During the 2011 general elections, the principal theme within the Republican People's Party's (CHP) critical discourse against the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) had been the social welfare policies of the ruling party aimed at ameliorating the living standards of poor communities and families. Political powers are normally criticized not for the abundance of social aid, but for their scantiness. Yet the CHP adopted a highly exclusionist and pejorative discourse in 2011 emphasizing the predominance of an "economy of alms" in which the elector, it was argued, "was selling their honor for one kilogram of pasta and one ton of coal." Through rallies and TV commercials, such discourse was reproduced on a daily basis to the detriment of people already receiving social aid.
Like developed European welfare states, the ruling party succeeded in developing social policies, and many were esteemed as revolutionary in various fields, including the life of the disabled. A family that looks after a disabled member receives an additional salary through which the state relieves the family's burden. In addition, social welfare teams assist disabled citizens in metropolises in visiting their families. In a similar vein, disabled citizens are brought to football matches once a month and their health spending and travel allowances are met by the state.
Along with the social welfare policies of the state, AK Party municipalities determines low-income families, which in general constitute 10 percent of the city population, through cities' knowledge-based systems, and then provided social aid including financial support for education, clothing and shelter, to the families in need. The research institute GENAR participated in several studies in which the criteria of aid were automatically determined by relevant software in order to prevent the misuse of social aid.
In this respect, the municipality of Tuzla took it one step further by providing employment for 1,200 families through vocational education, rehabilitation and work placement. Instead of providing direct aid, the municipality taught the families how to catch fish, so to speak. By coming from the periphery, AK Party executives struggle in different ways to resolve family financial problems.
While the CHP critiqued the social welfare policies in the 2011 general elections, the GENAR conducted various studies to determine the success, scope and impact of the policies. The studies showed that 4 percent of the population received various social aid and 60 percent of the population supported the welfare policies. The CHP was arguing against a government policy that was supported by 60 percent of the population.
In the context of the 2014 general elections, on the other hand, the CHP seemed to realize society's support for the AK Party's welfare policies and promised pretty extreme social aid.
When the Welfare Party (RP) came to power in 1994, I interpreted governors' attitudes toward poor and disadvantaged communities and families in a positive manner simply because they were deriving from the periphery and continued to live together with those families. In other words, the social origins of these new governors enabled the emergence of a new wave of social welfare policies.
CHP governors, on the other hand, come from a higher and more central background. I do not believe that wealthy and well-educated people who reside in the neighborhoods of Çankaya, Karşıyaka, Kadıköy and Bakırköy can internalize the problems of the lower classes, let alone resolve the problem of poverty for good. This is, in fact, predominantly an issue of class and everybody renders service to their own?.
About the author
İhsan Aktaş is Chairman of the Board of GENAR Research Company. He is an academic at the Department of Communication at Istanbul Medipol University.