Gökhan Bacık
May 08 2019

An Islamist post-modern coup in Turkey

The cancellation of Istanbul elections is a clear and elaborate attack on Turkish democracy. By using tutelary methods through the judiciary, the Islamist regime in Turkey has rejected the results of elections.

The cancellation of Istanbul elections proved once again that the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) is no longer able to survive through normal politics. Its survival depends on authoritarian policies and systematic violations of the rule of law.

The decision to cancel the Istanbul elections proves the Islamist AKP is desperate. That desperation could lead to further grave and risky decisions that could destabilise Turkey. By cancelling Istanbul elections, the Islamists have broken a tradition dating back to the late 19th century. Since 1876, no ruling power in Turkey has rejected the results of an election. It is very likely the AKP will repeat such moves in the future to secure its political survival.

With the cancelation of the Istanbul elections, we have now concrete evidence that the Islamists are likely not to concede power through the ballot box.

Attacks on democracy in Turkey are not new. Since 1960, democracy has been subjected to many direct and indirect assaults. However, there is a difference between the Kemalist tutelage of the past and the present day Islamist tutelary regime. In the past, notwithstanding their grave damage to Turkey, the Kemalists had some sort of ideological commitment that limited their actions somewhat. But in the case of the AKP, what we face is authoritarianism for pure political survival and self-interest that lacks any kind of ideological commitment. This is not authoritarianism for the sake of ideology, but authoritarianism for political and personal survival and is therefore naturally more destructive.

It is thus realistic to expect the AKP to attempt to institutionalise an authoritarian regime in Turkey by openly destroying democracy.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has crossed the Rubicon and will try to remain ruler till his death. In the case of the AKP, what we have is a political party that cannot accommodate losing power. So, what could be the ultimate system in the Islamist mind?

In political theory, countries like Azerbaijan and Syria are called “presidential monarchies”. In such regimes, the president rules the country and leaves office to another member of family – usually to his son – through rigged elections.

Erdoğan has been promoting his son in law, Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, for some years and he has emerged as the second most powerful man in the country. Albayrak is not only a minister, but has a strong influence on many other state institutions in Ankara. Given that only further authoritarianism can help Erdoğan’s survival, it is very likely the Turkish Islamist march to authoritarianism will end in a bizarre model of a presidential monarchy. It is a big question whether Erdoğan will able to establish such a model in Turkey, but it is likely the president will try anything to survive.

There are also other major dynamics in play in Turkish politics after the annulment of the Istanbul elections.

To begin with, the Kurdish issue is now more critical and strategic. Erdoğan will definitely try to destroy the loose alliance between the secular main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

To prevent this, CHP needs to develop a new political discourse on the Kurdish issue given that its current reluctant accommodation with the HDP is likely to be tested by increasing tensions on the Kurdish problem.

The CHP could counterbalance Erdoğan on the Kurdish issue by moving closer to the classical Islamist stance of the small Felicity Party, which is inclusive and not nationalistic and has much potential in consolidating dialogue with the Kurds.

Secondly, with Monday’s decision to rerun the Istanbul elections, the Islamist regime has declared the country’s economic problems are not a priority. From now on, the economy will only be a reflection of politics - politics is now the only game in town and economic rationality is over. The only dynamic is Erdoğan’s survival and that is the basis of the Turkish economy. Discussions on how the central bank might act on some issues are now only a sideshow; it will act how Erdoğan wants it to act.

Finally, the cancelation of the Istanbul mayoral polls has created some positive new dynamics for former senior AKP ministers Ali Babacan, Abdullah Gül and Ahmed Davutoğlu, who are reportedly in the process of forming new parties. But they also need to come up wit a clear narrative to challenge the cancellation of the elections. If they remain silent or try to downplay it, they will find themselves in the same basket as Erdoğan.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.