enough, the AK Party's opponents benefited disproportionately from the country's socio-economic transformation and economic growth.
In light of the election results, another group of opposition voters decided to turn their backs on politics entirely and instead focus on everyday life. "The AK Party isn't going anywhere, so why waste time with politics and miss out on the good things," some people have been saying over the past weeks. In truth, this argument strongly resembles the first group's message and acknowledges a number of options available to the ordinary citizen including traveling the world and achieving success in business.
However, a third group of opponents, who remain motivated despite the historic defeat, has no interest in leaving the heart-broken enthusiasts alone. Among Turkey's seculars, where peer pressure remains immense, the hardliners will continue to call on the disillusioned, once again with feeling, to fight for the cause. Provided that the opposition parties simply can't compete with the AK Party, however, what must be done? Nowadays, the hardliners are asking themselves the same question. It is true that they have been able to make some progress with international audiences by complaining about "the lurking threat of authoritarianism" and "violations of press freedom." At the end of the day, though, they need to create turmoil at home.
Korkut Boratav, a Marxist economist, recently provided a most interesting answer to the question of how the opposition ought to fight the AK Party government. Claiming that a financial crisis won't remove the AK Party from power, he called for "a Gezi-style struggle." As a leading figure in political economy, Professor Boratav was kind enough to show so-called progressives and leftists the way to undermine the AK Party hegemony: Organize young people, women and students to enlighten the people. In plain English, he called on the hardliners to organize a group of educated yet unemployed people with absolutely nothing to lose in order to put additional strains on the AK Party to come to terms with the transformation it spearheaded and hit the government's soft belly. This plan, Boratav and his followers believe, might help the opposition, currently suffering from hopelessness in the face of what they think is the electorate's irrational behavior, to bounce back.
Things are, however, a little more complicated in the real world. Having accused the government of engaging in a politics of war and fear, the opposition has been unable to focus on what really matters: To concentrate on creating a viable alternative to the AK Party instead of obsessing over a more honorable way to lose. Provided that the AK Party has taken steps to bridge the income gap, calling for a class war might not be the greatest idea at this time. The government might, if necessary, make a few policy changes to respond to its critics and compel the opposition to fight a losing war by highlighting cultural differences. Ultimately, the opposition's inability to come up with an attractive message entails the risk of radicalization and a violent turn – unless they find a way to overcome reactionary politics.
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.