Survival vs. Citizenship: Turkey’s Presidential elections

Consider this article not as a professional evaluation, but as a letter of a curious citizen who is in limbo, just like her country. By discussing rights and wrongs of political parties, or thesis such as the rise of political Islam, or failure of leftist tradition we could contribute to endless discussions going on social and mass media. Or better: we could take the shortcut and reach the conclusion about the “blindness of the AKP voters”. Instead, I will try to avoid them both, and take a route scarcely used: empathy.

10th of August 2014: turning point in Turkey’s political history.  Desperation, depression, victory, masses and a big illusion…

A vast majority of the voters chose to be “invisible” during the election and almost 40% of the electors didn’t perform their citizenship duty.  Before reaching any verdict about these 15 million, and the 21 million who voted for Erdoğan, what urged them not to have a say in such a vital turning point in Turkey’s history of democracy, is the questions I have been asking myself over and over. I can list two major factors:

– Lack of trust in the political system.

– The trap of modern slavery.

These public policies have also helped the government to raise informal funding opportunities through state apparatus. I will discuss here two of these policies that ‘fascinate’ me the most: unemployment insurance fund and urban transformation policy.

Unemployment insurance fund – indispensable for social states. Turkey’s blue collar and white collar workers struggling with unemployment and precarious conditions for years have gladly welcomed this fund (which actually was already established by mid-2000) that was successfully promoted by AKP government. Through the fund around 50 billion Euros were raised, which is enough for marketing purposes to increase credibility of the party in power. It worked out quite well in this regard.  While on the other hand, questions about how the funds have been managed were never allowed. The reality was, among 2.5 million unemployed only 271 thousand were able to use the fund. The punch line of this story is that the remaining amount, through different tools of the state apparatus, were transferred to the construction sector on whose shoulder AKP was raised. I will detail the role of the construction sector later. To sum up the management of unemployment insurance fund successfully polished the image of AKP government and raised great funding opportunities.

The idea of such a fund whether one has the chance to benefit or not creates the (illusory) feeling of security, which is the second indispensable need in the hierarchy of needs. It would be unfair to expect an average citizen, who tries to survive with a minimum wage – lower than the hunger limit – to question how the fund is managed by the government. Somebody, in this case the opposition, has had to deal with the allegations and reveal misuse if there is any.  And apparently they failed to raise enough awareness and discussions on the issue.

The second story: urban transformation policies as the second most visible public policy. Especially after the devastating effect of 1999 Marmara earthquake, the urban transformation policy entered Turkey’s literature. The idea of urban transformation is commercialized as an inevitable necessity by the government, and the urban space became wide open for immense modification. Reproduction of the urban space as a way out from the crisis of the financial sector has been justified with discourses of decriminalization of the cities, ensuring security and recreation of deformed centers, used by the statesmen and promoted through the hand of the media. The economic policy of 2000s has been managed not through planning in accordance with supply and demand, but through urban projects developed for increasing the unearned income of a certain class. In this regard, TOKI – Mass Housing Administration – has become the most prominent administrative body. The urban transformation policies promoted as ‘getting rid of the old for building new’ were of course applauded by the consumption society. The interesting point here is that, when cheering up, they were completely unaware of the fact that soon they would be exiled from their neighborhoods and forced to move to the ‘new’ city consciously disconnected from the social life. When what was going on was realized, and the victims (unfortunately only a small group) got organized against urban transformation, they were either threaten by government officials or too afraid to raise up. In the end, the majority agreed to move out and by paying some ‘extra’, they managed to buy new houses from TOKI. The houses built by TOKI were too costly which resulted in millions of citizens incurring costly debts that last from 10 to 40 years to pay together with the debit interests. It wouldn’t be wrong to sum this policy up as financial slavery.  In short, as we see in the management of the unemployment fund, another basic need, shelter, was successfully abused for the sake of the political agenda.

Consequently, the more poverty and unemployment increases, the more citizens get addicted to social aids and illusory policies. And the more the citizens get addicted, the more grow the chances of the party in power for winning the elections through illusory policies. With this in mind, my intention with a policy oriented evaluation is to provide you with some insight that enable us to find out  the underlying reasons why there are over 20 million people that voted for Erdoğan.

In addition to illusory policies, the reason why 20 million have voted for Erdoğan is the lack of a promising alternative in the political arena. Although the marginalised groups: LGBTI community, Alevis, Armenians, Kurdish, young people (the protagonists of the Gezi Protests), single women and other minorities, (at this point I define a group as minority not numerically but in accordance with the power they hold), the local victims (who were not politicized beforehand) of ecocide through hydroelectric power plants (HES), all have once more indicated the need for a fair alternative is rapidly growing. The fact that the parties that position themselves as left orientated have rough edges and they failed to convince around 15 million people to vote, played an important role in the victory of AKP. At this point, taking the increase of votes of HDP, Peoples’ Democratic Party, and the coalition led by CHP, the rights and wrongs of the political parties should be evaluated independently from each other.

Discussing the voters’ incentives is of high value for reaching a verdict about any elections. This is why I try to present you an alternative perspective through illusory public polices and lack of promising alternatives to help you with your verdict.  According to the hierarchy of needs, one has to cover its survival needs such as security and shelter to be able to question politics.

Nevertheless, whichever perspective we choose, it requires high intelligence to refuse that Turkey is turning into a hegemonic despotic regime.  If we insist on in this route, to expect a similar scenario we have seen in Egypt would be a fair guess.

Let’s hope Turkey will have a different ending, which will give birth to systematic, social and progressive thinking.

Written by Gizem Karsli, AEGEE-Ankara