In this second piece on the Turkish elections, The New Pretender deepens its analysis of Muharrem İnce’s left populist campaign. According to opinion polls, only 7 to 1% would separate İnce from Erdoğan in the second round of the elections. Article by Bağlan Deniz.
I first wrote on the emergence of Muharrem İnce’s populism in an attempt to explain what is actually going on in Turkish politics. In a landscape where Erdoğan and his cronies’ control 90% of the media, Muharrem İnce’s breakthrough on the internet – his rising profile, his direct approach to the Turkish (and Kurdish) people and his skill in performing populist rhetoric— has made another entry unavoidable.
As we witness the 50th anniversary of 1968, I am reminded of the words of a contemporary of that era, Guy Debord: “The spectacle is a social relation between people that is mediated by an accumulation of images that serve to alienate us from a genuinely lived life. The image is thus an historical mutation of the form of commodity fetishism.” The prescience of Debord’s quote in relation to Ince’s campaign against Erdoğan is impressive, if not prophetic.
Of particular attention has been the rallies İnce held in his family’s homeland of rural, Western Turkey. The deployment of his rhetoric strikingly recalls his peasant origins (romantic rural connotations in Turkey abound) as well as his 16 years of service as an MP. This enables him to present dialogue on both sides of the spectrum; allowing “authentic” İnce to answer rural people’s problems and, whilst “Urban İnce” cannot answer all of the questions relating to urbanite alienation, he retains the air of someone who knows what it is to be “authentic.”*
The main factor that led me to continue writing about İnce’s campaign is the footage that emerged on FOX in Turkey. Given that Fox TV’s owner Rupert Murdoch has limited business interest in Turkey, his TV channel is relatively autonomous which allows him to cover opposition candidates.
On a personal note, it felt almost impossible not to identify with Ince as he looked for the freshest and cheapest vegetables among other items in a supermarket in Ankara —the country’s capital and second largest city. In response to a question, Ince said: “I am really angry with those who claim that spinach (a popular veggie in Turkey one can claim) is too expensive. I also come from a family of farmers and I know that farmers have to work incredibly hard to grow spinach from mud and snow”.
Dressed in his jumpsuit and walking alongside his wife, Ince made the most of an accidental encounter with the press. Against the backdrop of a Government which ordered Ministers to break the Ramadan fast in poor families’ houses as a means of propaganda, İnce draws persuasive power from his “undetermined” position and his the role as an “empty signifier”. On the opposite side, Erdoğan and his people appear as “AK Palace elites,” “disconnected from the common folk”.
It is perhaps impossible to claim İnce’s performance is about to end Erdoğan’s autocratic and arbitrary rule.
Yet, I do think the opposition is appearing more optimistic and it has certainly lifted the mystique surrounding Erdoğan’s own brand of neo-liberal populism. An example to this change of feeling could be the issue that İnce started to finish his campaign talks by shouting “Başaracağız” (We will succeed). Alongside Podemos (literally “We Will Succeed” in Spanish) in Spain, Syriza in Greece, and Left Front in Portugal, Ince’s left wing stance might have overtaken the narrative of power from Erdoğan’s hands on the eve of the Turkish elections.
* I would like to thank my professor Ceren Ozselçuk from Boğaziçi University, Istanbul who brought this point to my attention and also made this article possible.