Atatürk's Republic

Following Turkish News, Politics, Arts and Culture

A Turkish Liberal Democrat?

with one comment

A true liberal democrat is a rare species in Turkish politics but it appears that they do in fact exist.  Last week I attended a talk by a Turkish MP from Bursa Aykan Erdemir.  Erdermir is an interesting figure: a young Harvard PhD and former professor who was elected as  a CHP MP from the AKP dominated district of Bursa in 2011.  His talk, titled “Prospects for Pluralist Democracy in post-Gezi Turkey” painted a clear-eyed picture of the causes of the Gezi protests and real problems Turkey faces if it is to become a truly liberal democracy.

Erdemir identified a number causes that worked in conjunction to create popular uprisings in Turkey this summer.  He believes demographic changes that Turkey has been undergoing for the last several decades are central to growing political discontent.  The shift from large, extended families to small, nuclear ones has changed a formerly heavily patriarchal society into what he dubbed a “child-archal” society.  Erdemir believes that the patriarchal state is out of sync with the changing family dynamic; a dynamic which has resulted in an more individualist world-view amongst the younger generations.  He also mentioned the population shift from rural to urban areas, the growing export based economy and the increasing educational attainments of the average Turk as factors that have resulted in a significant societal shift.  Erdemir emphasized the ubiquitous of technology in Turkish society, specifically the use of smart phones, which has created greater access to larger world and competing ideological view points.

Erdemir quite rightly observed that this trend toward greater engagement with the world and intellectual pluralism cannot be “undone.” However, he identified a number of challenges facing those who wish to promote greater liberalness in Turkish society.  The Turkish State has few checks and balances and is becoming more efficient and competent and the bureaucracy is expanding.  This is bad news for groups such as the Gezi protesters as the government has more coercive power without any internal mechanism to check it.  Erdemir also discussed the phenomenon of the increasing conflation of the State and the ruling party in the minds of both those in power and the Turkish masses in general.  The ruling party has also engaged in what he termed “state capitalism” or “clientalism” but could also be given the cruder moniker of crony capitalism.  Erdemir also criticized the government for its censorship of the media and the increasing surveillance of citizens.  He did not criticize capitalism itself however and made a connection between market freedom and political freedom.

Erdemir did not shy away from another problem with a more personal connection: the lack of a credible opposition to the AKP.  He was optimistic about some of the changes his own party has undergone since Kemal Kilicdaroglu became chairman in 2010 but said that the party was only about halfway to where it needed to be.  Erdemir does not think that there will be a massive shift in favor of the CHP next election and believes that Turks would prefer the AKP with new leadership in place.  Clearly this is a reference to the more moderate Gul potentially replacing Erdogan as Turkey’s premier (either in the form of Prime Minister or a more empowered President).

From his district of Bursa, Erdemir has been able to observe what the more conservative elements of society think about the Gezi tumult.  Growing out of an Islamist past, the AKP has been criticized in recent years by numerous observers (including myself) for failing to remember the state oppression they fought against for so long and co-opting the same repressive measures of the previous, strictly secular governments.  Erdemir reported that at least some of the ordinary conservatives in his district were sensitive to the fact that the oppressed seemed to have become the oppressors.  He found that those ordinary Turkish conservatives were disillusioned to a certain extent by the events of this summer and expressed that this is not what they wanted from the AKP.

Erdemir emphasized multiple times that the CHP was a “social democratic” party but mentioned nary a word about the party’s “eternal chief“.  The CHP is officially a socialist party, in that it is part of the Socialist International association of political parties.  Interestingly,  Erdogan’s newest yes-man Yigit Bulut recently made headlines in Turkey for asserting that Erdogan is a “true socialist.”  This seemingly out of the blue comment could have been an awkward attempt at undermining the appeal of the CHP (though it was quickly dismissed by the official party spokesman).

In regards to the difficult regional problems Turkey is coping with, Erdemir criticized the “adventurous” foreign policy that the Turkish government has pursued over the last few years. As Assad himself recently warned, Erdemir believes Turkey’s funding of Syrian militants and the increasingly sectarian nature of the Syrian conflict could come back to haunt Turkey.  However, He also believes that Turkey can not be a democratic “island” in the sea of increasing chaos in the region and there needs to be a promotion of democracy in the region.  To quote: “You can’t be a democracy with Al-Qaida as your neighbor.”

From this talk as well as in his other media appearances and commentary in English, one can conclude that Erdemir is a rare true liberal in Turkish politics.  However, my Turkish is not good enough for me to fully analyze how he presents himself to a domestic audience.  I of course want to believe that there are real democrats in the Turkish government, but remain skeptical until I can get a good report on Erdemir’s rhetoric and reputation in Turkey.  If you are someone who is thus informed, please let me know about the “Turkish” Erdemir in the comments!

Advertisements

Written by ataturksrepublic

October 4, 2013 at 8:10 pm

One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. […] A Turkish Liberal Democrat? Claire Sadar; Atatürk’s Republic; Oct. 4th […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: