Explaining the 2014 Turkish Local Elections (I)

The lost opportunity to mobilize Gezi into a political party

One of the most promising aspects of the Gezi movement was the call for a new democracy where people would have more say in issues which matter the most to them: their life styles and their living spaces. The fact that the protests have begun as a small movement protecting a city park from becoming a shopping mall and have spread in Istanbul to other cities in Turkey had definitely to do with the increasing limitations on rights and freedoms and the violent police reaction to the protesters. However, the fact that Istanbul and other big cities in Turkey had been going through a rapid transformation process whereby neoliberal local governments had translated development and growth into a constructing more buildings, malls, and roads, had also been a major trigger.

More green and more local democracy should have been the most concrete fruits of Gezi. Indeed, in the days and weeks following the protests, it was encouraging to see the birth of local gatherings in the parks of Istanbul to discuss citizens’ concerns. These were seeds of direct local democracy. Many citizen platforms have also been created in the heat of political mobilization, one of which has turned into a volunteer organization, Oy ve Ötesi, to encourage voting and to supervise the voting and counting process in the upcoming local elections.

What had also painfully become clear was the failure of the opposition parties to live up to these new democratic demands. Since the rise of the AKP (Justice and Development Party), the opposition has been minimized into an ineffective anti-AKP voice, instead of providing real political alternatives. The times could have not been riper for a new political party: Local elections were coming up in March 2014, and there were concrete local issues that were waiting to be mobilized. The move towards a new democracy could begin at the local level.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what failed to happen during the days, weeks, and months following Gezi. It was the perfect timing for a new alternative on the right or left-wing of the spectrum. I had even dreamed that the Turkish Greens (Yeşiller ve Sol Gelecek Partisi) would rise up to the opportunity… When else would the Greens obtain a better opportunity to break through if not after Gezi?

I am aware that the current Turkish Political Parties Law makes it extremely difficult for a new party to establish themselves, as they need to be represented throughout the country to participate in nation-wide elections. However, it is possible to circumvent this rule by running as an independent/individual candidate, without a party label. It remains a mystery to me why no single candidate has come forth in Istanbul, for example. Why has a highly politically mobilized Turkish elite failed to even come up with a candidate and mobilize the necessary resources to run for the local elections? Whether such a candidate could have won enough votes to win the elections is a separate discussion, but the fact that no serious alternative political parties have arisen out of the Gezi movement, except for the Gezi Party, which we have not heard much of so far in the political arena, is a huge disappointment.