Sule Kulu writes: “History shows that if nations cannot manage to win all together, they are destined to lose all together,” declared Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the first anniversary of his 2007 re-election. “We defend freedom, justice, democracy and welfare for everybody.”
Back then, he promised that his Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish initials, A.K.P., would embrace all sections of society regardless of political affiliation. He even thanked those who didn’t vote for him.
Five years later, Mr. Erdogan is facing growing criticism for disrespecting people’s lifestyles and interfering in their personal choices. His government has drafted and passed bills without public consultation. A law on restricting alcohol sales was passed on May 24 in Parliament via a last-minute amendment.
And then, two weeks later, again without public consultation, he began the demolition of a popular park as part of a controversial urban renewal plan for Taksim Square. The small-scale sit-in opposing the demolition morphed into mass nationwide public demonstrations after the police used excessive force against protesters.
How could a skilled politician as smart and experienced as Mr. Erdogan, who has been able to overcome a number of political crises in the past, including a threatened military coup in 2007, fail to see the bigger political picture?
In the past few days, Mr. Erdogan has claimed that those rallying against him were mobilized by the country’s opposition parties, especially the ultrasecular and ultranationalist bloc led by the Republican People’s Party (C.H.P.). He said the issue was not the park but a concerted political campaign against him by those who opposed his policies on partisan grounds. This was understandable given that his opponents have ignored the A.K.P.’s landmark achievements for the sake of partisanship in the past.
However, a quick look was enough to confirm that the opposition that took over Taksim last weekend was different. It was a largely nonpartisan movement made up of liberals, conservatives, independents and even likely A.K.P. voters. Their cause was later overshadowed by some violent groups, who dealt a serious blow to the public image of the protests through vandalism, looting and attacking women wearing head scarves. Yet the initial sit-in group, as well as those participating in the broader protests that followed, represented a broad cross section of society. [Continue reading…]