Fresh ideas, innovative structures
By Ertugrul Gunay
"When you resemble your opponent, you have lost."
Over three months have passed since the general election and the second round of the presidential election. Much has been written and said throughout this time about the election and its outcomes.
Rather than adopting a tolerant and embracing discourse that would help overcome the election tensions, the government has continued to employ the harsh language of the campaign. Even before the election results were officially announced, Mr. Erdogan used powerful language against the key opposition party in his speech in Istanbul.
The government spokespersons will persist in using this harsh, marginalizing, and accusatory language, at the very least until the local elections.
Meanwhile, instead of conducting rational assessments, the opposition spokespersons and representatives have assigned blame to each other for the failure, ignoring their contributions. This trend continues unabated.
Turkey has left behind a historically significant election.
Had the opposition succeeded in the elections, it would not only have marked a shift in political power after two decades, but it would have also started efforts to revise the constitutional amendments introduced in 2017 that led to personalized rule. Steps towards democratization would have been taken. This was the hope and aspiration of the public.
However, it did not materialize. Not only was a significant opportunity wasted on the centenary of the Republic, but it also resulted in widespread pessimism dominating public sentiment.
The excessive power wielded by the government over 20 years, mainly through the state and media, undoubtedly contributed to this failure. The elections took place in an environment of growing material and moral inequality since 2014.
The last decade, especially the past ten years, of these two decades were marred by substantial mistakes, foreign policy-related issues, and economic hardships that could have led to a change in government. Inflation, the cost of living, and financial struggles have escalated to unprecedented levels over the past two decades. The regional earthquake on February 6 further exacerbated these issues to catastrophic proportions.
Amidst this backdrop, the opposition, ignoring the lessons from 2014 to 2018, made a series of mistakes that contributed to their electoral defeat. The conditions were favorable for a change in government. Relying on this and polling data, they chose a race for seats, a strategy that horrified the public, instead of pursuing a sensible and cautious road map.
There is no need to delve further into these details, as ample discussion has already occurred.
Personal and party loyalties and self-interest calculations set the election on an irrevocable course, much like mistakenly buttoning the first button incorrectly. We are collectively experiencing the consequences.
Considering these facts, political parties, especially the so-called opposition parties, maintain the same arrogant attitudes after the elections as they did leading up to the polls. They appear to have no intention of engaging in self-criticism and rectification.
Without exception, all parties entered the elections by selecting their candidates behind closed doors, with a headquarters-driven and arbitrary approach. None of the parties engaged in democratic competition internally or expressed such a demand during the election period.
Similarly, they seem to have no qualms about using money in politics. They have proposed no limits, rules, or transparency.
Even the newest and supposedly ambitious parties made the most crucial election decisions based on negotiations and concessions behind closed doors.
All parties have become miniatures of the ruling party they claim to oppose, fusing to form a replacement force. They have internalized the boundaries set by the ruling party, reflected in their language and conduct.
Late Alija Izetbegović's quote is profoundly meaningful in this context:
"When you become like your opponent, you lose the war."
In Turkey, nearly all parties resemble each other regarding their internal operations, democratic understanding, views on finances, rents, and individual interests. Hence, despite many elections, there has been little change. While the government's popularity has decreased from 45% to 35% since 2015, the opposition has failed to advance even a single step.
An opposition that mirrors the government cannot bring change.
Suppose these structures cannot lead to a positive outcome that alters this unfortunate situation rather than witnessing ongoing bickering within and between these structures. In that case, it is time to contemplate new structures and explore a fresh approach.
What does this fresh path entail?
The fight for democracy is a political struggle, and it undoubtedly requires devoted and resilient individuals, along with civil initiatives and organizations. Alongside these factors, political parties are the primary instrument for political struggle.
Naturally, a political party cannot be established by a handful acting on a momentary whim or reaction. Entities founded in such a manner have failed and will continue to do so.
A new political movement causes innovative, distinct, and sound proposals (ideas), individuals who genuinely believe in these ideas (cadres), and a broad organization centered on these ideas and cadres. This can only be achieved after a period of time; politics demands initial intent, effort, time, and resources. It is a challenging, labor-intensive, and self-sacrificial process.
On the centenary of the Republic, following an election that saw a reiteration of the past, it is a fitting time to discuss the pursuit of a new solution.
However, I do not envision a movement that will spontaneously arise today or tomorrow, nor do I expect one that will seek alliances or negotiations with existing parties in time for the upcoming local elections.
Such quests and actions, as observed in the previous election, would meet an untimely demise in politics.
As I have previously emphasized, while voters are dissatisfied with the government, they need more confidence that the opposition will perform better.
Politics in Turkey fosters feelings of despair, pessimism, and skepticism within society.
When people discuss politics, they often lament that 'they are all the same' and express their lack of trust.
It is precisely in this environment and for this reason that a fresh approach is required—one that introduces new rhetoric, genuine beliefs, and persistent actions.
A new political movement and organization that promotes pluralism, equality, and participation and opposes not only the ruling and opposition parties but also the current closed, undemocratic, self-centered, and self-interested political structure has the potential to rescue Turkey from its current predicament.
A political movement grounded in the conviction that a just state cannot exist without fairness, that transparent governance is imperative, and that prioritizes education, production, efficiency, innovation, equal citizenship, and social solidarity can lead the way and guide both the government and the opposition in dispersing the dark clouds that have settled over the nation.
Let us contemplate these notions. This summer has been sweltering, and the earth has been heated. It is now time to sow new seeds and nurture saplings in October. With labor, patience, and care, these seeds may blossom in the spring, and the saplings may rise tall.
"New structures arise from new ideas, not old stones."
*The article was first published on Arti Gercek on August 31, 2023.