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Steering Through Storms: Turkey at the Crossroads of Change

Necip F. Bahadir

Election squares are like battlefields… The language of speeches, slogans, banners is full of anger. Every means is legitimate to emerge victorious from the ballot box. There are no limits to words, almost promising the stars in the sky. The AKP, using all the resources of the state recklessly, is in the field with all its elements… It’s as if not the local city leaders but Erdogan is running for the ‘Mayor of Turkey’ with an intense effort… The streets and bazaars of Istanbul have turned into a parade of ministers.

We are living through the days the poet described, “When monarchs begged the people for their monarchy / Yet still committed unparalleled atrocities / You did not tell me this.”

Is it just March 31st? Of course not… Every election atmosphere is like this. If only the country could witness a ‘democracy festival’ where languages softened and tones smiled with humor.

Like the humor in a village headman candidate’s poster on the cemetery wall, “World is fleeting, death sudden / What does one vote matter… Let me be your headman.” Humor requires finesse and intelligence… These are also rarely found traits among politicians. At times, the squares heard characters from comedy movies like ‘Zübük, Little Brother-in-Law, Mazlum’ from Erdogan’s mouth. But those sentences were loaded with ‘insult, ridicule, belittlement’, mocking the opponents.

Who is the Zübük of Turkish politics?

By nature, Zübük should be sought in power, not in opposition.

22 years in, and the situation is a disaster! Yes, we’re entering the final stretch for March 31. The countdown for the ballot box has begun. Besides the general framework, I want to make a short evaluation on some cities. First, Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir… The three major cities of the country… Then cities in Anatolia like Sanliurfa, Hatay, and Ordu, which host interesting and colorful competitions. For weeks, I have been writing my thoughts on Turkish politics and its direction mostly at a theoretical level. Now it’s time to descend from the stands to the field. I wish conditions allowed me to witness the rallies and street efforts of candidates firsthand.

The AKP is the favorite in almost all cities, except for a few exceptions. Yet, the place the AKP has brought the country to after governing for over two decades is not promising at all, a choice of disasters. The AKP government has hit a wall, nothing is going right in any field. Foreign policy, domestic politics, judiciary, economy… Not just the worst period in the history of the republic, but perhaps since the Turks arrived in Anatolia in 1071. The country’s eyes are moist…

The only concern on the street is making a living… Especially for retirees… They have been waiting for good news from Erdogan for days. ‘The Ankara rally’ was mentioned but didn’t happen, eyes turned to Istanbul, still nothing. Erdogan, perhaps having seen 10 months ago that the ’empty pot’ lost its effect on voters, did not open the purse strings for ‘retirees and low-income earners’. Yet, the segment that said, “We’ll eat onions and bread but won’t let our leader down!” lost even onions and bread. Now it’s time to ‘consume the leader’. Survival has overtaken the election.

Has the hat disappeared, or is the rabbit gone! The AKP government declared 2024 the year of the retirees. Another example of being shot in one’s own foot! It’s a joke; the retirees, in the year named after them, are experiencing the worst period of their lives. Looking at Mehmet Simsek’s statements, you might ask, “Is there any money left in the purse?” When it comes to the ballot box, who cares about Simsek? Even if there’s no money, Erdogan, a ‘ballot box magician’, could well pull a rabbit out of a hat. Has the hat disappeared, or is the rabbit gone? Maybe ‘at the last minute’…

No political theory or sociology theory can explain why the AKP is still the favorite in elections under these circumstances. No matter where in the world, such poor governance would spell ‘disaster’ at the ballot box. It used to be the same in Turkey until the AKP. “If nothing else, something has happened!” Elections brought surprising outcomes for the AKP. As someone who has lost all hope in the people of Anatolia, I can’t shake off the idea that March 31 has the potential to ‘change Turkey’s ill fate’. It’s as if the Titanic is speeding towards an iceberg.

What the empty potters couldn’t do 10 months ago might be done by the onion-breaders this time… What if they don’t?

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