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Turkey

Turkey's Local Elections Test The Very Limits Of Democracy

With no other elections set for the coming years and the AKP party's increasing use of bully tactics, Turkey's local poll is a last chance to send a true political message.

Poster of Turkey's President Erdogan in Istanbul
Poster of Turkey's President Erdogan in Istanbul
Deniz Yıldırım

-OpEd-

ISTANBUL — The March 31 municipal elections are the last time voters in Turkey will go to the polls for the next four years — making these elections far more relevant than others for increasingly less important local governments. This vote is an opportunity to send a message to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) about their policy of anti-politics and their attempt to portray themselves as the only legitimate source of politics. Should there be politics in Turkey outside of the AKP? This is what we will vote for in the short term.

Just look at the government's political strategy for the elections: a war of words based on slander, lies, baseless accusations and insults. Where does this lead? People end up distancing themselves from politics, they become less eager to follow what is going on — what can also be called anti-politics. It is not just the opposition voters who are tired of listening to the same broken record; fatigue affects also those who support the ruling party. Just look at the decline in the ratings and circulation of pro-government media or at the ratings of president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's TV appearances. The gap between the government's agenda and people's actual problems keeps growing.

The government is polarizing people for the elections, true. But this goes beyond the election period. The ultimate goal is to alienate people from politics, to make them avoid politics completely.

This is done by portraying members of the opposition as enemies of the country or maybe just as "terrorists." Sometimes, threatening the leading mayoral candidate in Ankara that he would be impeached even if he won is the way. Another move is threatening an opposition leader with prison. The president would even target famous journalists for this cause, as he did with anchorman Fatih Portakal by saying: "If you do not know your place, this nation will hit you in the back of your neck."

Such a move towards anti-politics is a warning sign on the path to dictatorship.

Why would a government want to do this? Because the one-man rule it has established where Erdoğan decides everything about the country will seem natural as the people alienate themselves from politics more and more. The new status quo will not be questioned. People distancing themselves from politics and one person monopolizing the show complete each other. They know that.

At the same time, people's real problems will not be discussed, alternative policies will not be created. Turkey is diving head first into an economic crisis. Unemployment has risen and now affects 4.3 million people, according to recent statistics. The economy is shrinking. Social inequality is deepening.

Also, threats and fearmongering will become the official way for politics. Can a country ruled like this be called a democracy? Such a move towards anti-politics is a warning sign on the path to dictatorship. This is nothing like the western democracies' issue of political apathy.

The problem does not end with the ruling administration. If you talk to young people, they say the parties they vote for are not involved in their lives. They do not see room for themselves in politics. They are correct. Opposition parties are trying to imitate the AKP in terms of rhetoric, programs and cadres and this is another factor that diminishes variety and the quality of political discussion. Opposition policies and politicians are old. Their cadres do not change, being one with the status quo. This is not good, either.

Our main problem is political rivalry being transformed into animosity to the point that being in the opposition becomes a crime. The idea that the government will not give up power even if they lost the elections is becoming common knowledge within society. In this environment, if you wonder what the biggest threat Turkey is facing, my answer is anti-politics.

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