The CHP and the "Democratic Opening": Reactions to AK Party's Electoral Hegemony

Article excerpt

In her article on what has come to be known as "the democratic opening initiative", Umit Cizre correctly suggested that "All Turkish governments have been historically presented with hard choices in launching democratization strategies; such attempts always risk shattering the existing balance of power which favors the political role of the military as the leading force of an establishment that may react to democratic reforms". (1) Of course, the risk of "shattering the existing balance of power" in favor of the state-centric establishment increases immensely, and becomes more apparent and visible, if what is at stake is the Kurdish question which has been, without any doubt, the most troublesome problem in Turkey, involving simultaneously both a "politics of identity" demanding the recognition of the cultural rights and freedoms of the Kurds, and a "violent act of ethnic assertiveness" causing the deaths of more than 40,000 people. Moreover, the Kurdish question has not only been the most troublesome problem in Turkey. It has also operated as a "constitutive of the recent transformation" of Turkish modernity and politics, as it has generated significant impacts on the state-government relations by shifting the existing balance of power in politics in favor of the military and judiciary over elected governments, politically in the political debates in the parliament as well as discursively as security concerns are prioritized over democracy. It is in this sense that the Kurdish question has also become the obstacle to the consolidation and deepening of Turkish democracy.

In 2009, the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, AK Party) government initiated a number of democratic opening initiatives to tackle the Kurdish question, the Alevi question, the Roma question, and the minorities question. According to the AK Party government, the aim of the initiatives was to strengthen the social unity and cohesion of Turkey through democratic deliberation. Of course, among these initiatives, the one concerning the Kurdish question is the most difficult to achieve, insofar as it would require the following: a) a significant shift from the military solution based on the primary role and status of the security measures to a political solution through democratic deliberation; b) a suitable international environment involving strong and clear political and strategic support from key global actors, such as the United States, the EU, and Russia; c) growing domestic support from other political parties for the initiatives; and d) growing public support and popular consent coming from society.

The AK Party government has calculated that there was in fact a suitable international environment for the minimization of the violent ethnic assertiveness dimension of the Kurdish question, thereby creating a suitable environment to take of a number of significant political and constitutional steps forward to solve the question democratically. Backed by a permissive international environment, including strong support from global actors, the AK Party government assumed that it would gain public support and popular consent simply because the democratic opening initiative, designed to solve the Kurdish question, would simply mean the end of the unacceptable human misery caused by the decades-old low-intensity war between the Turkish military forces and the PKK terror organization that has been going on since the 1990s. This assumption has also involved an expectation by the government that the successful implementation of the initiative, with an increase in international and societal support, would force the opposition parties to back, or at least to agree to participate in, the process of democratic deliberation, which would, in turn, give rise to the impression that the government and the opposition have reached a consensus over the democratic opening initiative.

Yet, such a consensus, which is in fact the key to conflict resolution especially in the cases where a conflict involves violence, was not achieved. …