The ongoing mass movement in Turkey is without precedent in the country’s history. The peaceful demonstrations that started during the last week of May have turned out to be a blow to the Erdogan’s government international reputation following the much-publicized police interventions and the on-going nature of the situation, which has shown no sign of easing for a long time. The government agreed to consider the court’s decision before taking action, which seems to be satisfactory for those more concerned with the protection of greenery, rather than with the authoritarian attitudes of the government. But this will not satisfy the rest, who took to the streets for democratic demands.
National will is one of the fundamental bases frequently referred to by the Turkish PM, who underscores his own legitimacy by pointing to a successful electoral record; he argues that he has already faced his ‘judgment’ at the ballot box which gave him a ‘potency’. It is his interpretation of the popular mandate which has been so hotly disputed and helped stoke fire in the protests against his government. While there were other causes for the mobilization, such as protecting Gezi Park, the protestors seemed to be more concerned with being underrepresented or excluded in representation. The park has become a symbolize of a larger fight. Increasing levels of activism surrounding this symbol reveal that people demand a stronger voice regardless of their political backgrounds and will question even basic regulations through social media. Field research conducted by The Konda Institute sheds light on the dynamics of the Gezi Park unrest, in combination with the significance of this social media phenomenon. The research showed that 69% of the protestors have heard about the issue through social media, most of whom were college students. 58% of the protestors came to the park and took to the streets for their restricted freedom rights, while 37% decided to join the unrest only after Erdogan’s statements. Many protestors who gathered appeared to be apolitical. Specifically, more than 50% of the protestors neither voted for a political party, nor were members of any political organization. This may be why people from different political backgrounds gathered and voiced their demands together.
Mr. Erdogan, who heads the long-lasting government in the Republic’s history, put not only his long-term plans at risk, but also the society, by accelerating the polarization of citizens and political factions with provocative statements. Following this, AKP (Justice and Development Party) called for rallies with an emphasis on ‘national will’ in big cities, which only contributed to the ongoing fragmentation of society. The Prime Minister received extensive support from both domestic elites and the international arena for his mediator approach, but his political strength may crumble if they withdraw their support due to his authoritarianism.
The conclusions one should draw from what has been happening in Istanbul clearly go beyond the incident itself. It raises issues such as: how does the change in perspective on democracy contribute to the political environment? Can opposition parties benefit from the Gezi Park movement and voice the demands of protestors, where they have been unsuccessful so far? Is Mr. Erdogan going to insist on the discourse on national will and, if so, how does it contribute to his political strength? The answers to these questions determine the political fate of Turkey, in both the short- and long-term.
It is widely accredited that Turkey’s recent political and economic stability has made Mr. Erdogan a very powerful leader. Should these strengths be lost, however, the PM will struggle to regain this status. To that regard, Mr. Erdogan – together with other authorities – should respond to the changing demands, understanding that the protestors’ priorities will not be the same as they were during the previous elections, now that a certain level of economic and social development has been obtained . Today’s middle class in the country is much larger than it was back in 2002, and the demands of this class are what will drive future political outcomes.