How will prep school controversy influence elections [in Turkey]?

Prof. Mümtazer Türköne
Prof. Mümtazer Türköne


Date posted: December 7, 2013

MÜMTAZER TÜRKÖNE

The Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV) is a well-respected civil society organization which represents the views of Fethullah Gülen. It has clarified Gülen’s views on the prep school controversy and the Taraf daily’s recent publications by making an official public statement recently. In the statement, it stresses its opposition to the government’s decision to shut down prep schools by referencing democracy and freedoms. It also made cautious and balanced remarks on the 2004 National Security Council (MGK) decisions published by the Taraf daily and the reports on profiling. But the most important part of this statement involved those who see a connection between the prep school controversy and the local elections to be held on March 30. The foundation implied in the statement that the Gülen movement would not support any specific candidates or political parties in the elections.

Gülen is a very important opinion leader in Turkey. He is not a politician but the leader of a social movement featuring religious motives. In addition to his followers, conservative people and groups also pay attention to his views and comments. Even those who are opposed to his worldview send their children to the schools set up by his followers because these schools provide very high quality education and training.

Those who have organic links with the Gülen movement are viewed as molecular leaders in their environment and large masses follow them as if they are compasses. In addition, new capital elites and intellectuals are mostly members in this movement in Turkey. In short, the movement has serious and visible influence over society. If the Gülen movement decides to employ this influence in the March 30 local elections, this may affect the overall results of the elections. The prep school discussion is being carried out pretty harshly. Members of the Gülen movement are extremely hurt by the insistence of the government to close down prep schools. If this turns into a decision not to support the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in the elections, the results could become extremely different.

The AK Party is a political party whereas the Gülen movement is a civil society movement which establishes limited relations and ties with politics. It is obvious that this discussion and tension will work against the political party. But Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is increasing the tension rather than alleviating it. More recently, he started a polemic whereby he criticized Gülen in terms of allegiance to religious values; this indicates that the tension will continue. Erdoğan accused Gülen of not supporting the female students who were wearing headscarves in the Feb. 28 process; it seems that this will anger the Gülen movement. The way the prime minister interprets Gülen’s remarks is wrong from an Islamic perspective. But the remark itself is a polemical statement indicating that the prime minister is not seeking reconciliation.

So how will all these discussions be reflected on the election results? There is no precise answer that can be offered to this question today. Unless the prime minister develops a constructive discourse and attempts to win hearts again, the AK Party may lose votes. The prime minister is not only confronting the Gülen movement but also big capital circles as well. If the circles and groups he is confronting agree to work together to make sure that the AK Party loses the elections, the AK Party may experience a bitter election defeat. It is too soon to make a final assessment. After all the parties have announced their candidates, things will become clearer in mid-January when all the balances will emerge. Right now, the whole situation does not seem so bright for the AK Party.

Source: Today's Zaman , December 8, 2013


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