Is it possible for Erdoğan to overcome his crisis with nationalism?

Translated by: Melissa Clissold /
Orjinal Metin (tr-8/22/2019)

The People’s Alliance had constructed their March 31 local election campaign on the rhetoric of “survival”, but suffered a major defeat. Despite this, the lack of a strong opposition block against the dismissal of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) mayors in Diyarbakır, Van and Mardin on Monday, and the appointment of governors as trustees in their stead, suggests that the nationalism card may still be valid.
Hello, good day. During the March 31 and June 23 elections, but especially before March 31, the People’s Alliance had built its rhetoric and propaganda entirely on survival, on the struggle against terrorism, and suffered a defeat – a major defeat. It tried to stay away from this in the Istanbul elections, which were renewed on June 23, but it was too late. Then Ekrem İmamoğlu’s slogan, “Everything will be great” became a very popular slogan. While many things were expected to change, with the trustee appointments on Monday, we see that the nationalism and survival cards are being used once more by the ruling powers, and it looks like their tactics may work. Because the reactions following this incident – except for the reactions of the HDP – are very limited and very cautious.
The reason why I call it limited and cautious is that we cannot see the opposition taking a wholesome stand against the steps that have been taken here, beyond the incident of “they went out on the streets or they did not go out in the streets.” However, that stance was very clear prior to March 31 and June 23. The HDP was not publicly considered an ally; but the HDP’s attitude had a primary impact on the fate of the elections, especially in the big cities. 
But now, these events in which the HDP has been directly victimised, we cannot see the same feeling of unity. Of course it was condemned, and Kılıçdaroğlu condemned it too. It is not possible to fully understand whether or not the Good Party (İYİ Party) condemned the incident or not; because whilst criticising them on one hand, on the other hand they said “Just because someone has been elected does not give them the right to commit a crime” – and that is something that everyone accepts; but there is no criminal charge, no proven crime, no finalised trial. Either way; I do not think that the İYİ Party has  truly condemned this, neither do I think they claim this themselves. This incident, and everything that has happened since Monday makes one think that once again the nationalism card is still powerful in the hands of the ruling parties as well as the opposition parties, but especially the ruling powers; but I’m not in this opinion.
When you look at Turkey, it is a country where the right-wing has traditionally always been strong. Traditionalism and conservatism have been powerful for a very long time in Turkey; so we can say that nationalism and conservatism predominate society in Turkey; but after a certain stage, alongside urbanisation, it is necessary to add modernisation, orientation towards the West and by extension democracy as well. In other words, it is absolutely not true that people from this nationalist-conservative past or people that possess these values are completely stuck in the past. When we look at the elections, when we look at our political life, when we look at the Justice and Development Party (AKP), when we look at the Welfare Party (RP) and the Virtue Party (FP) before the AKP, we see that these parties were not only able to influence the masses through their conservatism or their nationalism but with promises of change. The fact that the AKP has been able to rule the country on its own for a long time has not been because it is a conservative party, but due the fact that it added democrats alongside conservatives, managed to impact people and lead to their support. But after a while we saw that the AKP has been pushing democracy and even conservatism – conservatism in a serious manner – to the background – especially in the last few years, together with Bahçeli they present an image of a nationalistic party. 
Will this work? Can Erdoğan come out of his crisis in this way? I’m definitely not convinced that he can. One of the main reasons for this crisis is the fact that Erdoğan has almost made nationalism his main ideology and this nationalism is also working alongside serious state control. As Erdoğan becomes the present day copy of previous right-wing politicians of the past, his loss becomes even more inevitable. During the period in which he ran the country, and he won elections one after another, from the end of 2002 onwards, there were always promises regarding the future – right or wrong. There was an EU, there was democratisation, there was a solution to the Kurdish problem and so on and it was always a forward-moving movement, it was a party, it was the ruling power; and as long as it was able to achieve these promises, as long as it was able to ensure economic stability, democratisation, westernization and integration with Europe, his path was opened and in addition to the nationalist and conservative fractions, he also had support from those who did not define themselves as nationalist-conservative. 
But from the moment he distanced himself from all this, we can see that support for him has decreased. In the end, nationalism is widely used, but in my opinion it is not a decisive factor in election preferences and party choices. As a slogan, nationalism is a good one, when you mention a nationalist slogan, people can get behind it; yet, alone, it is not enough. It is preferred for nationalism to remain symbolic and for something to be used beside it. At this point, even Westernisation is actually an approach that has been adopted by Nationalists in Turkey. Even if anti-Western views seem prominent in Turkey, we can see that people’s directions are looking towards the West; it is a situation that seems contradictory, but I don’t think so. People can indeed experience these views together.
Now, if we are to go back to the main issue; How is it that Erdoğan who lost the elections of March 31, through his survival rhetoric, now, in the month of August, is able to be successful or appear successful after dismissing three HDP mayors and replacing them with governors? I tried to explain this in yesterday’s broadcast, and let me try to explain it again here with a little more emphasis: Erdoğan has not been successful here; this is a repetition of Erdogan’s failures, because the trustee incident is nothing new. It was new when he first did it before and I had wondered if anything would come of it; but it turned out to be a complete failure. The cat was let out of the bag after the election results with the disclosure of what the trustees had done. 
It went down as a dark period in local government and overall politics in Turkey, and yet Erdoğan has brought this failed implementation back to the agenda. Therefore, his loss should have been clear from the moment he did this; but once more, the opposition has winced in the face of Erdoğan’s nationalism card. I can claim this: If there were to be elections in the upcoming days, the appointment of trustees would not work in favour of Erdoğan; this is a momentary thing. The opposition are able to perhaps gloss over these during the elections by remaining indifferent, but they do not develop policies regarding this in the absence of elections; we are facing such a problem here. If, from the first moment onwards, from the moment the trustee incident was announced, if the parties acting together before March 31 had shown in one way or another that they were acting and would act together – this could have been in very symbolic ways – I think this second trustee operation could have blown up in the faces of the ruling political powers. There is still such a possibility, but as the opposition delays their actions, the opportunity is being missed. 
Let us remember: Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu carried out a Justice March and this became one of the most significant events that made its mark on Turkish political life. It was one of the most important outbursts of the People’s Republic Party (CHP), led by Kılıçdaroğlu, it was an event that threw a curve ball to the ruling powers. And now we see that there are other HDP members alongside Kılıçdaroğlu such as Ahmet Türk, Celal Doğan, Serpil Kemalbay. This photo did not create outrage in Turkey; on the contrary, it was seen as a photograph suitable for the Justice March. It was quite possible that a similar photo taken at the Justice Walk which, triggered by Enis Berberoğlu being thrown in jail, could have been taken during this trustee incident. But there, whilst the HDP joined this walk that Kılıçdaroğlu began, the CHP or the CHP leader has not shown the same participation to something that the HDP has intended to start or show. Of course there was going to be a startling response at first, but perhaps, such a photo being taken was going to show that a lot of things have changed or had changed for a while in Turkey. I think a lot has changed on March 31, and on June 23 it changed much more clearly; but at this time, I don’t think that the opposition – especially the CHP and to a certain extent the İYİ Parti – exactly know what has changed and how much has actually opened up in their favour. 
This trustee operation, the government’s trustee operation, was, in a sense an opportunity offered to the opposition, and once more they could not make use of it due to that well-known phobia of nationalism – or taboo, whatever you want to call it. Beyond missing the opportunity, they gave Erdoğan space to breathe; but this is not going to last long. We’re in the first days of the incident, so there’s probably no going back. Maybe new provinces, district municipalities will be added, Erdoğan will try to repeat history; but here, in my opinion, even if the opposition has still not been able to grasp how much has changed or cannot show the courage or show the behaviour and actions required within the conditions of the Brand New Turkey, Erdoğan continues to consume himself.
This is a very interesting incident in Turkey; As a journalist I have observed that throughout many different periods, political powers were consumed by themselves, not by the opposition. I’ve witnessed it, and many of my colleagues and people who have followed politics have also witnessed it. The dissolution of the Motherland Party (ANAP) was not achieved by Demirel’s success; ANAP brought its own end, in the same manner as the following governments, including the coalition governments. They didn’t face serious challenges, nor strong opposition parties challenging them and in many elections – and the AKP coming to power in 2002 is exactly this – certain parties were preferred because there was not that much choice. 
For a period, the Democratic Left Party (DSP) was preferred, for a while the Devlet Bahçeli’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) increased their votes massively, and the rise of the RP in the previous period was not only due to their efforts but directly proportional to the exhaustion of the central parties. AKP’s biggest given gift was the serious political crisis right after its establishment, enabling it to rule Turkey on its own. Therefore when observing changes in politics and the ruling powers, we must look more at the ruling powers themselves instead of the opposition; we have such a strange tradition.
In Turkey, usually the ruling powers are not overthrown by the opposition; the ruling powers come to an end by wasting away themselves. Both the AKP, the Erdoğan administration and the government are going through such a process. The opposition could have accelerated this, the opposition could have shaped this process; but there is opposition that has failed to do so despite the experiences of March 31 and June 23, and that’s because they are always frightened by nationalism. But somehow this nationalism, this statist rhetoric, you can see that one after another there has been nothing to satisfy the public in the statements made by the ministers. You just can’t see anything other than old-style prescriptive statements that should have been shelved by now, stating “Trust the state, we know what we’re doing.” There is a self-depleting power here, and nationalism will not be the cure for it; but if the opposition interferes in a serious manner, Turkey can progress in a much healthier way. 
One final note: At this point, of course, the parties that are forming as a result of the AKP slowly disintegrating will play an important role. Davutoğlu and Abdullah Gül both made statements regarding the trustee incident on the first day. These statements were made as a sort of reflex, this was actually something new, but there was no follow up to their words. Let’s see if they will be able to come to their senses, and if they do, when? What we can say is this: when they do choose to be fully involved, things will change significantly. But when we look at what’s going on here, we can see that Erdoğan has fully managed to paralyse the CHP and the İYİ Party with his nationalist card again. If they had been able to overcome this, things could have been very different. Even if they overcome this now, it’ll probably be late. What will it be like after this?
What will the opposition do then if Erdoğan continues to try and escalate this polarisation, escalate the Kurdish question again through security policies, criminalise the HDP again and again, and declare everyone outside of himself a terrorist? We’ll see, but I can summarise in the following way: The weapon of nationalism seems to have worked right now, but it’s deceiving. The AKP government, Erdoğan’s government does not seem to be able to solve its own problem, no matter how paralysed the opposition is; because there is a power that has already lost its capacity to produce forward-thinking messages in answer to the expectations of its own constituents. Therefore, the crisis deepens, as long as the opposition is unable to make an opportunity from this situation, it also becomes the crisis of the opposition too. Yet, Turkey one way or another, will overcome this. How long will it take? I do not know, but I believe that the AKP and Erdoğan no longer have the long-term perspective needed to rule over Turkey.
Yes, that’s all I have to say. Good day. 

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