Turkish opposition has hard time adjusting to Erdogan’s authoritarian politics

The bitter truth is that parliament now has almost nothing to do.
Sunday 22/07/2018
Turkey’s police officers look on as supporters of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party gather to protest near Taksim Square, last April. (AP)
Shrinking space. Turkey’s police officers look on as supporters of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party gather to protest near Taksim Square, last April. (AP)

Metropoll, one of Turkey’s few independent and reliable private pollsters, said new figures on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s job approval indicate a rise in the president’s popularity — a healthy 7.3 percentage point increase to 53.1%.

More telling is that the level of disapproval was down 11.1 percentage points to 38.2%.

The numbers illustrate that the masses bought the notion of a radical shift to one-man rule. Like the many examples throughout history of the rise of authoritarian rule, the myopia of the masses can prevent a proper understanding of political tectonic shifts.

As Cengiz Aktar wrote for Ahval Online: “Political Islam synergised with its masses through the rebirth of Turkish Sunnism and the totalitarian tendencies that were deeply buried.”

Aktar’s essay “‘Collective Decay’ and Lessons for Turkey’s Opposition” made an important point: “We must pay particular attention to this vast and never-to-be ignored mob that feeds itself with second-hand knowledge of Sunnism turned Salafist and that is amnesiac, revanchist, nasty, resentful and proudly parochial.”

It is important to keep in mind the significant numbers of secular Turks, some of them cultural Muslims and all of them soft nationalists, and it is important to remember that Turkey has a sharply politicised Kurdish community. Representatives of the secular Turks and the Kurds occupy approximately one-third of the seats in parliament. Their vote share was slightly higher.

What will deputies of these parties — the secular-Kemalist Republican People’s Party (CHP) and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) — do?

That is probably the biggest question about the future of Turkey. Is there any democratic brake, anything to slow down Erdogan’s consolidation of authoritarian rule?

The bitter truth is that parliament now has almost nothing to do. The post-election set-up transferred full executive power to the president. Erdogan has issued decrees from day one. Off to a resounding start, he seems bent on showing his determination to bypass the legislative and take control, decree by decree, of every aspect of public life.

It induced the more strategic part of the opposition, the HDP, to retreat to a remarkable silence. The CHP was reduced to a stammering response as it resorted to remarkably erratic behaviour.

One of the CHP’s leading figures, Ilhan Kesici, praised the election result. He visited Erdogan in his grand palace and painted a rosy picture afterward, as if everything were normal. Other leading CHP figures, such as Erdogan Toprak, projected the illusion that parliament would be an efficient force even though it is now no more than a bare meeting hall, stripped of power to hold the executive to account.

Then, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu roared in a TV appearance that the elections were “illicit” and suggested the results were null and void. This prompted disappointed CHP voters to ask on social media: “If so, Mr Chairman, why do you not resign from parliament en masse?”

The question was left unanswered, leading many to suspect that the CHP, which has 147 of parliament’s 600 seats, will continue to mumble and grumble in a simulation of effective opposition. It’s worth noting that parliamentary deputies enjoy high salaries.

The CHP was a disappointment in the elections and, if its incoherent response to political developments is seen as temporising, voters may be alienated next time around.

Strangely, a sizeable portion of the opposition seems to have not properly taken in the fact that Erdogan has united previously separate powers in his person. A parliament that has become a rubber stamp is arguably the strongest sign that Turkey has almost completed its transformation into a Central Asian republic. The inevitability of authoritarian logic means that remaining pockets of opposition will be gobbled up, too.

It is not as if the CHP and HDP have given up altogether. Closed-door meetings are taking place in Ankara and Istanbul to discuss what to do.

The decree regime means the opposition’s chance to be effective in the legislature is practically nil. It can’t bring a vote of confidence either. Under these conditions, some argue, all that the opposition can do is to filibuster. That is all it can do. Unless the opposition turns to sheer resistance and the approximately 200 deputies of both parties all resign, sparking a crisis.

Perhaps, however, they hope the real opposition to Erdogan — the declining economy — will take its toll over time.

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