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HomeHeadlineBetween Ideals and Realpolitik: Navigating Voter Dilemmas in Contemporary Turkey

Between Ideals and Realpolitik: Navigating Voter Dilemmas in Contemporary Turkey

Necip F. Bahadir

Those who know the answer can leave; this has been the subject of political analyses and even movies. Nevertheless, I will start with that famous question because it is fitting for the significance of today. Three leaders in three different countries are candidates for presidency. These are not fictional characters but real and historical figures. I will reveal their names at the end of the article. The characteristics and qualities of these leaders are as follows:

The first candidate: Partially paralyzed due to contracting chickenpox in childhood. Also suffers from high blood pressure. Has anemia and other ailments. Known for being untruthful, a fact known to everyone. Relies on astrologers and fortune-tellers for guidance and bases their actions on such consultations. Not faithful to their spouse, frequently commits adultery. A chain smoker and a martini addict.

The second candidate: Extremely overweight, has suffered defeat in three consecutive elections, survived two heart attacks, and nearly faced death. Has license issues, a patient of depression. Too aggressive and incompatible for teamwork. Never seen without a cigar. Has a nightly routine of consuming cognac, whiskey, and sleeping pills.

The last candidate: A decorated war hero, vegetarian, and respectful towards women. Known for loving animals and owning dogs. Has no tobacco habits, never seen smoking. Rarely drinks beer. Has a background in painting during their youth.

Based on these characteristics, whose name would you stamp your vote on? Who would you want to govern your country? Don’t rush your decision; ponder it while I reflect on being a voter in Turkey.

Why can’t left-wing parties dominate the elections? If I were to vote in Turkey, what would I do? My ‘political views,’ which sprouted in my youth and matured over time. I have never been distant from politics at any stage of my life. I relate everything from culture, social life, to sports with politics because I was born into a political environment. My family and surroundings were highly political.

I had a sympathetic stance towards right-wing politics, until recently! My stance on left-wing parties stemmed from their discord with the community’s values and the sacred aspects of the people, and their confrontational image. I grew up hearing negative stories about the leftists. “Even the meat cut by populists is inedible!” is something I’ve heard.

I attribute the left’s inability to secure more than a third of the vote to its heavy baggage.

Why can’t left-wing parties, despite theoretically having all conditions in their favor, dominate the elections today? The exploitation of labor, violation of union rights, the downfall of law and justice, regression of freedoms, collapse of social policies, and the struggling of the main body in poverty and destitution, under the current government led by Erdoğan, would make the left win power anywhere in the world.

Is it just the left? Any opposition would win.

Despite all the political turmoil, I still believe that the classic political structure with 65% versus 35% persists. Considering the Kurdish political movement’s share from the 35% pie, the situation for the left doesn’t look bright. Renewing names and faces, softening policies won’t change the left’s ‘fate of misfortune.’ Because the problem lies deeper…

The reason for Erdoğan’s lack of alternatives should be sought here. The outcome of elections shadowed by the right and left division is predictable. If someone from within the right challenges Erdoğan, the defeat of AKP is inevitable. If the opponent is from the left, Erdoğan always wins. İmamoğlu and Yavaş? Both are closer to the right than the left. They wouldn’t seem out of place in AKP.

The Good Party is entering a dissolution process It’s clear that Erdoğan, who reads politics very well, bases his strategies on this principle. He is skilled at choosing his opponents, from Süleyman Soylu to Numan Kurtulmuş, gathering political figures from the right under his roof.

Meral Akşener’s Good Party once seemed to threaten Erdoğan but couldn’t sustain it. Instead of moving towards the center and opening up to the masses, it confined itself to a narrow space and became a backup to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). What followed is well-known; it couldn’t withstand attacks from within and outside and entered a ‘dissolution process.’ Akşener’s declaration of ‘games being played’ on her party was due to its potential to oppose Erdoğan. Akşener couldn’t manage relations within the opposition bloc or internal party issues…

There’s no other explanation for the failure to convert the advantage against Erdoğan in the presidential elections nine months ago into votes. Otherwise, how could a government that drags the country from one crisis to another remain standing, let alone win elections? In Turkey, as Demirel said, ‘The pot would overthrow the government,’ but elections can’t be won with the incompetence of a left-wing politics that fails to score into an empty goal.

If Erdoğan loses, he’ll struggle to last 4 years! Turkey is increasingly entering the atmosphere of a local election. Most candidates are known. On the field, candidates and leaders in Ankara have rolled up their sleeves to emerge victorious from March 31. Rallies will start soon. Despite the communication revolution, Turkish politics can’t give up on traditional rallies. Screen messages aren’t enough for voters; they want to see party leaders in person.

In front of the voters, there’s still a ‘strong’ but ‘unsuccessful’ Erdoğan and AKP. Turkey is in a political, social, and economic downturn like never before. Inflation, the cost of living, and the devaluation of the Turkish Lira have exhausted the society. The vast majority of the population is dissatisfied with the direction things are heading, complaining about their situation, and hopeless about the future. Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek promises economic recovery by 2028.

What should voters do under these circumstances? Who would I choose if I were to vote? Even though the election is local, it will surely have general consequences. Just as the clouds gathered over Turgut Özal’s government after losing the 1989 local elections, Erdoğan would suffer a severe blow and struggle to make it through the next 4 years if he faces defeat on March 31. Both the People’s Alliance and the opposition parties are aware of this. That’s why there’s extraordinary focus on March 31.

A failed and exhausted government, an incompetent opposition In Turkey, the existence of a voter base with party allegiance akin to football fandom is undeniable. A significant number of voters have inherited or developed rigid party identities. Considering voters who maintain their loyalty to the party and leader at almost a level of devotion and recklessly benefit from the government’s favours, we can take an X-ray of March 31. Moreover, Turkish voters tend to act more on ’emotion and belief’ than on ideas and thoughts.

Parties will secure votes from their ‘core base.’ To win in critical cities, especially Istanbul, ‘floating votes’ that switch allegiance every election are also needed. Erdoğan’s AKP is steadily declining. It fell to 35% in the last parliamentary election nine months ago. Yet, with external support, it’s possible to sustain power.

Will the core votes of AKP and MHP make the candidates of the People’s Alliance favorites, and is it enough to win the election?

If there was an option on the ballot saying ‘Let AK Party leave power!’ it would win by a landslide. The desire for Erdoğan to go is high, but the change seems impossible because the alternatives don’t inspire hope. The opposition fails to dispel fears that change could lead to chaos.

No matter how you look at it, being a voter in Turkey is quite difficult at the moment. On one side, there’s a failing Erdoğan, from foreign policy to economy, from freedoms to justice, and on the other side, scattered opposition parties filled with question marks, lacking a hopeful story, vision, and perspective…

I’ve tried every way, but I can’t find a way out! What should voters do then? Or what will they do on March 31? Does livelihood outweigh the election?

I want to answer with a quote from İsmet Özel: “One must understand that idolaters use their votes not with the intention of exalting their idol but to preserve the legitimacy arising from their own inferior state. It’s not the power of the idol that’s intended to remain in force, but the benefits secured through idolatry.”

When interests and benefits are at stake, governing parties always have a few steps ahead. If you chose the third candidate from the ones I mentioned above, you’ve chosen ‘Hitler.’ The first candidate is the famous statesman of the USA, Franklin D. Roosevelt. The second is one of the unforgettable leaders of the British, Winston L. Churchill…

No matter how I try, I can’t find my way out of this labyrinth-like situation. Turkey matters a lot to me… It’s best to ‘not vote for disaster’ and watch the elections ‘from a distance’ and ‘from the balcony’…

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