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Does “The Divide and Rule” Strategy Work in Every Condition?

Does “The Divide and Rule” Strategy Work in Every Condition?

An alliances period has begun in Turkey with a Constitutional Amendment and the transition to a presidential system.

Any prudent analysis at the time was stating that, in this political period, being a part of an(y) alliance would ultimately bring success. Some of the independent candidates won the elections with amazing results. Nevertheless, as a foregone conclusion, the parties that are out of alliances, like the DSP, have remained below the threshold.

Rather than going ahead with popular names, the Republican People’s Party nominated successful candidates from among its own grassroots in metropolitan cities such as Mustafa Bozbey, the mayor of Nilüfer/Bursa, with a Shining Star Award – the happiest city. Tunç Soyer from Seferihisar with Citta Slow. Ekrem İmamoğlu from Beylikdüzü with prosperous social projects. Taking a chance on prospective candidates instead of nominating popular names as is the norm, created suitable conditions for candidates to craft their own stories. This election was a key reminder for the Republican People’s Party in that, competence and merit should be the chief principles in determining the candidates. Because, voters in Turkey can recognize merit, justice, fairness, and support those candidates till the end. Furthermore, those concepts can sometimes destroy the strongest ideologies.

Regarding the ruling party, one of the basic tactics that emerged before the 2019 Local Elections was “the divide and rule strategy”. This srategy, extending to the ancient Persian Philip of Macedonia, refers to a strategy that breaks up existing power structures, and prevents smaller power groups from linking up, causing rivalries and fomenting discord among the people. Throughout history, such tactics have been suggested by political thinkers as one of the methods that will facilitate the work of the leaders. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant also identifies this influential dominance tactic:  Divide et impera. That is, if there are certain privileged persons in your nation who have chosen you as their chief (primus inter pares), set them at variance with one another and embroil them with the people. (On The Opposition Between Morality And Politics with Respect to Perpetual Peace)

During this election period, in some speeches we have come across to this familiar attitude: Differentiation. Ignoring. Rejection.  Marginalization. Scare people of the future. The opponent’s method was the opposite. Consolidating. Bundling all up. Embracing the others. Promising for a spring in the future.

The second general campaign method, preferred by those in power, is the natural need of human beings to cozy up to “a power -the stronger side” in state of danger. On this basis, the problem of survivability (beka) was commonly used in all speeches with the anticipation of rising stress and the consolidation of the conservative votes at the end of the day. This could have served the purpose if it had not been implemented by a ruling party that was worn out with current economic crisis, corruption of party apparatus news and widespread nepotism. But this perception of danger, on the contrary, pushed voters who are already overwhelmed with economic crises to seek a new breather. The tactics extending since the Ancient Greek has failed to satisfy unstable voters to go to the poll.

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We know that the commitment to the political party is similar to the commitment towards a soccer team. Connection to certain colors, like in a sports team, is an important factor in terms of voting behavior. Election campaigns are often carried out by advertisers thereof. In our country, it is a popular method to remind these colors and consolidate voters through certain concepts. As in the previous elections, the symbols used by the PR departments of political parties were designed to mobilize voters. However, the crucial point that is missing in these campaigns are “familiarizing and depersonalization”. People who have been subjected to the same sensory or emotional stimulant, no matter how violent, will not be affected as much as before after a while. In other words, in some cases, the density of the same slogans, figures and sounds in the media may have reduced impact on voters.

On the other hand, some researches show that the basic concept women care most about in their lives is “conscience” but for men it is “justice and honesty”. Accordingly, it seems that the main factor affecting female voters is “conscience” whereas “justice and honesty” are the basis of male votes. For this reason, Tayyip Erdoğan’s hoarse in his campaign speeches might be a humour element for part of the country but it is generally a reason to cry for female AK Party members in the rally squares. At this point, the campaign slogan, “municipal work by heart” was a weak and insufficient slogan for this election.

Election results also show that:

  • The perception of justice and honesty for the AK Party is shaken,
  • The concept of conscience is questioned along with the economic crisis,
  • Local people began to move away from fanatic voting behavior. This shows that hard lines are starting to wear off,
  • Voters seem to have responded to unifying, rather than parsing, messages.
  • The AK Party could not consolidate the votes of 770 thousand new voters with previous tactics.
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The power of the media should not be ignored while evaluating the election results. Well-established institutions such as Anatolian News Agency and TRT began to create suspicion and discomfort in public. On the contrary, candidates who are manipulated and marginalized in the media create sympathy. Injustice was a motive for protection against unfair practices and highlighted the concept of “conscience” in voting behavior regardless of gender. This is the case of Istanbul candidate, Ekrem İmamoğlu.  Similarly, it is probable that the frivolous laughter of Buket Aydın on CNN Turk against Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has convinced the resentful voters to vote for CHP. Similarly, Ülke TV has activated the disgruntled voters of İstanbul. In his TV show, Turgay Güler reminded us the controversial hadith that says “War is nothing more than deceit .”( Ebû Hüreyre) Maybe, he bases his perspective on this vision that struggles for the survival of political Islam.

To summarize, the main assumption of democratic elections is freedom. One aspect of freedom is to rule and to be ruled in turns. (Aristotle, Politics) In any democratic government, a defeat in the polls is as normal as carrying the elections. Emphasizing the “struggle for democracy” instead of “fighting” was one of the most favorable gains of 2019 mayoral elections. It is obvious that this country, which is living under constant stress and fear, preferred politicians who offer tranquility and peace. I hope we share the same inference for the next elections. Political parties are tools for the happiness of the people. The demands of the political parties should be in harmony with the demands of the public. It’s that simple.

So more understanding, more tolerance please.

A final reminder from Jimi Hendrix: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”

About The Author

Canan Ozturk

Canan Öztürk (1985) is a political philosophy writer graduated from METU. She got her master's degree with Ibn Khaldûn And John Locke: A Political Interpretation Of Society – A Road To Private Property. She worked for various NGOs and developed inspirational grant projects for human rights issues. Children, women, senior citizens and minorities are the main subjects of her work. Canan Öztürk currently owns a consultancy firm working on political communications, R&D projects and learning models.

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