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The CHP and the “Democratic Opening”: Reactions to AK Party’s Electoral Hegemony

The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government has initiated a number of democratic opening initiatives to tackle with the Kurdish question, the Alevi question, the Roma question, and the minorities question. This paper focuses on the reaction of the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) to the initiative. It seeks to explain the CHP’s reaction through the concept of “electoral hegemony”, which refers to a situation where one party becomes an uncontestable actor in the electoral process, which, while weakening the possibility of the opposition parties winning elections, also weakens the faith and trust of their supporters that these parties could govern Turkey through winning elections. It is argued that the CHP’s reaction to the democratic opening initiative is in fact directly related to its need to respond effectively to the electoral hegemony of the AK Party, and that it has developed its response through the concept of sovereignty which has always been integral to its historical identity as the main carrier of the state-centric Turkish modernity.

The CHP and the Democratic Opening Reactions to AK Party
The CHP’s strategy against the AK Party has been to represent the democratic initiative as a risk to both the secular constitutional regime and the territorial integrity of the state.
 

In her article on what has come to be known as “the democratic opening initiative”, Ümit Cizre correctly suggested that “All Turkish governments have been historically presented with hard choices in launching democratization strategies; such attempts always risk shattering the existing balance of power which favors the political role of the military as the leading force of an establishment that may react to democratic reforms”.1 Of course, the risk of “shattering the existing balance of power” in favor of the state-centric establishment increases immensely, and becomes more apparent and visible, if what is at stake is the Kurdish question which has been, without any doubt, the most troublesome problem in Turkey, involving simultaneously both a “politics of identity” demanding the recognition of the cultural rights and freedoms of the Kurds, and a “violent act of ethnic assertiveness” causing the deaths of more than 40,000 people. Moreover, the Kurdish question has not only been the most troublesome problem in Turkey. It has also operated as a “constitutive of the recent transformation” of Turkish modernity and politics, as it has generated significant impacts on the state-government relations by shifting the existing balance of power in politics in favor of the military and judiciary over elected governments, politically in the political debates in the parliament as well as discursively as security concerns are prioritized over democracy. It is in this sense that the Kurdish question has also become the obstacle to the consolidation and deepening of Turkish democracy.

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