Keep Calm, and the Opposition is Back
“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”
Rocky Balboa told his son in the Rocky VI movie.
Rocky Balboa is a 2006 film written-directed by and starring Sylvester Stallone as the underdog boxer Rocky Balboa as the sixth film in the Rocky series, which started with the 1976 film “Rocky” The series focused on the eponymous fictional character’s boxing career, Rocky Balboa. Rocky is one of the most important movie characters that exemplify a champion showing resilience, being tough and never backing up; basically someone who never gives up. The series highlighting the fact that everything you get in life must be earned through hard work, sacrifice, and determination, and free ride doesn’t exist.
Round 1: Shock
You may well say that understanding the path and experience of Turkish opposition is quite a challenge, but the movie and its connotations have been well suited to the path and story of Turkish opposition.
It all started in 1994…
By winning nationwide local elections and capturing control of Turkey’s two largest cities, Istanbul and Ankara, the Refah (Welfare) Party shocked the day’s secular establishment on a March 1994 morning. The shock had shaken the majority of the society, and a tremendous wave of fear had fallen over them. Islamist ideology’s unstoppable rise flares up fears of lifestyle change, losing the path to contemporary civilization, and, moreover, losing the achievements of Atatürk’s reforms among secularist sections of society. It wasn’t put into words yet, but the same thing was in the minds “is it counterrevolution’s first steps?” Another and probably academic dimension of the topic is the answer to this question, but the above-mentioned election victory was a starting point for the Islamist movement’s political domination, and the rise of a young politician, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, from Istanbul.
Round 2: Seismic Waves
The Welfare Party won the largest bloc in parliamentary elections a year later, in 1995, putting the entire country in charge of an Islamist-led coalition.
Turkey experienced a military memorandum (post-modern coup) at the meeting of the National Security Council on 28 February 1997; the generals submitted to the government their views on secularism and political Islam. Several decisions were taken by the National Security Council during this meeting, and Welfare Party Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan was forced to sign the decisions. The memorandum initiated the resignation of the Welfare Party’s Islamist Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan and the end of his government. His party was closed because it violated the constitutional court’s separation of religion and state clause, and he was banned from politics for 5 years, in 1998. The party’s parliamentary members and mayors had joined the successor Fazilet (Virtue) Party. After reading an Islamist poem in a meeting, Tayyip Erdoğan, the day’s mayor of Istanbul, was sentenced to prison and also banned from politics for 5 years. Despite being banned from politics, in 2001 he founded the Justice and Development Party (AKP).
General elections took place in Turkey on November 3, 2002, and it led to a major realignment of the Turkish political landscape, bringing the AKP to power. The AKP got 34.2 percent of the vote, winning 363 of the Turkish parliament’s 550 seats. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) was the only other party out of the eighteen parties running in the elections to win parliamentary representation, winning 19.4 percent of the vote and 178 seats.
In national elections (2007 and 2011), AKP easily won two additional terms, gained control of most municipalities in local elections (2004 and 2009), and supported two constitutional amendments validated by referendum in 2007 and 2010.
The constitutional amendments endorsed in a referendum on 12 September 2010, which gave both the legislative and executive branches considerably more power over judicial appointments and resulted in increased membership of the high judiciary and definitely increased control and hegemony of the Cemaat (Fetullah Gülen) in Turkey.
Also, the judicial proceedings against the Turkish military Ergenekon (2008–2013) and Sledgehammer (2010–2015) should be noted as a huge seismic wave that reduces the ability of the military to intervene in the political arena. In 2013; the officers, journalists, lawyers and academics were found guilty of plotting the downfall of the day’s Prime Minister Erdogan. With the Cemaat members’ tremendous infiltration into the judiciary, Turkey has witnessed forged documents, illegal surveillance and irrational accusations.
Round 3: On the ropes
Following the ruling party’s killer punch combinations, the urban development plan to restore an old Ottoman military barrack to be used as a shopping mall in Taksim Gezi Park Istanbul indicted a wave of demonstration of the opposition groups in May 2013. Consequently, protests and strikes were supported throughout Turkey, protesting a wide range of concerns such as freedom of the press, freedom of expression, assembly, and the government’s accouchement to the secularism of Turkey. The unrest was heavily suppressed and protestors were said to be criminals, provocateurs and traitors.
General elections in June 2015 cost the AKP 9% of its electoral support as well as its parliamentary absolute majority. It was seen as the first defeat of AKP and PM Erdoğan. AKP’s political dominance and Erdoğan’s plans for an executive presidency quickly shifted the discourse and tactics. The peace process ended and replaced with a security-based, national union narrative and hard-line measures to recover the right-wing vote. Turkey held elections in November 2015 after witnessing a bloody period around the country, and AKP succeeded in regaining its parliamentary majority.
Round 4: Below the belt
On July 15, 2016, the Cemaat fractions in Turkish military attempted a coup to overthrow the government and PM Erdoğan resulting in the deaths of more than 200 civilians and many wounded. It was a coup attempt; it was way below the belt. No more words needed. Period!
Round 5: No pain, no gain
In the aftermath of the attempted coup in 2016 the political narrative of Turkey completely changed. Turkey has witnessed the influence of the ruling party over a politized judiciary and a stranglehold on news media and political dissent over the past two and a half years. The Turkish Parliament also granted President Erdoğan extensive emergency powers. These factors enabled Erdoğan and the AKP to rule by decree, sideline political rivals, and implement sweeping changes to the Turkish state, constitution, and economy. In these circumstances, a constitutional referendum on approving 18 proposed amendments to the Turkish constitution was held on April 2017. The amendments were approved by 51% and a kind of presidential system replaced the existing parliamentary system. The results of the referendum, however, introduced the first sparks of opposition groups; on the coastline, the metropolitans (including Istanbul and Ankara) and the southeastern region rejected the new system and said ‘no.’
General and presidential elections were held on 24 June 2018 in accordance with the new constitutional amendments. The opposition groups gathered around CHP–Muharrem Ince, the candidate of the main opposition party. Although he raised the opposition groups ‘ hopes, his narrative and attitude could not embrace the whole society, and in the first round he was eliminated. In addition, his inability to manage the election aftermath caused the opposition electorate to feel deeply disappointed.
Round 6: Record the points for the opposition
Local elections on March 31 were the seventh election in five years with the burden of polarization, harsh statements, unjust feelings, expectations, barriers and fears. The Turkish opposition is definitely tired of adrenaline and injustice in the last 25 years due to swaying political feelings. But life on this part of the world is totally unpredictable, and after local elections the spark seen in the referendum turned into a small flame. Long story short, in local elections, the opposition alliance had a clear victory.
The decline of the ruling AKP was confirmed on the basis of these results, as was the dysfunction of the presidential system. After 25 years of steady rise, President Erdoğan and his popularity are declining despite the fact that he is still the most popular politician in the country. And the atmosphere of fear created by the rhetoric of “survival / state existence” or “terrorist / traitor” accusations is clearly not helping.
Despite total media control and dominance, unequal conditions, demonizing some opposition parties or groups, fear of existence; in major metropolitan centers the opposition succeeded. With the results of Istanbul still incomplete, six out of seven of Turkey’s largest cities were won by the opposition. In addition to the capital Ankara, Adana, Antalya and Mersin were the major cities that moved to the opposition. Adding Izmir, CHP’s stronghold, these cities (including Istanbul) together represent nearly 60 percent of Turkey’s population and more than 60 percent of its GDP. Istanbul produces more than one-third of Turkey’s GDP with its large population of over 15 million. However, the loss of municipality in Istanbul will definitely have major consequences in Turkey’s political landscape and psychological state.
Round 7: Accept and move forward
Almost a month time after elections, Turkey is still waiting for the rerun decision of Supreme Board of Election – from its totally shaken authority by the previous measures and decisions it has taken on this election. There are still uncertainties in Istanbul, however, the opposition has to accept the victory, take the trophy and move on. It is not the time to wallow in the agenda forced by the ruling party. It is obviously the perfect time for hard working for the mayors of opposition; they have to focus on local-level projects and solutions, no matter what obstacles the governing party will bring. And, the opposition parties have to get prepared for the next and crucial round – the next presidential elections. Despite the fact that major cities have shifted toward the opposition, the electoral divisions remain largely fixed with three main blocks–the coastal region, central Anatolia, and the Kurds. Perception of Kurdish issue, lifestyle choices, religious point of view are the main subjects to be handled. The opposition parties have to change the established system from top to bottom; pluralism, democracy and rule of law needed to be put forward. With available tools – Parliament, civil society, and alternative media channels – they urgently have to raise the awareness on democracy and learn to embrace entire society. The main goal is ‘rising above the level of contemporary civilizations’.
Therefore, it is time to keep calm, and as Rocky says:
“One step at a time. One punch at a time. One round at a time.”
Other highlights from past week
AKP evaluates election results
“Every election is an examination, a struggle and an opportunity for evaluation. We succeeded substantially in the local elections of March 31,” Erdoğan said on April 27 during the opening speech of the 28th Assessment and Consultation Camp of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in the Kızılcahamam district of Ankara.
“There are places that we have gained or lost like in this election like every election. Unfortunately, compared to 2014 local elections, we have lost three metropolitan, 12 provincial, 161 district and 89 municipalities. On the other hand, we have gained six provincial, 125 district and 89 municipalities. We took over many provincial and district municipalities in Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia in particular,” he added.
Erdoğan questioned Istanbul’s mayoral elections, adding: “All doubts must be removed in order for people to feel relieved.”
At the closing of the 28th Assessment and Consultation Camp of the ruling party in the Kızılcahamam district of Ankara, Erdoğan stated that economy and security would be prior subjects in the coming period and added “Our economy has been a target in the last 6 years. Also, the July 15 coup was a move to sabotage our economy.”
Erdoğan retold his criticism of the CHP and its leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, for their cooperation with the pro-Kurdish HDP in the elections, adding this cooperation resulted as the attack on Kılıçdaroğlu during the funeral of a fallen soldier on April 21 in Çubuk district of Ankara.
Kılıçdaroğlu attacked at soldier’s funeral
A crowd attacked Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the CHP (Republican People’s Party) in Çubuk, a suburb of Ankara. Kılıçdaroğlu attended a funeral ceremony of a Turkish soldier who had fallen during military operations on the border between Turkey and Iraq. Before attacking him, the group at the funeral sang slogans against the outlawed PKK, and camera footage showed the mobs trying to punch and kick the politician. At the scene, security personnel tried to shove the mob aside in order to clear a path to his car. As a result of the incident, Kılıçdaroğlu reportedly sustained no injuries and was taken to a safe place guarded by the police.
Prosecutors launched an inquiry into who was responsible for the attack. Nine suspects were detained by police in connection with the attack, but they were released either later.
CHP deputy parliamentary leaders described the attack as a premeditated effort to provoke the locals who attended the funeral to commit violence against Kılıçdaroğlu in a petition submitted to Parliament on April 23.
Answering a question as to whether after the attack he had phoned the main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, Erdoğan said that he had already commented on the incident and that he did not need to call Kılıçdaroğlu. Speaking of CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s attack, MHP Chairman Devlet Bahçeli said, “He should ask about where he’s going to go and how. You, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, what have you done to punch them in your face?
Written statement from former PM Davutoğlu
On April 22, 2019, former PM Ahmet Davutoğlu issued a written statement through his Facebook account. He criticized the poor outcome of local elections, and “The election results show that alliance politics has harmed our party, both in terms of voting levels and the identity of the party,” Davutoğlu added.
He, too, highlighted economic recession and pointed out “By denying its existence, we cannot manage the economic crisis at stake. The root of the economic crisis we are experiencing is a governance crisis. “He warned against the negative impact of policies driving investors away from Turkey. “Scaring global investors necessary to the development of the country is a dead-end,” he said, according to Reuters.
Former journalists of Cumhuriyet Daily sent back to prison
Six former journalists of Cumhuriyet Daily were imprisoned for serving the remainder of their sentences after failed counter-terrorism convictions appeals, two of their lawyers said.
A total of 14 Cumhuriyet employees were sentenced to prison terms of up to eight years and one month last April on charges of “helping and encouraging terror groups without being a member,” all of whom denied the charges. Eight have been sentenced to prison terms of less than five years. The other six, who have been sentenced to more than five years in jail, may still appeal the verdicts to the higher court according to Turkish legislation.