Recently, I found myself in a conversation with some lawyer friends — whose lives have been spent focusing on human rights causes — about the course of Turkey and the despair surrounding the people and on what to expect during and after the presidential elections.
No matter what aspect we discuss, the Turkey they described as of today is a country on auto-pilot. The ruler, they agreed, has normalized defiance of the law and now encourages everyone around him, and others, to do so. The country has, as a whole, entered a “de facto state,” meaning most of the issues are bound to be handled with less or no consideration for the law.
So is, for example, the Kurdish peace process, they argued.
As the pro-Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) political segment seems to be engaged in talks with Abdullah Öcalan, the de facto developments – on the municipal level — only expand the ground for self-rule and a political monopoly.
When I mentioned the necessity to institutionalize reforms in a new constitution, they only smiled and said that things are running on such a course that they have their own dynamics. That is to say, whether or not there is a new constitution, Turkey will soon find itself in a new sociopolitical reality, which may lead to cooperation between the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) on a new social contract, excluding the main opposition.
But they fully agreed with me that such a prospect would signal a period of unrest on a national scale. Trying to rule Turkey with no sense of consensus, with disrespect for the rule of law and with a growing appetite for oppressive methods will be a costly experiment. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s “national will” motto and its total superiority over anything else is an erroneous invitation for Turkey to become ungovernable at the end of the day.
Kurds are happy, the Kurdish lawyer said. They have no other alternative besides tying their hopes to Erdoğan, and they feel there is historic momentum to leave behind dark times. What about all those, among the Turks who fought for the Kurds’ cause, demanding a future of freedom and rights? Is it not a display of ethno-selfishness that Kurds leave all those people alone, vulnerable and targeted?
“Go and tell that to the CHP [Republican’s People Party] and other groups on the left. The Kurds have been left alone and ignored by them. And, mind you, if they saw any alternative to a democratic front, they would welcome it,” was the Kurdish lawyer’s response. He, of course, has a solid point.
The issue is that without the Kurdish vote, no presidential candidate can seriously challenge Erdoğan. Therefore, for swaths of people across the ideological divide, post-August Turkey already looks like a nightmare. They see a “party state” taking root indefinitely.
Any silver lining? Daron Acemoğlu — a Turkish-Armenian who is one of the most renowned and cited economists in the world and who is currently with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) –wrote in a Foreign Affairs article titled “The Failed Autocrat” that “Despite creeping authoritarianism and polarization in Turkish politics, one shouldn’t despair.”
“Although Erdoğan’s support among the urban and rural poor and large segments of the middle class seems solid today, it is predicated on continued economic growth and the delivery of public services to the underprivileged,” he argues.
“Erdoğan’s joy ride is over if the economy heads south (and it could — Turkey’s growth over the past six years has depended on unsustainable levels of domestic consumption and trade deficits). In that case, the opposition is likely to broaden and, having learned from experience with the AKP, will eventually begin to demand institutions that fairly represent the country as a whole.
“This is not to suggest that the recent slide in Turkish governance should be viewed through rose-colored glasses. The AKP continues to repress any opposition and will surely try to gag the Constitutional Court. But the party’s efforts to monopolize power should not surprise in historical context. More than 50 years on, the process of building inclusive political institutions in many postcolonial societies is still ongoing. And it took France more than 80 years to build the Third Republic after the collapse of the monarchy in 1789.”
I wish I were this optimistic.