One of the recurring comments regarding the Gezi Park protests that kicked-off on May 31st and which has escalated into a mass rally for an astonishing period of 3 weeks, literally spreading throughout the nation, has been that the opposition’s rather weak and inadequate standing that has fuelled the defiance of the masses and helped support the intensity of the spontaneous uprising. It is obviously possible to frame this explanation as being rather too cliché and maybe even too simplistic.
However it does not necessarily mean that if a notion is defined as a cliché, it should also prove to be untrue.
Let’s be candid and realistic: From the perspective of the average voter in Turkey nowadays, it is an accepted fact that neither the existing three opposition parties that have formal groups in the parliament, nor the prevailing opposition forces active outside of the parliament can boast the power to end Justice and Development Party’s (JDP) ruling party status. The unequal stature of the competition in the political environment further cultivates the image of the JDP as a ruling force “without any alternatives”.
Or may we say that it used to do so; as the parameters of politics seem to have been transformed radically since May 31st.
In fact this acute perception of having no proper alternatives to the ruling party and the consequent feelings of being trapped within this realm, has been instrumental in the nationwide civil disobedience of the millions of ordinary citizens; disenchanted with the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, resulting with the masses acting spontaneously and in an unorganized manner.
As the reader will note duly, we have already stated that the cliché serves its purpose, however we need to further strengthen our standing as to why it makes sense. The main problem in essence, is the crisis of representation.
One of the dimensions of this particular political crisis manifests itself as the inability of the political opposition, consciously or inadvertently to represent the grievances of the society at large.
Other causes may be summed up as the government’s evident failure to represent diverse classes, cultures and interest groups of the society and the parliament’s transformation into a state of dysfunctionality.
Let us start with this last observation. We do not have a functioning and independent legislative body right now in Turkey. One may easily argue that legislative power exists in appearance only. This problem may not be solely linked to JDP; however it has turned into an even larger issue, as the system of checks and balances of the democratic process has been further crippled during the reign of JDP.
The fate of the parliamentary motions clearly has demonstrated that the Turkish Parliament has practically ceased to be independent of the executive body and that it can no longer fulfil its task of reviewing and balancing the executive effectively.
Throughout 2012 and during the first half of 2013, of the 216 motions that has been put to vote by the three opposition parties represented in parliament, all have been rejected, while those by the JDP have all been accepted.
The legislative function undertaken by the Parliament is not realized as an independent legislative force of action: It fulfils the legislative needs of the ruling party (of Tayyip Erdoğan’s in fact) by functioning as an intermediary or a secretariat. It is as if the members of the parliament raise their hands without consciousness. Occasionally some laughable incidents occur, when the MPs raise and lower their hands almost automatically. These deputies, who supposedly should be representing the heterogeneous and diverse sections of the society, in reality are far from demonstrating this competency.
We could presents the latest incident which proves as a testament to this finding. The MPs were casting their votes for an omnibus bill in a parliamentary session on July 7th. When the opposition party voted favourably for a resolution, the JDP members –as they always choose to do so– rejected it automatically. However the resolution was in fact proposed by the JDP. The act of casting votes without any consciousness then has led the JDP members to reject their own proposal.
The parliament’s readiness to embrace the role of acting as the administrative clerk or the notary of the executive, in return does not enable the opposition party to block the legislation of bills which they oppose.
In 2012, what has since came to be known as the “4+4+4 bill”, attempting to “reform” the educational system, has been met with rigorous resistance from the main opposition party RPP (Republican People’s Party), and the party utilizing all forms of loop holes provided by the internal statute of the Parliament tried to obstruct the bill.
The JDP deputies, in the end handled this tactic, which they could only manage to cause a delay of only a few days, by resorting to physical assault and the bill was “passed” at the lower committee in a chaotic atmosphere while the MPs manhandled each other.
The fact that the ruling government fails to represent the diverse classes, cultures and interests of the society and furthermore does not show any signs of adhering to inclusive policies, is one of the dimensions of the crisis of representation.
One may easily conclude that JDP not only is not willing to represent the diverse groups within the society, but on the contrary, is trying to supress them.
More than half the respondents (58.1 per cent) answering the question “Why are you at Gezi Park?”, in a public opinion survey targeting over 4000 people and conducted by KONDA on June 6-7, responded as “because my civil liberties have been restricted”.
On the other hand there were numerous activists who justified their opposition ground by citing other reasons such as; opposition to JDP and its policies, negative attitude against the state apparatus, reacting against the rhetoric and general conduct of Erdoğan.
Those who came up with these corollaries are in fact opponents of the ruling party/state, and therefore it may not prove to be meaningful to criticize the JDP rule for not representing these groups.
However those who have declared “I am here because my civil liberties have been restricted” may not be opposing the ruling power and may not necessarily be their staunch adversary. As a matter of fact 2 per cent of those at the Park have voted for JDP at the recent elections.
The alienation of such a vast crowd of citizens who are not wholly strong opponents (or not so fervent antagonists) of the ruling party, puts into perspective JDP’s legitimacy and the crisis of representation.
The third and the final dimension of the crisis of representation is the weakness and the incompetency of the opposition.
KONDA’s above mentioned public opinion survey is providing amazing data within this context. For every 5 activist, one person, despite being an electorate, has not gone to the polls or has cast a blank vote in the last elections. Less than half of the Gezi activists, 41 percent have voted for the main opposition party. At the time of the survey almost one fifth of the participants who were asked the question “what would you do if the elections were held today?”, responded “I would not vote”, and nearing 30 per cent have noted that they were not decided yet.
The rather pathetic picture regarding RPP has been that only a scant 31 per cent have stated that they would vote for RPP. Remembering that the percentage of those who have indicated that they had voted for RPP was 41 per cent only two years ago, RPP, like JDP seems to be amongst the losers of the Gezi rebellion.
At this juncture two points should be kept in mind.
The KONDA survey has been conducted with the activists in the Park and may not be reflecting totally the inclinations of the rest of Turkey and even İstanbul. The second point is that since the survey has taken place at a relatively early time frame vis-a-vis the elections, many more developments may be expected to materialize up until then.
But even so, the main opposition party’s apparent loss of popularity, at a time when the riots were into its first week, is quite thought provoking.
The truth of the matter is, the crisis of representation of the opposition in Turkey cannot be solely attributed to RPP.
The 93.6 per cent of all those who were asked the question “Why are you at the Park, which identity have you associated yourself with when you came to the Park?” responded “As an ordinary citizen”, while only 6.4 per cent of them cited that they have attended the movement due to an affiliation with a particular group or an organization, highlight the fact that all opposition within and outside of the parliament should focus on this challenge and give it a hard thought.
No matter what, it seems clear that the June uprising will somewhat accelerate the descent of JDP.
The course of JDP is from now on is evident, and this direction is downwards.
The velocity and the duration of this process are however unknown.
The fact that several areas of concern such as the growth rate has been below the targets in 2012, the increase in interest rates as a reaction to the end of FED’s expansionist monetary policies, rising exchange rates, plummeting exports and rise in unemployment will leave their mark on 2013 and particularly on 2014 has been destabilizing the ground for the JDP.
If we combine the above described picture with the probable social and economic consequences of Erdoğan’s rhetoric which he seems to be embracing with even growing fervour since the uprisal of the masses; and which has become alarmingly more polarized, disintegrative and conspiracy theory based, the bottom line is that it will create a multiplier effect.
The bourgeoisie that has amassed wealth with the support of the JDP is among the several stake holders that will be negatively affected by the rise of interest rates, as they carry enormous debt burden on their backs.
Within this context the reality that the JDP-aligned wealthy businessmen also need an environment of peace and stability has been highlighted by Prof Aydın Uğur.
Uğur in his piece published in the daily Radikal (July 3rd) reminds us how the Conservative Party in Britain purged Margaret Thatcher when it was apparent that she was a liability.
The probability rate that the year 2013 may become Erdoğan’s final year in the political arena will increase, as he is perceived more and more as too costly by his domestic and global supporters.