2011 elections will be turning point for Turkey, says AK Party ideologue

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?DR?S GÜRSOY  ANKARA

 Yalç?n Akdo?an Yalç?n Akdo?an

He keeps handwritten notes during tours and official visits. During critical periods, the public learns from him. He is the person who introduced the concept of “conservative democracy,” which is how the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) identity is cast, to Turkey. He is one of the party’s main ideologues. He believes that conservatism can be transformed into a democratic format. This person is Prime Minister Tayyip Erdo?an’s head consultant as well as a professor of political science, Yalç?n Akdo?an. He took some time to speak with Sunday’s Zaman about the post-referendum period and the nation’s political path.
Akdo?an asserts that the coming 2011 general elections are set to be a turning point for Turkey from the perspective of democracy. He says: “All of the dark scenarios turn out to have been empty.
A new wave of democracy is starting in Turkey. When compared with the waves of democracy we experienced under Adnan Menderes and Turgut Özal, the things which have occurred and will yet occur with the AK Party have far surpassed a wave and have turned into an enormous tsunami. Changes that previously took decades to take place can now occur in just months. During this period, it is not only reforms that are being implemented, but all sorts of dirty scenarios, mechanisms of resistance, and dark chambers are being left out of the process.”
Was the 58 percent “yes” vote an accurate read of Turkey? What sort of policies is Erdo?an — who has the backing of 42 percent of the nation’s people — set now to follow? What are the keys to Turkey now in the wake of the Sept. 12 referendum? Here are some of the answers we got on everything from politics to relations with the prime minister from Erdo?an’s very own “black box,” Akdo?an:
Was the referendum outcome an accurate reading of Turkey? What is the real meaning of the 58 percent “yes” vote? Have the periods of guardianship really ended in this country?

We see that in the wake of the referendum, society has relaxed a bit and can now take a deep breath. The results were no surprise. Many people who were prepared to vote “no” even guessed that the result would be “yes.” So, for this reason, the expected outcome did occur, and there were no chasms or breaks that occurred in the process. The Turkish people really see this as a “continuation of stability.” Actually, many of the people who were saying ‘no’ for ideological reasons were not actually ignoring the risks of turbulence and breaks in stability had the ‘no’ vote on the referendum won. But in fact, these worries turned out to be empty, and there was a great relaxation among the public. And the much-criticized atmospheres of ‘polarization’ and “division,” and “separation” that we heard about in the first week turned out to have no echo in society.
These changes to the Constitution do not completely rid the nation of the guardianship mentality, but instead are a very important step towards creating the groundwork for changes which will. And it is essentially because of the democratic reforms carried out in preceding years which have managed to hinder this same mentality of guardianship that this referendum was carried through. This final change is, as the prime minister has put it, at the level of importance of being the key that actually opens the door. So now we can open the door, walk down this road and carry out the deep-rooted changes that this society so badly needs.
What do you think about the 42 percent vote? What do you believe the reasons are for the lack of success of the block of “no” votes led by the CHP and the MHP?

Turkish society in general is one which favors change and democratization. In this sense, the society actually stands in advance of politicians, in that politicians tends to get stuck on the past, which means they are unable to read the developments of society well. The fact that the proposed changes to the Constitution were based on themes such as “a response to the coup” and “advanced democracy” worked out to be a motivating factor for many different parts of society, pushing them to vote. This is because the Sept. 12 coup and other interventions like it opened wounds that society will never forget. The fact that the 1982 Constitution was accepted by a vast majority does not mean that the coup was a welcome event for society. And so the Turkish society has now broken this misperception, and has shouted out its ties to democracy in a loud voice for all to hear. The stance adopted by the Republican People’s Party [CHP] and the Nationalist Movement Party [MHP] was one which really stood in denial of themselves and the past. And since the new general leader of the CHP was unable to produce any real dialogue in regards to the proposed constitutional changes during all his campaigning, he turned instead to populism and cheap political polemic. As for the MHP, they emerged with talk that, really, no one believed — absolute fantasy scenarios. The Turkish society no longer listens to the whole “we are about to lose the nation” palaver. In any case, there were very different reasons underlying people’s motivations for voting “yes” and “no” on this referendum. The extreme politicization of the whole process pushed some voters to a more classic political position. And because the AK Party was able to break this, they increased the number of “yes” votes.
The prime minister made a speech in which he embraced both the “yes” and the “no” voters. What sort of talk and policies can we expect from here on in?

Being a leader means a responsibility to take all the factions of society into consideration, to pay attention to everyone’s various sensitivities and to embrace everyone. And the more polarized a society becomes, the more difficult it becomes to lead. The 42 percent “no” vote was important in order for the process to be normalized — because the work is really not done. The real heart of the process will occur in the coming period, with the changes to the Constitution on the agenda. If the AK Party did not embrace every faction of society after each election, it would not be able to keep on increasing its votes. The AK Party needs to think big, to not push people away in the glow of victory, but rather to embrace everyone with modesty and humility. The AK Party views the elections not as an end, but as a beginning. To do otherwise would be to become marginalized, or to accept some natural limits.
What lies on the roadmap for the nation in the wake of the Sept. 12 referendum, can you give us some clues?

There were some factions of society which made their calculations based on the prognosis of a “no” outcome on the Sept. 12 referendum. But all of those dark scenarios turned out to have been empty after all. A new wave of democracy is starting in Turkey. When compared with the waves of democracy we experienced under Adnan Menderes and Turgut Özal, the things which have occurred, and will yet occur, with the AK Party have far surpassed a wave, and have turned into an enormous tsunami. Changes which previously took decades to take place can now occur in just months. During this period, it is not only reforms that are being implemented, but all sorts of dirty scenarios, mechanisms of resistance, and dark chambers are being left out of the process. The upcoming general elections next June will be a historic turning point from the perspective of democracy in Turkey.
Will steps be taken towards finding solutions on the Kurdish problem? What sorts of moves may circles that don’t wish a solution to be found make? If the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) starts up a terror cycle again, might the whole process become blocked?

The Kurdish problem is a problem with the system. As the system democratizes and becomes normalized, these types of chronic problems will be solved. In finding a solution to the Kurdish problem, above all, there must be a change in mentality, as well as change to the paradigm. Without a change in mentality, without constructive reforms, without transforming the system itself, these types of political problems cannot be solved. The AK Party has begun this process by changing the mentality and the perspective from which all this is viewed. It is searching for the answers to a multi-dimensional problem with multi-dimensional solutions. It has removed the whole problem from the security mold into which it had been cast, and it has eliminated the mistakes that were being made over and over. Had democratic steps not been taken in the Kurdish situation, and had the people of the region not been embraced by the government, the general tableau before us today would be much different, much worse. The “yes” votes which emerged from this region can be read, in some ways, as a backing of efforts to find democratic solutions.
The government does not index its work on this front on the terror group. If it did, the initiative would slip into the hands of the other side. The democratic reforms will continue no matter what. Ensuring safety is the base condition. The people of the region, who have been stuck for so long between two different types of pressure and fear, are now the targets of the terror group’s one-sided threats and pressures, with the aim being to influence and guide these people. The terror group is trying to present itself as the only option in the region, by putting civil initiatives and alternative enterprises under pressure. And the government, with its brave attempts, is ruining this game. But the government’s determination to continue its democratic initiative despite the sabotage attempts by the terror group is being viewed positively by the people of the region.
What do you make of the policy changes within the CHP? Are different views starting to influence the traditional policies of this party on matters such as the Constitution, the headscarf and the Kurdish situation?

What is going on within the CHP is not a change in policies, but rather in tactics. To try and use the same actors and the same mentality to create a different image is neither very believable, nor will it have any sort of long-term effects. Their stances in real life scenarios will wind up revealing the real faces behind the masks. To wit, the prime minister said to the party’s leader, Kemal K?l?çdaro?lu, “Rather than talking about the headscarf in city and town squares, come let’s work with teams to find a solution to this matter.” But K?l?çdaro?lu immediately brought a bunch of other problems to the agenda, successfully diverting this call. Any real change in the CHP will only be possible if it embraces a more democratic view and leaves off its status quo stance. I do not think that the secular, nationalist factions that gather around the CHP are very pleased by these sorts of attempts by K?l?çdaro?lu. Perhaps because there is the thought that his populism could be raising the number of votes for the party, there may continue to be silence for some time on this front. But when it comes time for some concrete steps to be taken, it will be inevitable that there will be some cracks in the “status quo alliance.”
What do you think of Bahçeli’s call for early elections?

The MHP’s situation is truly tragic. … Nationalism has wound up distancing the MHP from its classic profile. And its latest moves have been nothing more than an attempt to reinstate itself in the position of spirituality. There is no party that benefits from a character that is irrational and reactionary and that rejects everything. These stances of aggression, which made unreal accusations against the other side, wind up doing nothing but making negative imprints on the national conscience and the hearts and minds everywhere. The mistaken sort of style and policies carried on by the MHP before the referendum are the same that we see now in the wake of the referendum. Those who do not wish to hear the message from the people of the nation, who refuse to learn lessons from the ballot boxes, are condemned to lose in elections. The MHP is well aware that it is losing its grasp, and is trying to throw itself towards the ballot boxes before it falls to an even worse point. But the only real place that this sort of political style will take is marginalization. Politicians who spread not worries and fear, but rather hope, are the ones who stay on their feet.
What are the basic reasons underlying the AK Party’s electoral successes?

The AK Party’s emergence from two general elections, two regional elections and two referendums as a victor is a success story in its own right. These long-lived successes are no coincidence, either. And this success cannot be explained by simply pointing to charismatic leadership and the conjunction of events at the time. The prime minister is a very important factor in the emergence of Turkey’s most powerful political party. A leader, his party and the policies are all important factors. K?l?çdaro?lu also worked hard for this past referendum, but he was not backed by a powerful party and — since he was not defending the correct policies — he didn’t pick up the voter support he needed. If you are walking down the wrong path, just working hard and having a strong group behind you, you will not get you to where you wish to go. Özal was also very successful, but he wasn’t able to get support for the referendum when he went to the people of the nation with some undemocratic demands. Erdo?an’s success lies in his ability to correctly translate the national sensitivities and to be able to open his embrace to include everyone.
What do you think about the post Erdo?an period? Will a Turkey that has carried out structural reforms and democratization need a charismatic leader again?

The prime minister is keeping Turkey’s principles alive. The elections are taking place when they should, institutions and rules are functioning as they should, while democracy and politics are becoming more institutionalized. Erdo?an declared with principle that he would be a candidate for three terms and that he would not try to make any changes to this. In the AK Party’s third term, this general institutionalization will settle in a bit more, the system will normalize a bit more. And then after, we will see what happens.
Is it true that you shadow the prime minister wherever he goes? How do you keep up with his fast pace of life? What sort of relationship do you have?

It is a great honor to be experiencing these historic days at the center of it all. It is an extra pleasure to be in the company of those writing history and to live out this history. One of the most important characteristics of great leaders is that they are able to motivate themselves and others on their own, and that they are not suppressed by outside factors. It is as though if the world were basically destroyed, and even if there were no one left, those great leaders would continue on their paths, resolute. Erdo?an sees service to humanity as sacred, and he acts on this presumption. And quite naturally, he is thus the recipient of many people’s prayers for success, and the national energy quite literally flows towards him. No doubt his team benefits from this.
Who is Yalç?n Akdo?an?

He is the prime minister’s head consultant and a professor of political science. Since January 2003, he has been advising the prime minister on political matters, and his particular area of responsibility is texts for the prime minister’s speeches. He was born in Üsküdar, though his family is originally from Trabzon. He graduated from the Anadolu University communications faculty written press department. He completed a master’s in communications at the same university and then did his doctorate at Marmara University’s political science faculty. He became a professor in 2007. He also completed an academic English program at England’s Leicester University. His break in journalism came when he began working at the Milliyet newspaper in 1987. His work has been published in many newspapers and magazines. In 1994 he was appointed to the Pendik Municipality’s Education-Culture and Human Relations Communications Directorate, and in 1996, he became the head consultant for the Prime Ministerial State Minister Press Consultancy. He is married and the father of two. He most recent books are “?nsan? Ya?at ki Devlet Ya?as?n-Demokratik Aç?l?m Sürecinde Ya?ananlar” (“Keep the People Alive So that the State Can Live: Experiences from the Democratic Initiative Process”)  (?ehir Publications) and “Tarihe Dü?ülen Notlar-17 Aral?k AB Zirvesinin Perde Arkas?” (“Notes from History: Behind the Curtains at the December 17 EU Summit”  (Alfa Publications).


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