Turkey’s elections, or breaking out of “the human crisis”

In my previous article, I referred to Albert Camus’ 1946 Columbia University lecture entitled “The Human Crisis” and recounted the four short stories he used to describe this crisis. To recapitulate briefly, Camus argues that there is a human crisis, as evidenced by the moral decline that made possible the tragedies experienced in World War Two, i.e. the death, torture, and exile of millions of people.

In this lecture, Camus also suggests ways of resisting the existing order, which tramples on the very values that make us human. After all, there are people all over the world – to begin with, his own country, France – who are prepared to sacrifice their lives in the fight against barbarity and violence. What unites these people, and creates a universal resistance that transcends borders, is the value of “human dignity”. Those who respect dignity are the ones who are willing to take a stand. Their goal is to end the master-slave dialectic that breeds inequality. Slavery prompts silence, and silence born of slavery is the worst of all silences. Hence slavery must end, and everyone must be free, for freedom is the only way of protecting human dignity.

There are concrete steps to be taken, Camus argues, to build a new human ideal on this rather abstract philosophical foundation.

The first step is to call things by their names, and admit that any order dominated by a single ideology will eventually lead to massacre and suffering. “People do not think bad thoughts because they are murderers; they are murderers because of their bad thoughts. That is why it is possible to become a murderer without having killed a single person; and that is why we are all murderers, more or less.”

The second step is to steer clear of fatalism. It might not be possible to achieve the ideal order at the end of the struggle, or the new order might be flawed in other ways. This should not deter us from persevering in our resistance. We should simply try to do our best under the existing circumstances, setting realistic expectations and standing firm on our ground.

What do Camus’ suggestions tell us about today’s Turkey, in the wake of yet another snap elections?

If we are to call things by their names, we must first acknowledge that the current regime in Turkey is unabashedly autocratic, however we define the latter. The only difference between Turkey and totalitarian regimes like China or North Korea is the limited room for dissent that some groups still enjoy.

It is also clear that the upcoming June 24 elections will not be democratic, and the outcome of the popular vote is already known. The “leader” may not be elected with 80-90% of the votes as in, say Russia or Egypt, but we know that the elections may be considered “null and void” if the results do not fulfil the expectations of the establishment, as we have witnessed in the case of the June 2015 parliamentary elections.

This does not mean that the elections are not important. The fact that the elections have not been cancelled altogether under the pretext of the ongoing state of emergency shows the “symbolic” importance attached to popular support and an aura of democratic legitimacy.

Given that, we must avoid fatalism, and persevere in our fight. Boycotting the elections, however tempting as an ideal, is not a feasible option and would only strengthen the leader’s hand as long as the majority remains unconvinced. Uniting around a single candidate is equally impossible given the fragmented nature of Turkish society – an archipelago of communities as I have argued earlier. A candidate supported by liberals (who were formerly on the side of the current government) will not be backed by leftists, Kurds, or Alevis. A candidate who can unify Alevis and Kemalist secular constituencies will not receive votes from conservative-nationalist (Sunni Muslim) groups. The candidate nominated by the Kurds or the leftists will be rejected by an overwhelming majority of the population, including secular nationalists.

Even if it were possible to unify around a single candidate, a change of leadership would still be out of the question given the undemocratic character of the current regime, as outlined above.

The only feasible, if not ideal, option is to let each party to nominate its own candidate who would get the votes of most of the respective party’s supporters. In case this leads to a second round where the leader would have to face a single opposition candidate, then the goal must be to get as many votes as possible for the latter. It is not unconceivable, given the dismal state of the existing state of affairs, that voters from every group could overcome the communitarian divide and support the opposition candidate. In more concrete terms, some liberals, non-nationalist seculars, and even some conservatives could vote for the HDP candidate Selahattin Demirtaş. In a similar vein, some leftists and Kurds might consider supporting a centre-right candidate who makes it to the second round. Even though this might not alter the outcome of the election in the end, the dissenters could constitute a critical mass – large enough to make their voices heard.

In any case, under such adverse circumstances, the ultimate aim should be to achieve a symbolic display of power, which might in turn boost the opposition’s self-confidence and increase the chances of leaving at least some degree of communitarianism behind.

This way, as the great human crisis continues, so will the resistance…


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