The ‘No’ Campaign’s Latest Mirage

New systems of government are a practical necessity, rather than a matter of ideological preference.

At a time when Turkey is facing concrete challenges at home and abroad, a constitutional reform and a new system of government are a practical necessity, rather than a matter of ideological preference.

Since the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) rise to power in 2002, the country’s political landscape has undergone major changes. The guardianship regime was dismantled, as the popular vote, democratic reforms and an independent foreign policy emerged as the cornerstones of a new political identity.

In eight weeks, millions of people will go to the polls again to decide whether or not a constitutional reform package, which was adopted by Parliament earlier this year, meets their expectations.

Advocates of constitutional reform, first and foremost, maintain that the proposed changes could help address the existing system’s shortcomings. They also consider the upcoming referendum as an opportunity to reiterate their support to the post-2002 reform process.

The “no” campaign, by contrast, oppose reforms due to their general unhappiness with Turkey’s transformation during the same period. In other words, they are more focused on finding a way out of the existential crisis of their brand of politics than fixing the country’s system of government. The pro-change camp will focus on the reform package’s contents on the campaign trail, while opponents stick to the “one-man rule” argument.

For the vast majority of Turks, the “no” campaign’s rhetoric is hardly original. Since the Gezi Park revolts, the Turkish people have been subjected to the exact same message time and again, albeit in different forms. At each and every critical junction since 2013, the same groups tried to score political points by fueling anti-Erdoğanism. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), in particular, communicated a message of hate directed at the president, which was picked up and reproduced by like-minded intellectuals and non-governmental organizations.

Ironically, anti-Erdoğanism effectively meant that the two parties started to look more and more like each other. The pledge to prevent the adoption of a presidential system was embraced by both movements as a campaign slogan last year. By attacking a single person, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, they tried to distract attention from Turkey’s needs. Up until the July 15 coup attempt, both groups had committed all their resources to undermining the president. Although they lost the support of many voters after the failed coup, the CHP and HDP leaders have been talking about “one-man rule” and “regime change” in an effort to mobilize their respective bases.

But the “no” campaign really outdid itself this time by singing the praises of empty chatter about the upcoming referendum by the same people who proved to be good with words during the Gezi Park revolts.

Murathan Mungan, for instance, came up with the following gem, “What makes us who we are is what we reject as opposed to accept. It takes power and a [certain level of] consciousness to say ‘no.’ Most affirmative answers are related to a predisposition to obey.”

To be clear, hardly anyone doubts that plenty of equally funny tales about the ontology of rejection will be told until April 16. Over the next weeks, each word uttered by self-proclaimed intellectuals will be repeated by the “no” campaign’s heavyweights at campaign stops, as if they actually mean anything.

At this point, there is nothing to do but to wish the “no” campaign the best of luck. With friends like these, they will need it.

[Daily Sabah, February 22, 2017]

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