Optimists vs. pessimists: Turkish opposition on the country's future
Turkey’s opposition is divided into two camps – the optimists and the pessimists.
Against the backdrop of political debate as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan consolidates power and the economy weakens, the key question is simple: Will Turkey become a permanently authoritarian country?
The optimists believe Turkey will overcome the current wave of political and economic deterioration and avoid the slide into autocracy seen in other countries in the region.
They remind us that the Islamist government is almost bankrupt, and that no regime can survive a poor economic performance. They point to previous economic crises that have brought down Turkish governments, and even purged parties from the political scene.
Another source for hope, optimists say, is the dynamic and organised opposition, which consistently has the support of around half of the electorate. Despite all the means the Islamist ruling party has employed, Turkey has still a very large population vehemently opposed to Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party.
Based on such rationales, the optimists say any attempt to make Turkey an authoritarian state has natural limits. Any actor attempting to go beyond such limits is doomed to fail due to a combination of economic problems and social turmoil. To them, the sociological, economic and political dynamics of Turkey would never allow an excessive form of authoritarian rule to prevail.
The optimists’ view boils down to a genuine belief in the possibility of the peaceful transfer of power. No matter how authoritarian the country becomes, the optimists believe elections are still capable of ending Erdoğan’s rule. The question of what if Erdoğan does not yield power after an election defeat is not permitted in the optimist mindset.
In contrast, the pessimists predict the worst-case scenario in which Erdoğan refused to a peaceful handover of power through elections. The pessimists warn this would result in Turkey becoming a permanently authoritarian, impoverished country.
For the pessimists, Erdoğan symbolises more than a ruling party. For them he is a man who constructs an Erdoğanist regime supported by a loyal bureaucracy. Erdoğan, they say, is in the process of replacing Kemalism with Erdoğanism as the new official ideology of the state. The pessimists argue regime change is underway.
The pessimists expect Erdoğan to introduce new policies to weaken elections. They predicted the annulment of the March 31 Istanbul mayoral result and foresee similar strategies aiming to gradually weaken the democratic process, perhaps as part of the June 23 Istanbul rerun vote.
Though they do not say it publicly, the pessimists strongly hint at two interrelated points: Erdoğan will not leave office through elections, and the opposition should thus consider politics by other means.
To put it in clearer terms, the pessimists expect political tensions to evolve into a violent political phase in which all actors realise that the peaceful transition of power is no longer possible.
Today, it is the optimists’ paradigm that determines the political strategies of the opposition – it still has faith in the possibility of political change through elections. As part of this faith, the opposition unhappily swallows all sorts of anti-democratic behaviour lest further tension help Erdoğan’s strategy of delegitimising electoral politics.
© Ahval English
The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.