Expect more election rigging by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party or the AKP) and even totalitarianism with no checks and balances if it wins the June 7 elections, academic İhsan Yılmaz says.
According to Yılmaz, these abnormal checks and balances are the only elements that make AK Party leaders cautious about a “de jure one-party regime,” but it is increasingly becoming a majoritarian regime. He added that the March 30, 2014 local elections were rigged by the AK Party, but only in some critical constituencies as it was powerful in many other places.
“With the economy slowing down and unemployment -- the most decisive factor in the elections -- growing, the actual AKP votes might shrink to 40 percent. In this case, the AKP might resort to election rigging. Whistleblower Fuat Avni has also confirmed this analysis that we have been talking about for the past year. If that happens, the AKP will rule until the 2019 elections, and they are planning to add 8,500 judges and prosecutors to the existing 12,500. This means the judiciary will almost be under complete control. Well, that is a de facto one-party regime,” he said.
Yılmaz, who teaches at Fatih University and heads the international relations Ph.D. program, answered our questions on the issues.
You said in a recent interview that you wrote the book for pious Muslims. Does this refer to mostly AK Party supporters?
No, it refers to all practicing Muslims, including the volunteers of the Hizmet movement. I would be very pleased if the Hizmet grass roots read this book and learn from the mistakes of the Kemalists, Islamists and Kemalo-Islamists.
What is the most critical and important thing they would learn from your book?
The state is like our commanding soul or self -- nafs al-ammara. Without it, humans cannot exist as they are. They either become animals or angels with no human functions. Yet its essential necessity does not make our self a good thing. We have to control its lust, greed, hatred, animosity and cruelty with conscience, reason, intellect, heart, norms, rules and regulations. Similarly, as social contract theory suggests, humans need the state for their self-preservation, survival, protection, well-being and prosperity, but the state can easily turn into a Leviathan. The state by its very nature is a very powerful and potentially dangerous tool not only in the wrong hands but in all hands, including pious Muslims if there are no checks and balances, if it is not closely monitored or if it is not made accountable to the public by means of the separation of powers, a truly independent and just judiciary, the rule of law, international binding human rights standards, free media, real civil society, critical intellectuals, free speech, etc.
What are the similarities between Kemalism and Erdoğanism?
They are both authoritarian modern ideologies with a state-centric approach. They both believe that they have a monopoly over the truth and they know what is best for society. They both want to socially engineer society by using state power and ideological apparatuses of the state. Freedoms, human rights and liberties are always secondary compared to the state's well-being, authority and survival for both ideologies. They both want to control the media with stick and carrot methods. They threaten them with tax penalties and also entice them with incentives such as privileged public tenders. They both believe that the nation's interests are only represented by their own party. They both want to control Islam by using the Religious Affairs Directorate and ask the directorate to produce Friday sermon texts in line with their political agenda. The list goes on…
‘Erdoğan's best citizen typology is Homo Islamistus'
Can you describe Kemalism's "acceptable citizen" project?
The Kemalists had tried to build a homogenous secular Turkish nation. This homogenous nation would be composed of the best citizens. I coined the term Homo LASTus to encapsulate this best citizen typology, underlining the fact that the Kemalists saw only these best citizens as proper human beings who were entitled to benefit from human rights, bureaucratic positions and respect. The acronym LAST refers to Laicist, Atatürkist, Sunni Muslim and Turk. In order to be the best citizen, a person has to meet all these criteria at the same time. Thus, Kurds, socialists, leftists, Alevis, non-Muslims and also practicing Muslims were treated as second-class citizens and were not allowed to be ambassadors, military officers, judges or intelligence officers unless they assimilated their public identity into Homo LASTus or hid their identity.
What qualities do the citizens of the Erdoğan era need to have in order to be "acceptable citizens"?
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's best citizen typology is Homo Islamistus. He needs to be a practicing Muslim, preferably a graduate of an imam-hatip school. He has to see Islam as a political ideology, to espouse the AKP as the only party that is national and cannot be under the influence of the foreign dark powers that ostensibly wants to save the Muslim world.
In the book, you note that the post-Kemalist era started in 2011. Would you elaborate on this idea? Why was the year 2011 significant in this regard?
With the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases, the militarists lost prestige in the eyes of the people. And as a result, the main fear of the AKP, a military coup, evaporated. With the 2010 referendum, the structure of the Constitutional Court was changed, and the court that had repeatedly closed down Kurdist, socialist and Islamist parties is thus no longer in a position to easily close down political parties. Thus, the second major fear of the AKP disappeared.
In the 2011 elections, they received 50 percent of the vote despite the fact that it was their third term. The opposition performed terribly. The media came under control of the AKP via stick and carrot methods, and seeing that the AKP was here to stay, media moguls who had tax evasion problems or mining and energy businesses succumbed to the AKP's power after the 2011 elections. Thus, it seems that Erdoğan then started believing that it was high time to implement his Green Kemalism or Kemalo-Islamism or Erdoğanism.
‘God forbid a coup d'état'
So are you saying that Kemalism is back in a way -- with Islamic tones?
Yes. The structures and power relations that enabled the Kemalist authoritarian state are still intact to a great extent. The Kemalists resorted to military intervention only under most extreme situations and, in order to protect the dignity of the army, they employed a veiled authoritarian regime or a military tutelage system through the Homo LASTus National Security Council [MGK], the Homo LASTus Constitutional Court, the Homo LASTus judiciary, the Homo LASTus media, education, YÖK [the Higher Education Board], etc. The Green Kemalist AKP has been using all these, not with a secularist rhetoric but with an Islamist one.
Would it be correct to call Erdoğanism authoritarian? How would you best describe the regime of Erdoğan?
It is an authoritarian regime, and there are worrying signs that it might descend into totalitarianism. Currently -- and strangely -- three things serve as checks and balances: the economic crisis because of the lack of local and foreign investment and a lack of justice; an uprising by the people similar to the Gezi events; and a military intervention because of the Kurdish problem or due to the eradication of the opposition that may pave the way for street protests, clashes, etc. All of these are very dangerous for Turkey, and everyone will lose if any of these happen.
Is it still possible for the military to topple the AK Party regime -- and on what grounds?
God forbid. Democracy and the country would receive a fatal blow, and we could easily lose 20 years. This may also make Erdoğan a victim and a hero similar to Adnan Menderes [a former prime minister who was hanged by the military junta after the 1960 coup d'état]. The [Kurdistan Workers' Party] PKK problem or Gezi-type protests against the AKP's oppression may pave the way for street clashes and eventual military intervention. God forbid.
‘Opposition parties have to visit every single home'
Do you foresee a one-party regime as being likely in today's Turkey?
The three abnormal checks and balances are the only elements that make the AKP leaders cautious about a de jure one-party regime. But at the moment, it is increasingly and gradually becoming a majoritarian regime without proper checks and balances. The March 30 local elections were rigged by the AKP, but only in the critical constituencies, so it was not widespread as the AKP was still electorally powerful in many places. With the economy slowing down and unemployment -- the most decisive factor in the elections -- growing, the actual AKP votes might shrink to 40 percent. In this case, the AKP might resort to election rigging. Whistleblower Fuat Avni has also confirmed this analysis that we have been talking about for the past year. If that happens, the AKP will rule until the 2019 elections, and they are planning to add 8,500 judges and prosecutors to the existing 12,500. This means that the judiciary will almost be under complete control. Well, that is a de facto one-party regime.
What are your projections for the June elections?
If the opposition can find credible, well-known and trusted candidates and can prepare credible projects that outperform the AKP projects in economy, housing, health, education and especially social benefits and welfare payments in addition to a sincere pro-EU stance, the AKP votes might shrink to 40 percent, which means a coalition government and the end of authoritarianism. But 80 percent of the media is under AKP control. The opposition has to convince White Turkish media bosses such as Şahenk, Ciner, Demirören and Doğuş to be brave and objective.
Secondly, the opposition parties have to work very hard and similar to the Welfare Party [RP] of the 1990s, visit every single home in the country. Thirdly, but most importantly, they have to be very vigilant about the sophisticated election rigging methods of the AKP that Avni wrote about. Am I hopeful about these three? No, I am not.
‘A state is Islamic if human rights are freely and equally enjoyed by all'
A good part of your book is focused on how the Hizmet movement views religion-state-civil society relations. And in the text, you used the term “Türkiyeli” -- which means “the people of Turkey” similar to the use of American or British -- instead of “Türk.” Does this choice represent the approach of Gülen's supporters?
Yes. Gülen himself is now using “Türkiye insani” which means humans, the people of Turkey.
Will the Hizmet media use the term?
I think they will eventually get used to it. I used it a few days ago on primetime on one of the Hizmet TV programs and have received no objections from the TV or viewers.
You said in the book that Hizmet's approach to the relations of religion-politics-civil society is quite different than the Kemalist, Islamist and Kemalo-Islamist approaches because “it is in harmony with universal values.” Can you elaborate on this?
As the AKP experience has decisively shown, it does not matter if pious, practicing Muslims come to power. The unchecked absolute power of the state will eventually make them corrupt as well. As far as I can observe, generally speaking, in Hizmet's view, a state is Islamic if human rights are freely and equally enjoyed by all humans in the country, regardless of their religion, ethnicity, color, ideology, culture or lifestyle. The state is not Islamic if it tries to create the best citizens with a top-down imposition, even if it is trying to create a good Muslim citizen. The evil state must have checks and balances via the separation of powers, the rule of law, a free media, civil society, international law and a public sphere. An Islamic state does not propagate or impose Islam but allows all views, religions, interpretations, etc., to be freely expressed and practiced in the public sphere. An Islamic state does not side only with Muslims but always with human rights, equality, plurality, justice and the rule of law.
You also said that Hizmet adherents did not realize until Dec. 17 that there are lessons to be learned about what comprises good governance -- it is not important how religious it is, but how much justice it enforces. Does this refer to self-criticism within Hizmet?
Yes, definitely. The intellectuals, journalists, academics and social activists in the movement in particular have been self-critically talking about these issues for the last three or four years. It has only increased since Dec. 17.
‘Hizmet engages in self-criticism'
In the book, you often refer to the Gezi protests and are critical of the government's crackdown on the protesters. During the protests, Hizmet's media organs were not really supportive of it. Do you think this was wrong?
It was definitely wrong. I and my wife, who wears a headscarf, participated in the events, and I was proudly pepper sprayed. There were several other movement volunteers, too. [Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah] Gülen spoke supportively of the Gezi protesters but the Hizmet media, with the exception of Today's Zaman and a few columnists, was more cautious about the Gezi events. To their credit Today's Zaman and a few columnists were critical of Erdoğan's stance during the Gezi protests too and the Hizmet media were not supportive of Erdoğan. I know that the rest of the Hizmet media is now engaged in self-criticism.
Is this self-criticism conducted only within Hizmet circles, or is it in front of the public as well?
Naturally it starts from within Hizmet circles, and some volunteers then voice it in the public sphere. It does not matter how many people say it publicly. What is important is that they do not receive negative feedback or a harsh reaction from the other Hizmet volunteers. I have been doing this for more than a year publicly and so far not a single Hizmet person has told me that it is wrong to criticize the Hizmet movement or voice self-criticism.
You also said that adherents of Gülen face difficulties in adopting Gülen's approach to issues regarding women. Would you tell us what ideas Gülen has on the issue and what difficulties his supporters have in this regard?
Gülen is against patriarchy, sexism and gender discrimination. He wants to see women in leadership roles, in management positions. He believes that in this age a woman can be both a good mother and a professional. As a matter of fact, there are now thousands of such Hizmet volunteers, thanks to Gülen's approach and thanks to schools for girls opened by the Hizmet movement. Yet, old habits die hard and a patriarchal culture still exists in Turkey and the Hizmet volunteers are part of this culture. However, this negative aspect of the patriarchal culture is progressively disappearing among the Hizmet volunteers. This is a long-term process.
Profile: İhsan Yilmaz is Associate Professor of Political Science at Fatih University, Istanbul, Turkey where he is also the Director of the PhD Programme in Political Science and International Relations at the university’s Institute of Social Sciences. He received his BA in Political Science and International Relations from the Bosporus University in 1994 and completed his PhD at the Faculty of Law and Social Sciences, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London in 1999. He then worked at the University of Oxford as a Fellow between 1999 and 2001 and taught Turkish government and politics, legal sociology, comparative law and Islamic law at SOAS, University of London between 2001 and 2008. He was the Deputy Chair of the Centre for Ethnic Minority Studies at SOAS (2003-2008) and the Director of the London Centre for Social Studies (2003-2008).
Published on Today's Zaman, 21 February 2015, Saturday