By Melih Sengolge
The Gezi park protests which have taken the attention of whole world may introduce new historical blocs or bring new political alternatives to Turkey; but with no doubt, it pointed out the end of a historic bloc of transnational and local business elites in Turkey which had been sustained more than a decade.
Since the banking crisis of 2001, a historic bloc has emerged in Turkey. Transnational capital class had to compromise with the rising Anatolian local companies so called Anatolian tigers and brought Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has moderate Islamic views and promotes economic liberalism, to the power. However especially after the election of 2011; the authoritarian policies (such as restrictions on freedom of expression, controlling the mass media, arresting journalists, politicians and professors) of the Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of AKP, have conflicted with the hegemonic neo-liberal ideology of the transnational capital class; because according to the transnational capital, liberal democracy and freedom are pre-requirements of a functioning liberal market, integration to the global market and competitiveness in the global free trade.
This ideological conflict leads us to a new competition among the hegemonic projects in Turkey. The first hegemonic project is the authoritarian, neo-conservative (neo-Ottomanist), neo-mercantilist project of the government and the local business elites (above mentioned as Anatolian tigers) who accuses the transnational capital (they call it ‘interest rate lobby”) and the famous world news media networks such as CNN, BBC and so on for the upheaval at all over Turkey (nearly in 70 provinces) initiated by the Gezipark protests. Prime Minister Erdogan has started a war against especially the transnational and national finance capital, because he thinks (or tries to manipulate the public opinion) that there is an international plot against himself set by the finance capital. Not surprisingly, MUSIAD (the conservative business association) which has grown up by the patronage the government, has sustained its full sponsorship to Erdogan.
The other hegemonic project -without any doubt- is the neo-liberal project of the transnational capital. This project is promoted by the business elites of particularly Istanbul who has deep business relations with the transnational companies. For instance, Koc Group; which is the main Turkish partner of Ford, Fiat, Unicredit, Shell, LG, Carlyle and many other global firms, has backed up the resistance at Gezipark by giving logistical assistance to protesters with its hotel at Taksim Square (Divan Hotel) and cancelling the final exams at Koc University so that students could participate to the demonstrations. Cem Boyner and Ümit Nazli Boyner, the owners of the textile giant Boyner Group and former presidents of the top business association of Turkey (TUS?AD – Turkish Industry and Business Association) openly declared their support to the protesters. TUSIAD, of which views are known as liberal and pro-western, issued a statement expressing that “The use of excessive force and intolerant intervention to the demonstrations starting in Taksim Gezipark and spreading from there, did not only disturb the public conscience, but also proved to be detrimental to the efforts to develop a social consensus.”
Istanbul Stock Exchange has fallen more than 20 percent just after the beginning of police violence and there has been a huge foreign capital outflow (16 billion US dollar; almost ten percent of the total foreign portfolio) during the protests. All international media giants such as BBC, CNN, NY Times, the Economist, the Guardian and all other western media harshly criticized the government and mostly Erdogan. The Economist explicitly suggested Erdogan to leave his prime ministry to the current president Abdullah Gül, whose term will end next year. Nearly all governments and parliaments of core countries including the White House and European Parliament and also United Nations condemned the police violence. These developments pointed out the clear shift of the position of the West about Turkish politics.
The last project which may be called the social alternative has emerged from the heart of the protests. The protesters – mainly consist of the middle class, students, artists and so on – have various political views such as liberal, center left, ecologist and socialist views. Many trade unions participated to the riot, too. They have asked the government to stop the constructions on the green areas and to remove the policies against the freedom of expression. However, it is too hard to form a concrete alternative with the heterogeneous views to the existing political structure under the anti-democratic laws which does not allow coalitions in elections and applies ten percent electoral threshold.
Although center left CHP – the main opposition party – may be named as the only alternative to the ruling party and usual suspect of this unrest, the young activists are expressing their anger to CHP by mentioning the ineffectiveness of the parliamentary opposition. Since the perception of – not only CHP – but also the other catch-all parties is negative in the public opinion, it is uncertain who will take the ideological leadership against Erdogan’s authoritarian, conservative and anti-democratic rule.
These hegemonic projects which I explained above will compete in the coming local, parliamentary and presidential elections. Gezipark protests may introduce a new historical bloc between the transnational capital/business elites of Istanbul and center-left middle class or bring new political alternatives; but at the end of ten years of AKP rule, with no doubt, as Christiane Amanpour – the Chief International Correspondent for CNN – said to the Chief Advisor of Erdogan during the live Gezipark broadcasting that “the show is over!”.
Melih Sengolge is a policy advisor at the Turkish Parliament.