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Turkey Voting Out Founding Ideology

Turkey: Voting Out Founding Ideology

The Turkish people not only elected Erdogan, but they also voted against the founding ideology of the Republic.

As widely expected, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan emerged victorious in the first round of Turkey's presidential elections with about 52 percent of the votes. This is his ninth consecutive election victory (3 general and 3 local elections, plus 2 referendums and the recent presidential elections) - a record that is hard to beat by any politician in any democracy. The joint candidate of the main opposition parties, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, received around 38 percent of the vote, whereas the pro-Kurdish and left-leaning candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, took slightly less than 10 percent.


In his victory speech, Erdogan struck a conciliatory tone and adopted inclusive language. He called on the opposition and different sections of society to leave behind the old rifts and to embark on establishing a new Turkey.

While spelling out the names of groups making up the socio-cultural and ethnic composition of Turkey, he did not only refer to the Muslim sections of society, such as the Turks, Kurds, Circassians and others, but he also included non-Muslim sections of society as well: Armenians and Greeks, in particular.

Referring to the primary foundation of Turkey's identity, he spoke of the concept of Turkiyelilik in place of the official and constitutional concept of Turkishness (the constitution defines all citizens of Turkey as Turks).

The term Turkiyelilik stands for a more civic conception of citizenship in place of the previous ethno-centric understanding of Turkey's citizenship and identity. This term facilitates moving away from ethnic and sectarian cleavages in Turkey.

The state's favouring of certain ethnicities and sects over others has been the root cause of many of Turkey's woes. Moreover, such a redefinition of Turkey's citizens is likely to contribute to Turkey's ongoing Kurdish peace process, as the state's previous policy of Turkification - strictly enforced, but utterly failed in the case of Kurds - provoked the rise of Kurdish nationalism which later manifested itself in the armed action of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Erdogan also adopted a conciliatory rhetoric on Turkey's social and political faultlines that have emerged recently around difference in lifestyle. Erdogan said he will remain respectful of citizens' different lifestyles from the presidential office as well. The debate over lifestyle essentially accounts for the tension between Turkey's conservative and secular sections of society. All these conciliatory words illustrated that Erdogan is warming up to his role as the president, a position that will require him to be even-handed towards all citizen of Turkey.

Putting this aside, this election outcome essentially illustrated first, that the majority of Turkey's population demand the revision of Turkey's founding ideology (Kemalism); and second, that genuine politics is the only game in town for any party that strives for political success or popular support.


Election results indicate that both Erdogan and Demirtas earned more votes compared to previous elections, hence both can count this election as a victory.

Moreover, unlike Ihsanoglu, they both are political figures and represent two social bases that had been marginalised by the previous Kemalist establishment: the conservative and Islamic segments of society and the Kurds.

In contrast, Ihsanoglu was running on the joint ticket of the main opposition Republican People Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Whereas CHP is primarily representative of the secular, western-oriented part of the founding ideology of the Turkish Republic, which was premised on laicism, nationalism (Turkishness) and a western-orientation, the MHP is representative of the nationalism (Turkishness) part of the same ideology. Thus, Ihsanoglu ran in this election as the representative of the previous Kemalist establishment and its founding ideology.

Erdogan and Demirtas represent