What will the voters vote for on Sunday? What will they have in mind when they go to the ballot boxes? Will things be any better when they wake up on Monday?
The municipal elections have become an issue much larger than itself, turning into a battle over the future of the country.
The elections are deepening the torment over what identity Turkey should have — a democracy or arbitrary-autocratic rule, where the economy will be the criteria overriding all other necessities to ward off fragmentation and ongoing internal rifts.
When we think of a nation under arbitrary-autocratic rule, Malaysia or any Central Asian republic comes to mind.
It is certain that the overwhelming majority of the electorate will be choosing between “yes” or “no” to Erdoğan’s way of ruling the country. So simple. Because either of those responses will have a great deal to do with the micromanagement in and interferences with municipal issues and the vertical way of dealing with local projects.
Will Turkey give the go-ahead to a ruthless model of growth, and nothing but growth, whose cost is the devastation of Anatolia’s beautiful nature? Will Turkey let go of massive development with no concept of esthetics?
And, more importantly, will Turkey give the nod to an unaccountable, nontransparent, everything-under-one-man mode of governance?
The political watershed March 30 will bring is a historic one. The social dimension is much more complicated than ever before. Voters are confronting, or feel blessed with, depending on how they perceive reality, the presence of a leader who has managed to define the agenda, no matter how tough the challenges have been and however ugly the truth.
The main divisive factor has to do with the basic quality of life for the middle classes and below.
Their judgments on how they will vote, to a great deal, will be based on a comparison between private budgets, healthcare and infrastructure and whether they have confidence in the future vis-a-vis the issues of tolerance, moral values, respect for diversity and social compassion for the other.
Erdoğan is aware of the traditional selfishness of the middle classes, and its peculiar indifference to freedoms and rights.
He has been building his cult status, his own mythification as the architect of “Turkey’s economic success,” and has been keen to prove that the country needs an authoritarian figure, a patriarch to be consulted on everything and who will remain immune to any criticism, let alone accusations and legal inquiries.
These elections will be about Ankara and İstanbul. But even more simply, at the end of March 30, we can say that only İstanbul will matter, because it has been Erdoğan’s cradle and his throne, and the city is the most coveted treasure chest for any politician driven by greed and absolute power.
The conquest of the municipality will mean a grand victory for him. As he has done so far with votes and international praise, he will no doubt take it as another carte blanche to weaken his opponents and do his utmost to intimidate and subordinate the segments of society he has so ruthlessly denigrated and demonized.
Apart from the Kurds, who envision that these elections will further deepen their mental separation from the rest of the country, the main electorate is split right down the middle. Divisions for them mean large-scale disagreement; fewer bridges than before, less reconciliatory language.
For those who are not united but closer to each other in terms of their disapproval of Erdoğan, this one will be much more about “voting against” than “voting for.” This applies to Ankara and İstanbul, two cities where the degree of tactical voting and turnout will be decisive for Erdoğan’s fate.
Erdoğan has pushed his luck too far, and he knows that for his own survival, he must keep pushing it. If the Gezi protests were cultural resistance, the graft probe debate was about morality and the Twitter ban triggered virtual resistance, we shall all see whether or not these will be converted into a successful resistance vote.
If that fails, cynics will have many reasons to argue that every society gets the ruler it deserves.
But does the Turkey of 2014 really deserve this?