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HomeHeadlineA Path to Change: The Evolution of Turkey's Political Landscape

A Path to Change: The Evolution of Turkey’s Political Landscape

Murat Belge*

Has the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) lengthy rule led to significant structural changes in Turkey? It appears so. Everywhere in the world, being in power offers greater opportunities to create change in society. However, in our case, a party like the AKP being in power makes this change particularly striking because it is implementing a mindset that openly opposes the values Turkey has embraced since becoming a republic. According to the militants of this party, Turkey, having pursued the wrong path by adopting the goal of “Westernization,” now has the opportunity to correct its century-old mistake by taking the necessary stance.

In a given country — let’s say — the Liberal Party was in power; but then the Socialists won the election and took power. This will certainly bring change, but is this change radical enough to claim that the country’s “identity” has also undergone a transformation? It is not.

However, the change represented by a party like the AKP is this radical.

The political organization that assumes the role of “main opposition” against the AKP is the Republican People’s Party (CHP). In fact, this party is the one that paved the way, set the rules, and defined the identity we’re discussing. In other words, it is not an “opponent” but the “founder” party. However, as a necessity of its founding role, it introduced a multi-party election system, and since its introduction, it has rarely seen power, except for some short exceptional periods. However, this new role it had to undertake did not lead to much change in the party’s general and fundamental principles and views. The years with Ecevit led to some movements as if it would “open up,” but it was only “as if”; it wasn’t hard to shift from there to embracing Deniz Baykal’s leadership.

It was not unexpected for the AKP’s policies to meet with strong opposition from the CHP. However, from the current political trajectory, it is observed that the CHP is defending not so much the structure it established itself but a more “universal” democracy. The “founding” role the party played in Turkey’s history has made it easier for the party, especially its leading members, to adopt a “proprietary” tone regarding the country. The period we are currently in seems to have created a development suggesting that the CHP wants to shed this role. I believe this development started with Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu: his initiation of the “reconciliation” discourse was a sign. But with what Özgür Özel said and did during the process of being elected as the chairman, he went far beyond that.

In this process, the stance expected to be adopted by the ruling power will be decisive in shaping such an environment. Is the ruling power ready or willing to play a positive role in such a process? I don’t think so. I believe that expecting a democratic move from Tayyip Erdoğan under these conditions would be in vain. He will work to create an opportunity to arrange the terrain in his favor. However, the behavior of the CHP under these conditions will demonstrate what “needs to be done” (and how Tayyip Erdoğan avoids doing it).

I think the fact that the CHP has reached this point is a positive development not only for the CHP but also for Turkey. It is not easy; we know how stubborn ideological habits can be. But the positive results brought by change will also show that the path followed is positive. I believe we are at the beginning of a favorable path to escape the extremely problematic position that the AKP and Tayyip Erdoğan have brought society to. I hope the upcoming process does not nullify the rare sense of “optimism” I am experiencing.

*Prof. Murat Belge (born 16 March 1943) is a Turkish academic, translator, literary critic, columnist, civil rights activist, and occasional tour guide.

This article was first published in Birikim Magazine and translated into English by Politurco.

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