Ahead of the June 24 elections in Turkey, the country's leftists are doing some much-needed soul-searching. The situation is nothing short of embarrassing: Some leaders of the Turkish left publicly admit that none of their representatives are popular enough to deny Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a first-round victory in the presidential election and try to field a suitable right-leaning candidate. Others protest, saying that no right-leaning candidate could possibly represent the left. No matter how this tug of war ends, one thing is clear: The Turkish left is officially done.
Unlike in many other countries, Turkey's leftists have traditionally been associated with the establishment and the status quo rather than radical change, progress or freedom. The Republican People's Party (CHP) became the dominant force in the left decades ago – even though the party also exerted total control over state institutions until the 1950s and beyond. Against this historical background, the Turkish left became a natural ally (and extension) of the bureaucracy.
Despite paying lip service to democracy, human rights and equality, Turkey's leftists refused to take meaningful steps toward those goals for decades. Throughout the Cold War, the Turkish left considered elections largely redundant, since, they felt, they already controlled all strategically important institutions of the country. In the 1990s and 2000s, the strengthening and consolidation of Turkish democracy translated into an additional loss of popular support for the country's left-wing movements.
At a time when the left reinvented itself around the world, Turkish leftists buried their heads in the sand and continued to fight the population's values. The public debate on whether or not public displays of Islam were acceptable was a great case in point. To the leftists, religion was a problem and religious people represented an existential threat to the state (and, by extension, their interests). They not only refused to make peace with religion but also disrespected the Turkish people's religious sentiments.
To make matters worse, the Turkish left never adopted a liberal language or sided with freedom-seekers against their oppressors. Instead, they have consistently thrown their weight behind the establishment. Turkey's leftists were equally supportive of a controversial and arbitrary ban on the religious headscarf, which denied thousands of young women their constitutional right to an education, and senseless restrictions on the Kurdish community's cultural rights. Instead of progress, the movement promoted the status quo.
To be clear, no amount of soul-searching will address the left's problems today. The self-proclaimed former owners of our country have been reduced to nothing. The fact that at least two potential presidential candidates, Abdullah Gül and Meral Akşener, around whom leftists and others are expected to unite, come from the right alone is a powerful statement.
Under the circumstances, Western media outlets and commentators will presumably rally behind whoever ends up running against President Erdoğan. Even though they know that the left lost before the race even started, Westerners will once again mislead themselves into believing that a miracle will happen on election day. But the facts will remain the same.