In life, it is normal to talk of teething problems, the essence of which means that they are temporary, or more specifically, transitional. But what do writings on the post-Ottoman Turkey politics walls read like? Cleary, they say, irrespective of any circumstances, other than during the era of one-party rule, the left-wing which, in essence, should reflect a standing for across-the-board interests of the breadwinner (workers), rights of the oppressed, minority groups, and people’s freedoms, has never won any people’s mandate to form a government. Why?
Taking the May 14, 2023, twin general elections and consequent (rather than subsequent) May 28 presidential runoff as a reference point, and putting aside fraud, irregularity and rigging, and even the case of the opposition seeking warmth around the lead Republican People’s Party (CHP) and their ultimate fielding of one presidential candidate, the left still found itself somehow left out in the cold. Why?
A zoom on the Turkish political environment or history reveals a divided society in which people have now grown very tired of Erdoğan due to a dilapidated economy and a virtually no longer existing justice. It reveals a Turkey going the opposite way. The voter turnout of about 85% in the latest polls is an enough indicator of the people’s commitment. Likewise, a 48% vote for the opposition is a clear demand for change in Turkey as it is also a categorical “quit message” for Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
But twenty years on, Erdogan and his AKP have remained in power and are now confirmed for another five-year round. Could that tally with the African indigenous knowledge observation that “enyama mbi tewa aluti? – meaning bad meat tends to stay longer on the barbecue stick or the Turkish saying that “bad leaders don’t die”?
Other things remaining equal, why has the CHP, commonly referred to as the People’s Party, failed to establish the difference between the needs of the Turkish nation and the Turkish people? Why and how has it, on the whole, failed to strike a balance between the beliefs and values of the same people to register their full trust? Why have concessions within the party ranks been rather difficult to come by? The CHP, in other words, has to that extent failed to become a genuine left-wing party. Turkey has yet to get a delivering left. Why?
The experience I have from my part of the world of the Swahili Coast Culture on the western rim of the Indian Ocean in East Africa is that parties of the CHP caliber, over time, become hit by a rise, from within, of clusters and develop cracks. Some members see themselves as “wenyewe” (owners) and call other names, such as “wasaliti” (betrayers) and “sio wenzetu” (not of our type, non-comrades).
Cautious and conservative as they are, the people realize this situation which does not augur well when it comes to the ballot box, especially misinformation and disinformation step in. The electorates fail to identify a party or candidate they can trust. They end up adopting a better-the-devil-you-know voting attitude which is positive for incumbent leaders. After that, life goes on as usual until the next elections.
The May 2023 Turkish polls season is gone. But its effects are not over. The ‘bad meat’ is still on the barbecue stick. What should the left-wing expect from the March 2024 Mayoral elections? Is it the same story of the just-ended general elections or the victory repeat of Ankara, Istanbul, and Izmir? How is the left resetting itself for the exercise after the May 2023 experience? Have they learned anything?
In preparation for the general elections, the opposition, under the umbrella of CHP, took a long time to agree on a presidential candidate. Although they eventually agreed to field one, will they repeat this timing error for the municipal elections?
Currently, there are hints of feelings among the opposition that CHP leader Kemal should make way for change. There are fears also that if he holds on to his post for another year, the opposition may perform poorly across the nation during the municipal elections. He is on record for refusing to take this option.
Could Kılıçdaroğlu be suffering from a political ‘ailment’ of feeling like one of the CHP owners, the wisest and without whom nothing positive takes place? A sine qua non? If he sticks to his guns, wouldn’t this weaken or actually wreck the six-party opposition-tagged Nation Alliance? Where can he strike real unity without listening to a different opinion? What is inclusive politics to him? Which democracy is he looking for?
The fact that CHP emerged first on the Republic of Turkey’s political stage and boasts the founder’s fame of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk doesn’t matter. African indigenous knowledge observes that “agamela mbele tigo galya” – literal translation: “The teeth that emerge first are not the ones that eat”. These are simply milk teeth. Real incisors, canines, pre-, and molars come later ‘to eat’.
Knowing for sure that he is thriving on a highly manipulated and artificially legitimized (morally illegitimate?) power, Erdogan will definitely intensify his campaign to stop his and AKP rivals. He knows perfectly well that the people want him out. Likened to a sick person, Erdogan, and AKP could be said to be walking on crutches or in wheelchairs pushed by ally political parties like the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Without them, there would be no Erdogan, no AKP.
Reading between the lines of post-general and presidential runoff elections’ list of Erdogan’s new cabinet, one sees how committed he is to the intensification of his campaign to nip the opposition and any dissent, anywhere and anyhow in the bud. Otherwise, how does one conceptualize the choice of the former head of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), Hakan Fidan, to head the foreign office and Yusuf Tekin, former rector of Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli University to become the Minister of Education? Both are known for their hatred of the Hizmet Movement.
How about the former army chief, Gen. Yaşar Güler, who was the military chief during Turkey’s incursions in Syria in 2019 and 2020 and oversaw subsequent military operations there and in Iraq, becoming the new defense minister?
Erdogan knows, one-to-one, that this is his last lap. He has a cabinet in place that can accommodate his governance ills. He almost looks set to back down on his unorthodox economic systems. He is ready to reform the justice system. But all this is what the African indigenous knowledge sees as: “Eby’omufu akolela anyanga” – meaning what the corpse would do at the graveside.
One century down the road, the Republic of Turkey should not be suffering from teething political problems. With all the malfunctions of Erdogan, it is extremely unfair to the people of Turkey to experience the opposition engaging itself in ‘milk-teeth’ politics. They have gone through enough at Erdogan and AKP’s hands. Or could the left, the way it stands today, be irrelevant to solving the current Turkish people’s problems equation?