Tomorrow is Election Day in Turkey, where the Grand National Assembly’s 550 seats are up for grabs. Among the contenders are Ahmet Davutoglu’s Justice & Development Party (AKP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s Republican People’s Party (CHP), Devlet Bahceli’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and Selahattin Demirtas’s Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). If you’ve heard anything about Turkey in the last few years, you’re probably familiar with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his heavy-handed approach to dealing with the Gezi protesters. There’s really no point in wasting time on him, Davutoglu, or the conservative, religious, right-wing zeal of AKP. Rest assured they will still have the most seats in the General Assembly, and if they don’t conduct fraudulent elections (ballot booths are open to public scrutiny when it comes time to counting votes), are likely to lose a few seats to CHP and, if the party can manage to surpass the 10% threshold, HDP. That the HDP garner more than 10% of the votes is crucial; if they do, no party is poised to win an outright majority of 276 seats. (AKP currently sit at 311.)
Although there are things to be said about HDP and the party’s controversial Kurdish leader Demirtas, more should be said about the lumbering, supposedly left-leaning CHP, a party that has become a sluggish mockery of itself.
Something my colleagues and I constantly discuss is the laziness of our students: none are willing to do more than what is required of them, they do not read anything challenging (if they read at all), and they do not have intellectual pursuits. Yes, all of this is conjecture, and anecdotal at best, but this is more than the rantings of frustrated teachers. Ozyegin University is one of Turkey’s more elite schools, not on par with Bogazici or Sabanci, but still respectable. And in discussing the work ethic and general curiosity of the student body, instructors and professors from various departments all have the same gripes: students are lazy, inattentive, and have severely impoverished critical thinking skills. It should also be noted that one can count the number of conservative students at the university.
This is worrying. Turkey now has a generation of young, left-liberal secularists who are functionally illiterate, and they do not stand a chance as opposition to an authoritative figure like Erdogan. The problem is that these students are the political future of the country, yet they’re locked into binary thinking that limits their ability to analyze any issue. They blindly support CHP (or, in rare instances, MHP) and oppose anything AKP does, regardless of the values they themselves hold; they criticize Erdogan and the AKP for corruption (like the infamous shoebox scandal), though if you point out to them the decades or corruption within CHP, they dismiss it. They cynically criticize AKP for delivering coal and pasta to poor villagers in the east, or providing free meals to the public at Iftar in Ramadan, as mere pandering in order to get votes. Sure, you say, one effect of that is that they will receive more votes. But ask the students what CHP has done for the poor in the past, or how they plan to help them in the future and see the response. If you were a mother of four in a poverty-stricken province, why wouldn’t you vote for the party that provides you with something, even if it’s not sufficient to raise you out of your state? Why vote for an opposition party that might take away what little the ruling party offers? And their disdain of the poor stretches farther. Few, if any, will consider Demirtas as a candidate, because A) he’s Kurdish, and B) therefore a terrorist with the PKK. Even with the Kurdish issue, few sympathize at all with their plight, and they retain little historical knowledge about the conflict. And don’t even bother bringing up the Armenian genocide.
Further, because they’ve no interest in reading, and because they therefore have little skill in breaking down the meaning of a text, they can’t express themselves in writing and don’t do much better in speaking. I’m routinely shocked by how many students—and keep in mind these are fairly well-educated, usually upper-middle class students—cannot use a word processor. The reason I no longer discuss politics in the classroom is not fear of upsetting anyone, but because the students cannot articulate why they do or do not support the platforms of this or that party. This lack of critical thinking skills is probably what permits the confluence of conspiracy theories automatically accepted by large swaths of the population, the young included. All of my students correctly assume that the US is the most awesome military power the world has ever seen, but they go a step further and believe that the US is therefore all-powerful, manipulating world leaders like marionettes. (An interesting note: liberals believe Erdogan is a US-Israeli controlled dictator slowly instituting a theocracy, and conservatives believe the US and Israel act in concordance in order to depose Erdogan. As I’ve said to my students, “Both of you can’t be right, and neither of you are.”) Many also believe in the Illuminati, and are eager to offer YouTube videos as evidence of Katy Perry’s membership.*
So this is the base of the CHP. Add this to CHP’s static platforms and you have the perfect recipe for an impotent opposition. Their positions amount to little more than unachievable goals, the usual lip-service, and anti-whatever-AKP-does. They hold none of the progressive values that minor rival HDP hold in regards to women and LGBT rights. They oppose the strides AKP took to curb the Kurdish conflict, wishing instead to further the 35-year battle. During their tenure, they failed to construct the infrastructure that has been one of AKP’s great achievements. For decades they attempted to hold strong to Ataturk’s dedication to secularism, but instead curbed the education of young women by banning headscarves in universities. CHP is rooted in the past, desperately clinging to an outdated and ill-suited model of (il)liberal democracy that, after lengthy periods of their questionable management, has been co-opted by an ideologically dangerous political party. There are many conservatives in Turkey who see AKP’s meteoric rise as a way to get revenge on their liberal counterparts who for so long did, in their view, so much harm.
The left is the only hope for Turkey. If conservatives have their way, they undoubtedly will mold the country into an increasingly authoritarian, religious regime. But CHP, in its current form, cannot be the opposition that will assist Turks in moving the country forward in a way beneficial to all. They are too attached to one man’s doctrine for little reason other than ‘tradition,’ a tradition that started by trying to violently erase the past. What’s left then is a void which cannot be filled by Westernized consumption, strict adherence to Islam, or allegiance to a man whose policies near 100 years old. It needs an opposition party that recognizes and promotes equality, acknowledges the country’s history both before and after the foundation of the republic, and confesses the failings of all sides. Only then will things change.
* I bring up conspiracy theories because, as anyone who’s read this blog before must have noticed, I think they’re incredibly dangerous and damaging. Blaming the US or Israel for your country’s internal strife gives an excuse not to act and places blame that should be set on the self on uncontrollable, external entities.