In Turkey, the middle class cannot find its political representation in the central politics. Center, center-left and center-right platforms which aspire to represent the priorities of the middle class in the world are rather absent in the Turkish political party system. This has an effect on Turkish politics and as the 2023 elections approach, this void raises questions about the actors that could fill it.
Let’s start with the more prominent void first, that is, the onein the center-right. In the Turkish news feed, incidents of violence such as attacks on medical workers, taxi driver beating their customers, vandalism to historical artefacts, and violence against women and children have frequently come up. The socio-psychological factors behind these events, such as the social effects of the pandemic, the economic crisis and rising male unemployment, or the growing anti-intellectualism as aresult of income inequality and populism, could be the subject of a separate article. But there is another politically interesting aspect of the matter: the lack of a platform to demand “law and order” in Turkey.
Center-right favors hierarchy
In the world, the fight against crime and compliance with laws are predominantly defended by parties that are more right-inclined. The main role of the left here is to prevent a fascistic rigidity that may occur with the excessive exaltation of law and order, to prevent the loss of freedoms while trying to establish order, and therefore to represent the other side of the scale: namely freedoms.
However, there is no right-wing tradition in Turkey that advocates abiding by the rules regulating daily life, especially the horizontal relations between equals. The right-wing does not think that matters such as tax evasion, illegal parking, illegal construction, and violence against doctors, women or children are a direct concern of its political agenda. In Turkey, the right tradition predominantly reminds the rules in vertical relations, for example, state-citizen relations, and as a result, overvalue hierarchical orders.
Center-left holds the wrong corner
Thus, the political space in advocacy for the law and order that should be filled by the center-right just like in the West remains void. For this reason, only the left parties are there to defend social order and compliance with the law. Even if they intend to fill this gap, these initiatives, which are not in compliance with their traditions, often look unauthentic, they fail and are also criticized by their electoral base.
A similar issue is observable in political parties’ immigration discourse. While parties from the right-wing tradition all over the world advocate more controlled immigration policies, left-wing parties take a position to bend these policies within the framework of humanitarian requirements. However, in Turkey, a right-wing government has implemented an unprecedented, unrestricted and uncontrolled immigration policy. Again, unexpectedly from a nationalist-conservative position, the government made a policy choice in line with the needs of Western countries rather than the needs of its own society.
Weak representation of the middle class in politics
Currently, the left has found itself in a strange situation. For example, even though traditionally expected to take a position in the direction of flexibility in immigration policy, the left was cornered by such an uncontrolled immigration policy, facing the control-oriented demands from the voters that are normally expected to be represented by right-wing parties. The left fell into a dilemma where if it meets this demand, it will leave the left line, and if it does not, it will leave the voter’s demand unanswered.
We can also clearly see the results of the void in the central politics in tax policies. In my previous article, I mentioned that the economic interests of the middle class were not adequately represented.
In Turkey, right-wing parties aspired to represent the wealthy, and both right-wing and left-wing parties aspired to represent the poor. However, the economic representation of the middle-income group is weak. It is possible to see the result of this in our income tax system, which disproportionately places the tax burden on the middle-income group and overprotects the upper-income groups, and which aims to collect all government expenditures from the middle-income groups rather than the upper-income groups.
Left shifts to the right, right shifts to the extreme right
While the policies of both the center-right and the center-left in the West prioritize the interests of the middle class, the center in Turkey is also unrepresented in this respect.
In summary, there is no representation of central politics, especially of the center-right, as seen in tax policies, the fight against crime, immigration policies and other political areas (such as housing or education policies) that I have not mentioned in this article. The void here, on the other hand, pulls the left to the right in some issues, and often makes the extreme right “the only alternative to the right”.
Within this framework, approaching the critical 2023 Presidential and Parliamentary elections, this void in the center politics in Turkey, and the lack of representation of the middle class in particular, creates a political space, a possible potential for expansion for parties that would aspire to fill it.
Void creates opportunity
So which parties and actors can fill this void? Could the “new narrative” expected from the opposition include the representation and rehabilitation of the Turkish middle class? Can Iyi Party, which has been following a right-to-center orientation recently, fill the void here and become a center party?
On the other hand, can the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), which had been criticized for being elitist in the past but has made progress with its initiatives on the representation of the poor after 2018, design its social justice discourse to embrace the economic interests of the middle class?
Or is the CHP about to lose at least a part of its middle-class supporters, to other political actors, such as the İYİ Party? These are the questions that need further exploring I think.