If you are living in Turkey, you haven’t been seeing much else on TV for the last two weeks other than the propaganda rallies of the main parties. As you are reading this, we Turks will only be one day away from the local elections. This one, unlike many others, is a turning point for the Turkish political scene.
We need to remember these are local elections; Turkish people will be electing their municipal authorities. Therefore, there are differences between the motives of the voters in general elections versus local elections.
In the last local elections, the AK Party (Justice and Development Party) got only 38% of the votes but this didn’t prevent them from getting over 50% in the general elections. In the local elections, many people tend to vote for the candidate they know personally, regardless of that candidate’s party affiliation.
How do people vote?
People vote for a party for many reasons. The majority of the voting public in democracies tends follow an ideology and votes for the party which best represents it. In Turkey, the right has a majority of the votes for three main reasons. One reason is the general lack of left -wing thinking and ideological grounds and another reason is a perception of nationalistic values.
These votes are divided into four political parties on the right. Being a center right party, the AK Party takes the largest slice from this cake. The MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) follows the AK Party on the right with a consistent voter base of around 10% in every election.
The difference of the MHP from the other parties lies in the institutionalization of its ideology at every level, starting with their youth clubs and youth training centers. Offering a lifetime loyalty to the party, the MHP's voter base strongly opposes a Kurdish autonomous region in Turkey, therefore, the MHP needs to stay among the main opposition as a sort of nationalist cement.
Another motive for people to vote for a party, especially in Turkey, is the perception of religion and morality. Turkey harbors many groups of Muslim Jamaats (congregations). These jamaats have a considerable voter base, not only because of their members but also because of the relatively close circle of these members.
The AK Party so far represented a warm attitude towards these jamaats and has been supported by them. The primary opposition left party, the CHP (Republican People's Party), is not popular among the jamaats, not because of the current party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, but because of the CHP's previous politics.
How important is the economy?
The economy is undoubtedly a very important motive for people to cast their votes for a party and certainly, the AK Party has passed this test with flying colors. In terms of industrial development, Turkey advanced tremendously in the era of the three term AK Party government.
Turkey now has a university in every city, 22 airports, 18,000 square km of double highways and the first domestically produced Turkish military helicopters, tanks, warships and drones.
Turkey has paid off its 23.5 billion dollar debt to the IMF and is in a position to offer loans to that institution. It has also started paying fees for infirm patients and distributed free books and 75,000 free tablet computers to students. Unemployment is under 10% despite the recent influx of refugees. These services matter to the public. Many non-affiliated voters decide the ruling party according to the services that party has provided.
Some steps such as shutting down Twitter or YouTube might have negative effects on these non-affiliated but in practice, it is important to see the streets clean, public services being delivered efficiently and salaries being paid regularly. Especially in the last two general elections, we have seen many people from the strictly secular crowd voted for the AK Party because of these services.
Certainly when I talk about the services of the AK Party, the corruption scandal and various tapes of government officials come to mind. In democracies, such incidents are not hard to find and usually have a huge effect on society. However, this was not the case in Turkey.
We can see Turkey is approaching a crossroad and a very crucial time in its history. A more stable Turkey will not only serve its own people but will contribute greatly to a more peaceful Middle East.Ceylan Ozbudak
The Turkish people, matured by military coups and interventions, have developed a tradition of protecting democratic governance no matter what. Therefore, attacking a legitimate government through illegitimate means was not welcomed by the public. No one wanted to get used to the idea of toppling a government through illicit surveillance tapes, as this would mean showing no respect for the ballot box.
What do the alternatives have to offer?
Another motive for the voters is weighing the options of alternatives. What can the alternatives give to the country? There is no doubt that the governing party has made many mistakes.
But when we look at how the opposition parties have made use of these opportunities, the result is not satisfying or edifying whatsoever as the Turkish people have not seen the main opposition parties explaining in any real detail how to further progress economically, how to better serve to the public or how to advance a more rewarding foreign policy.
Instead, we witnessed a strategy based entirely on criticizing the actions of the ruling party. This may work for the media to find good material to speculate on or give the analysts more grist for the mill, but few people will be positively affected by this when they go to the polling stations. If that were the case, we would have seen the CHP emerging victorious in elections without a coalition at least once since the 1950s.
Despite having a cadre of high quality people, the CHP developed a tradition of opposition, which is barren in terms of problem solving in the real world. It is not enough to merely say you stand opposed to what the government is doing without putting forward some concrete proposals of your own.
On the other hand, we will probably see the coastal towns of Turkey and Eskişehir voting for the CHP; not for the candidates per se, but for the party. In the coastal towns, the concerns are different. Izmir (run by the CHP) lost Expo 2020 to Dubai merely because of the lack of municipal services.
But an ordinary inhabitant of this city is far more concerned with whether or not a right- wing party would impose a certain moral code to this beach-dwelling but Muslim society. If the center -right parties manage to express they will not be trying to impose any kind of moral code to people in these towns, they can collect non-affiliated votes.
However, if the center- right in Turkey wants a more stable nation-wide base, they need to put aside an orthodox interpretation of Islam. If the center -right as a whole can make a transition to a much more tolerant interpretation of Islam, like during the times of the Prophet Mohammad, they would be insurmountable.
The lower echelons in the right- wing cadres might have a tendency to segregate those citizens adopting a modern life style. This is a natural fear in the hearts of many Western- oriented Turkish people. The best way to remove this fear is for the Turkish right to adopt a totally open-minded Islamic thinking, which approaches every single idea with the same respect.
Adnan Oktar has also been calling on the center -right to adopt a much more free and loving outlook in his TV programs. The author called on right -wing voters to gather around one party and not disperse the votes.
As Etyen Mahcupyan also stated in his column, “no matter what our aspirations are, politics are based on a foundation of reality, and depend on real performance.” In a largely center-right country like Turkey, the AK Party has done more right than wrong. Whatever the results, it will be the voice of the Turkish people speaking, through free and fair elections.
We can see Turkey is approaching a crossroad and a very crucial time in its history. A more stable Turkey will not only serve its own people but will contribute greatly to a more peaceful Middle East.
Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak