Sunday, 09 June 2013

What The Columnists Say

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The protests that started on May 31 in Istanbul after riot police attacked environmental activists, and which subsequently became a wider protest movement against what is deemed the authoritarian rule of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have been hailed by commentators who are critical of the Turkish government. These commentators note that the protests amount to a rebellion against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which they hold has governed – especially since the 2011 election – without showing due respect for the other half of the population that did not vote for it. However, several leading pro-AKP commentators have also joined the chorus of critics by expressing criticism against the way Erdoğan has reacted to the protests. They implore the prime minister to moderate his stance and show empathy for those who are protesting.

ÇANDAR: THE YOUTH OF ISTANBUL HAS SAID ONE MINUTE TO ERDOGAN

Cengiz Çandar in Hürriyet writes that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the great loser of the protests. The protests did not start because of a few trees. They are not even directed against the AKP. Their target is the prime minister personally. An urban youth that has had enough of being told what to do, of being admonished, despised and of the intrusions into their lifestyle poured out to the streets of Istanbul and said “one minute” to Erdoğan. This is simply what it is all about. The prime minister has for the first time during his decade-long rule tasted defeat, and what is more, he has done so in his own city. It is difficult to imagine that people will tolerate being ruled by Erdoğan for another ten years (as he plans to do as president) after he has demonstrated that the hubris that his decade in power has bred makes him unleash “pepper gas brutality” against society.

GÜRSEL: ERDOĞAN HAS REACHED THE LIMITS OF HIS POWER

Kadri Gürsel in Milliyet writes that the message to the all powerful government is that it has to get its act together. The message that has been delivered is that this country cannot be governed by insulting the other fifty percent, by pretending that they do not exist, and by making life difficult for them. The anger of the protesters is first of all directed against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and secondly against the brutality of the police. What needs to be recognized is this: this social explosion has demonstrated that the polarizing policies of Prime Minister Erdoğan, which so far have come at a no price, now have reached a dead end. The discriminatory, exclusionary policies and rhetoric that upheld a polarization between conservatives and seculars have helped the AKP to consolidate majority support. But after May 31, 2013, this accursed policy will come at a heavy prize. Even though keeping the polarization handed the government a majority, the country has now become ungovernable, and stability is endangered. Prime Minister Erdoğan has tasted the first defeat of his political career at the hand of this crowd. We can say that he has reached the limit of his power.

MAHÇUPYAN: THE AKP SHOULD WATCH OUT AND NOT BECOME VULNERABLE TO THE SECULARISTS WHO WANT TO BLOCK THE PATH OF DEMOCRATIZATION

Etyen Mahçupyan in Zaman finds it almost unbelievable that the government could think that it could act without taking into account the views of the population in a city like Istanbul; this shows that the executive is inflicted with a fundamental problem of adaptation, he writes. But this is only one side of the reality. This government is about to accomplish the most far reaching reforms of the history of the republic; and it is demonstrating the determination to normalize the regime and secure societal peace. It is scary to even imagine the costs of a reversal. Consequently, a much greater and more vital responsibility falls upon the AKP compared to any other previous government. It must act in such a politically wise way so as not to endanger the reform and peace processes. There is an apparent risk in taking too much comfort in the notion that you are the voice of the majority; it brings with it the risk that you act irresponsibly, with results that hurt that majority. A return to the old system of tutelage can only take place if people start to imagine that there is a possibility that the AKP government might be dealt a defeat in the elections, and if this perception encourages the formation of an anti-AKP societal coalition. Istanbul is going to be the crucial first stop (with the municipal elections next year) for those who aspire to block the path to democratization. The presence among the protesters in Gezi Park of people who walk around wrapped in the Turkish flag is not at all surprising. And it should not be thought that is only a coincidence that the protests have spread to cities where the secularists happen to be strong.

AKYOL: IT IS TIME THAT THE GOVERNMENT SHOWS MODERATION AND ENGAGES IN DIALOGUE WITH CIVIL SOCIETY

Mustafa Akyol in Star writes that the government must realize that it has to take this upwelling of anger deeply seriously; it is in its own interest and in the interest of the country, that it changes course and starts to show moderation. First of all, it is of utmost importance that those among the police that have used excessive violence are identified and punished, and steps must be taken that ensure that there is no repeat of what has happened. And the government must adopt a conciliatory attitude, engaging in a dialogue with civil society and the opposition on the matter of Taksim as well as on every other issue. In this respect, President Abdullah Gül, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç and Istanbul mayor Kadir Topbaş have all shown the way forward with their statements; Arınç emphasized that persuasion should have been chosen instead of pepper gas, and Topbaş stated that lessons have been learned. Now the prime minister, who is the target of the protests, urgently needs to make sure that the tensions are decreased. He must do it for the sake of his government, and for the sake of Turkey.

DAĞI: THIS IS A PROTEST AGAINST AUTHORITARIAN PATERNALISM

İhsan Dağı in Zaman writes that what has ignited the protests is an increasingly authoritarian government that has embarked on a social engineering project aiming to create a homogenized society. When the prime minister brandishes everyone who expresses a different opinion or who protests the government as “marginal”, what he really ought to question is how much he himself represents the “center”. With his rhetoric and policies, Erdoğan has in fact begun to move away from the center. What legitimized the AK Party originally was the fact that the party represented a reaction to the attempt (of the old state establishment) to discipline society and have it tow to one single opinion; is it right to now try to impose party discipline on the whole of society, on the media, on business circles? Let alone being right, is it at all feasible? 

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The Turkey Analyst is a publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Joint Center, designed to bring authoritative analysis and news on the rapidly developing domestic and foreign policy issues in Turkey. It includes topical analysis, as well as a summary of the Turkish media debate.

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