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HomeHeadlineThe Problem of Lack of Opposition in Turkey(1)

The Problem of Lack of Opposition in Turkey(1)

It’s not easy to answer the question of what opposition means in the context of Turkey. Summing it up in a few sentences is truly impossible. The naive errors or nonsensical comments we sometimes read in articles by Westerners who skim over Turkish politics online and then ambitiously write extensive articles reflect this. However, this doesn’t explain the behavior of Turkish-origin journalists and academics outside of Turkey. Likely, they’re motivated by not wanting to seem out of touch with mainstream Western commentary and to maintain their own “position”.

Understanding the opposition means understanding the regime. It is crucial to understand this statement before moving on to other parts of this article. Because Turkey is not a democratic country. In fact, Turkey has never fully been a democratic rule-of-law state. But one cannot overlook the period between 2004-2010 when it came close. The Gezi Park protests in 2013 and the December 17 corruption scandal marked a turning point, even a breaking point. After these events, the regime in Turkey began to change. I have detailed this in my previous writings, but I wanted to touch upon it briefly here. The main point is the stark differences in the nature of the opposition in democratic rule-of-law states versus authoritarian/semi-authoritarian states.

In democratic rule-of-law countries, the opposition functions within a constitutional order, which sets the game’s rules. Checks and balances limit and control the power of those in authority. In this context, the opposition plays a significant role. Inside the parliament, with the judiciary’s support, the executive branch is closely monitored. Opposition parties in such environments develop alternatives to the policies of the ruling party or parties. In such democracies, there is a consensus regarding the constitutional order between mainstream opposition parties. The higher the consensus on key issues, the greater the societal and political stability and peace.

But what is the issue with the opposition in authoritarianizing countries, especially in Turkey? It’s a complex topic, but to summarize, one of the main problems is the unchecked power of the ruling party. This usually ties back to a distorted constitutional framework, allowing power overreaches. The events post-December 17, 2013, in Turkey were pivotal in this context, marking collaboration between deep-state actors and the corrupt AKP/Erdoğan administration. These events undeniably constituted a civilian coup, yet the opposition, for various reasons, did not object strongly.

Why did the opposition act this way? Their problem was multifaceted. Firstly, the opposition, much like Erdoğan and the deep state, was motivated to suppress the Gülen community. Secondly, they were ideologically cold or negative towards Turkey’s EU integration. Lastly, they foresaw the emerging regime would serve their agenda if they came to power. Hence, they didn’t raise their voices against the erosion of democratic rule-of-law.

Turkish opposition leaders

On a more pragmatic note, why couldn’t the opposition lead a more successful election campaign? The so-called opposition parties didn’t focus on systemic issues during their campaigns. They never challenged the regime and were more concerned about superficial issues. They mistakenly believed they could win votes based on sensational topics. Despite clear indications that the elections were neither fair nor free, the opposition did not object to the results. The root of this strategic error was their acceptance of the regime’s discourse. Changing leaders won’t solve the opposition’s issues because their choices regarding the regime are not leader-dependent.

In the second part, I will delve deeper into Turkish politics, discussing topics like the code of political deadlock, the thesis of history, identity formation, the legacy of Kemalism, imperial complex, parallel societies, and more, continuing my analysis of the keys to understanding the opposition.

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Dr. Mehmet Efe Caman is a Scholar of Politics at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). Dr. Caman’s main research focuses on Democracy, democratization and human rights, Turkish politics, the Middle East, Eurasian politics and post-Soviet regions, the European Union. He has published a monograph on Turkish foreign policy, numerous book chapters and scholarly articles in English, German and Turkish about topics related to his research areas.

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