President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan unveiled his highly anticipated vision document for “Türkiye’s Century” at the Ankara Arena on Friday.
The content and text of a short video, which was posted on Erdoğan’s social media account earlier this week, contained important clues about the vision document. Telling the incomplete story of Şakir Zümre, a pioneer of the Turkish defense industry that launched initiatives at Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s request, the film was presented with the following statement: “Through the vision of Türkiye’s Century, which will be built on the achievements of our country and civilization, we will launch initiatives for the next century and, inshallah, our dream will come true one by one.”
That short film hints at a framework that approaches Turkish modernization from the standpoint of continuity yet highlights the revolutionary initiatives launched under Erdoğan’s government. In this sense, it explains how the dreams of Türkiye’s founder came true during the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) two-decade rule.
It won’t be surprising for the AK Party’s election campaign to portray Türkiye as a rising power in many areas (including the defense industry, foreign policy, education, and technology) and Erdoğan as a leader that launched new and significant initiatives. Thus the party shall draw a straight line from Atatürk to Erdoğan.
The vision document, which uses “inclusive and embracing” language to urge various social groups to launch new initiatives and shape Türkiye’s next century, focuses on “hope” and “working together.” The AK Party’s decision to invite pro-opposition journalists to the unveiling of its vision document –which features themes like the Republic, democracy, our civilization, relying on national-native values, the struggle against domestic and foreign guardianship, independence, and becoming an active global player— was also in sync with the discourse of “Türkiye’s Century.”
Erdoğan’s gained a psychological advantage over the opposition by launching his reelection campaign early and quickly. Having reached out to the Alevi community and proposing a constitutional amendment to safeguard women’s right to wear the religious headscarf, the Turkish president has also outpaced the opposition in forging a rhetorical framework for his campaign. How the opposition bloc, popularly known as the “table for six,” could respond to that ambitious and inclusive agenda will be a subject of debate over the next weeks and months.
The opposition bloc, whose selection of a presidential candidate remains overdue, has been slow to make key policy choices and present its vision for the future. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) has come up with the idea of “the Republic’s second century” without staking any claim, reducing that concept to mere periodization. It would not be surprising for the Republic to be a central theme in that movement’s campaign rhetoric. By contrast, Kılıçdaroğlu’s sporadic references to “making amends” and “reconstruction” are still highly ambiguous, and it remains to be seen what the remaining opposition parties will sign off on them. To make matters worse, it remains unclear what kind of “reconstruction” the Good Party (IP) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) could possibly agree on.
With the elections just seven months away and all the contenders working on their campaigns, embracing the Republic will likely be a common theme. However, it remains to be seen whether “reconstruction” will be enough to compete with the fresh, bold steps that the government pledges to take in “Türkiye’s Century.” Either way, it is safe to assume that there will be a debate over “which Republic” we shall have.
CHP ’s dominance
Meanwhile, the CHP’s dominance over the “table for six,” coupled with the pro-CHP media’s “bullying” the remaining opposition parties, continues to make the Good Party’s Meral Akşener and Ali Babacan, the DEVA chairperson, unhappy.
The former recently complained about the “waywardness of those that support and attempt to reorganize” the main opposition party. Subsequently, Babacan issued a stern warning: “Everyone should come to their senses and stop dreaming. We will either get this done together or not at all.”
Truly, the “table for six” has become a sort of chessboard where the relevant political leaders compete internally and their supporters publicly. The various tricks to clinch nomination have been plagued by reciprocal threats from commentators that “you cannot win without us.”
In my opinion, neither Akşener nor Babacan have a lot of room for maneuvering in the face of CHP’s impositions. At this point, any politician that leaves “the table” will get a hammering.
The Good Party chairperson made a serious mistake by dismissing the possibility of becoming the opposition’s joint presidential candidate in the early days. That statement undermined her party’s potential for popular support. In the end, it was not enough to alleviate the pressure from CHP circles – about which she currently complains. Her humiliation by the HDP leadership, who keep reminding the opposition leaders that HDP voters supported them in the most recent municipal elections, only serves to worsen the situation.
Meanwhile, Babacan seems to think he can exert some influence over the opposition bloc by keeping “the table” focused on the transition process. In the end, however, that approach has not sufficed to stop the CHP from making impositions.