Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The poverty of opposition -- and the media

The result of the referendum was not only a victory for those who voted “yes” to democratization or for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) leadership, but also for an elderly gentleman whose name has strongly been linked with an endless pursuit for European-style social democracy in Turkey.
Tarhan Erdem, a gray-haired, soft-spoken analyst and pollster, is the owner of the renowned institution called KONDA. Erdem is a regular columnist at the Radikal daily, which is affiliated with the Doğan Media Group.
The newspaper often cooperated with KONDA, publishing its nationwide surveys on politics and other issues. It even included election predictions in past years. Because of its good reputation, KONDA’s findings have always drawn widespread attention, and had an impact on the debate.

However, the last survey, which preceded the referendum, became the subject of a scandal. Despite information that spread to various news outlets that the analysis would be published in Radikal three days before Sunday’s vote, it was fully censored (possibly by the management). Observers had access to the survey thanks to KONDA’s website, and rival Taraf published it a day later. In a nutshell, the survey predicted “yes” votes would win and come in at 56.8 percent.

This was yet another example of “freedom of the press” by one of its so-called “promoters” (Doğan Media). Indeed, just as the post-referendum days have also proven, the major loser of the vote was probably the “mainstream” media, which again failed to understand and analyze society, its trends and its pulse -- all in the hope of manipulating the “wind of change” against the AKP. It has once more become obvious that the media, resisting the push for democratization, is tumbling down into professional misery. Large segments of it, harshly under the control of owners hostile to the government, are visible as stumbling blocks against rather than channels for normalization.

These days the same media continue to be uncritical of the “new” Republican People’s Party (CHP), the main opposition guided by Kemalism, and have become instrumental in vocalizing the excuses and pretexts for what went wrong. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the party’s leader, seems to have decided to act like a teflon politician, expressing satisfaction over the result, and declaring the defeat a success. His supporters in opinion columns refrain from asking for accountability, and the pattern is again the same as with the defeats of the past decade: proceeding with minimal self-criticism, with the same “reactionary” policies that are based on a harsh rhetoric of accusations.

What went wrong with the opposition? The naked truth tells a simple story: The CHP has declared its ideological poverty, and a high degree of political myopia. The failure became most visible in its choice of refusing to cooperate in the preparation of the reform package (in terms of helping with adjustments, etc.) as well as abstaining from all parliamentary voting on the amendment package; and, finally, foolishly turning the referendum into a vote of confidence for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his party. This had its own traps.

Kılıçdaroğlu copy-pasted Bülent Ecevit’s persona of the 1970s, “touching” the people, but failing to convince them with his messages on the economy and, to a larger degree, why the republic was under siege by huge threats. At the end of the day, the CHP looked the same as under Deniz Baykal: a party in the chains of a dogmatic Kemalism, unable to be creative, other than in campaigning for “say no to Erdoğan!” The masses, and in particular the target group of the “oppressed and the poor,” did not buy it.

The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) was simply erratic from the very beginning. Sticking obstinately to a “no” vote, its leader, Devlet Bahçeli, simply managed to alienate devoted voters deep in Anatolia, voters whose memories of the brutal military coup are still fresh.

The result is a huge disappointment for the opposition. Thanks to the robotic, reflexive, “no-substance” type politics, the opposition is now responsible for helping Erdoğan test his popularity, and his party’s declared direction for reform.

Two-thirds of the voters are for democratic change. A detailed analysis of even many of the coastline provinces in west and south of the country tell us that there is only a slight gap between the “yes” and “no” votes. This may point to a delicate balance of opinion, rather than division, on the transformation. The well-being of the economy helps increase the endorsement of reform even there.

Arguably, there is no point in dwelling too much on “what about the 42 percent who said no?” question. Enough will do, and the answer should be sought in this: Yes, there are fears, suspicion and hostility towards the AKP and its leader, but these sentiments and perceptions will never be managed well unless they are channeled rationally through radically revised policies within the CHP.

The crucial question, then, is whether the party will “wake up to the reality of Turkey 2010,” read the social change without the filters of Kemalism, open itself up to the social democratic values of Europe, revive the connections with the academia and youth, distance itself from militarism, stop denying the rights of ethnicity and belief and meet the people with an agenda which will be aimed at challenging the AKP on the content, speed and volume of democratization and prosperity. This is the only way to avoid the trap of spreading the lie that “Turkey is moving into darkness.” The CHP was responsible for the wrongs of yesterday, as it is for the wrongs of today and tomorrow. Turkey needs a smart and modern opposition.

No comments: