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Why is it important to diagnose what happened in Turkey

We must diagnose the situation in Turkey. Without doing so, we cannot determine our individual position that we will take. Of course, I’m referring to those who take individual positions or those who have such a desire. So let’s make a general assessment.

Every situation assessment also includes some criticism. Let me not break this tradition. After the presidential elections, many journalists, academics, and experts started reviewing their analyses, predictions, and forecasts about Turkey’s future. They were right. Because the most fundamental issue was to correctly identify the constants that form the skeleton of the paradigm. Most of them couldn’t do that. And they were wrong. Thus, the widely accepted assumption about liberation from the regime through elections was shattered.

However, for the past seven years, I have been writing and you have been reading: this regime cannot be removed through elections. It will either collapse internally or be overthrown by an external influence. It is also possible for both to happen approximately simultaneously. But one thing is certain: it is not possible to get rid of this regime through democratic means.

Social sciences cannot establish clear laws like natural sciences. Nevertheless, they can identify some principles well. Democratic rule-of-law states are fragile and can become dysfunctional with a power that comes to office through democratic means. However, once the dysfunctionality surpasses a critical threshold and the power becomes sufficiently authoritarian, elections cannot be held fairly and freely. This was exactly what happened in Turkey. In fact, for years, both I and many other colleagues have been tired of saying this. Turkey gradually lost all its characteristics related to the rule of law in the last decade and the constitutional architecture of the state collapsed. Just think, for a long time, this regime neutralized all potential dissidents who confronted it, wielding all the power of the judicial branch. Selahattin Demirtas and ten Kurdish deputies have been in prison for years. Or the regime can destroy the media it wants. There is no shortage of closed newspapers and television channels. And those that are not closed have already been brought into line. There are still a few remnants of opposition, but they also act according to the game rules set by the regime. Just like political parties. There is complete harmony between the CHP and AKP, for example, when it comes to issues related to post-coup decree (KHK) victims or those categorized as belonging to the Gulen Movement.

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The most important characteristic of regimes is their capacity to determine the “rules of the game,” as I emphasized earlier. They consolidate accordingly. In other words, they impose themselves. This is the relationship between power and language. Once that language is established, power reaches such a level that the issue becomes the regime rather than just the government. While social sciences cannot establish “laws” like natural sciences, they can determine the main principles and trends. Numerous studies on the transformation of power into a regime in authoritarian states demonstrate that reversing authoritarianism through internal dynamics is almost impossible.

“I used to write these before the elections. And I was constantly accused of ‘pessimism.’ Those who criticized me kept telling me that I needed to give people hope. As the elections approached, I also reached the point of ‘well, if that’s the case, let’s not push too hard.’ I thought that if Kılıçdaroğlu was elected, at least there would be a chance for change. However, Kılıçdaroğlu and the the opposition Nation Alliance were constantly and loudly proclaiming that this would not happen through the political language they used. The anti-refugee rhetoric, anti-Kurdish language, and the inability to take a clear stance on the issue of those affected by statutory decrees (KHK) indicated that the so-called opposition structure actually legitimized the regime as its main function. Indeed, thanks to the elections, Erdoğan proved to the world that ‘Turkish democracy is functioning’ (!). With a passivity that even I didn’t anticipate in my predictions, Kılıçdaroğlu and the Nation Alliance partners displayed a weakness of acceptance as if saying ‘the man won.’ Apart from the usual complaints made to the Supreme Electoral Council (YSK), there was no substantial statement, resistance, questioning, or standing firm. Yet, I had anticipated that they would challenge the election results altogether. They deceived me. They gave up on challenging Erdoğan without even putting up a fight. They didn’t even feel the need to camouflage their compliance with the regime’s agenda. Once again, the opposition to the regime became the lifeblood of the regime.

The expectation of democracy was postponed to another spring, that’s one thing. But secondly, it was a serious slap in the face to the so-called experts who didn’t ask the question of how democracy can emerge from a party that doesn’t even practice democracy within its own ranks. When Kılıçdaroğlu started to hesitate and adopted a stance of continuing as the party leader, this surprised them greatly. The fact that there was a similar course within the CHP due to not being able to put a mortgage on the will of the delegates was a serious disappointment for those who believed they would get rid of Erdoğan through democratic means, as I said. But the main issue was that even if there was intra-party democracy, a democratic and leftist team would not come to power within the CHP. Despite the fact that the CHP, fueled by nationalism, may be antipathetic and discouraging to some, this was the reality. Everything in Turkish politics was shaped along the Islam-Turkishness line. All parties had some mixture of it. The only party outside this group of Turkish parties, the HDP, had already been isolated and marginalized by all parties. Still, the Kurds made an effort to support Kılıçdaroğlu. However, as I mentioned, the situation was hopeless. Thus, the Kurdish political movement began to question the route of making the party more Turkish. Selahattin Demirtaş announced his decision to withdraw from active politics.

In essence, all these developments were benefiting Erdoğan. Erdoğan was like the conductor of the Turkish political scene, able to determine the events. Perhaps what the reis (leader) base liked most was this. The Turkish people love a winner. It doesn’t matter much to them whether the winner achieved it through tricks and scraps or through their rightful effort. Erdoğan knew this well. He understood the psychology of the opposing crowd. The formulation of ‘Me or the potatoes, you decide,’ I have to admit, was genius. The experts who insisted on not understanding that Turkey is not Norway probably now understand very well that the Turkish people are not noble either. Trust me, if Erdoğan had come out on television the night before the election and said that the December 17 tapes were real, he would have received the votes of about every other voter. In Turkish politics, the voting behavior of the electorate did not occur based on rational and objective arguments and analyses. The divided society supported the leader of their own clan. Erdoğan was the leader of the Islamist-Conservative neighborhood. And this neighborhood was numerous. The math was that simple.

Apart from internal and external vulnerabilities, there is no possibility of the regime collapsing. Inside, the favorite theory is the economy! I, like many others, read the situation of an economic collapse as the most serious internal weakness of the system. However, Erdoğan can turn this into a tool that serves his interests. On the outside, I see a possible Erdoğan who would gamble to create an external national cause as an excuse to find an excuse for the economy. If this happens, the external reaction could be harsh. And Turkey may not be able to sustain itself for a long time like Russia, Iran, or Venezuela. We will discuss these scenarios again in the upcoming articles. At this stage, I believe it is important to observe and continue the analysis.

I guess the plans of the exiled opposition members to come to Turkey this summer have fallen through.

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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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