Gezi Party tries to gather momentum against the odds

Turkey’s ruling AK Party is shaken by leaked voice recordings before tomorrow’s local elections

Gezi Party branch co-ordinator Sule Aksamhin (left) and co-founder Nurgul Guney say they want a new path for Turkish politics. Photograph: Stephen Starr

Gezi Party branch co-ordinator Sule Aksamhin (left) and co-founder Nurgul Guney say they want a new path for Turkish politics. Photograph: Stephen Starr

Sat, Mar 29, 2014, 01:00

Twitter and YouTube have fallen victim to the Turkish government’s clampdown on dissent as it grapples with a scandal that could see it damaged in local elections tomorrow.

Although prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party is expected to win by a considerable margin, the bugging of Turkey’s foreign ministry in Ankara, which uncovered alleged plans to invade Syria in a recording leaked on YouTube on Thursday, has shaken the party.

On all sides, Turkey’s government is facing down major challenges. A series of leaked voice recordings allegedly of Mr Erdogan urging his son to use businessmen to reduce huge sums of money to “zero” has shocked many. A corruption scandal uncovered in December led to three ministers resigning. The government, viewing the investigation as a threat, set about firing thousands of judges and police officers irn retaliation.

With Turkey’s leading opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), seen as ineffective and reactionary, and politics increasingly being played out on the streets, a new political force is seeking to represent the disillusioned.

The Gezi Party, named after the Istanbul park that authorities planned to clear to build a museum last summer, has no formal leadership, little money and only three offices. Its ideals are shared by millions fed up with the government’s increasingly pugnacious rhetoric.

Party branch co-ordinator Sule Aksamhin, a 41-year-old environmental engineer from Istanbul, said the party can’t run in the local elections as it doesn’t yet have candidates in sufficient provinces. “Our plan is to bring people from the streets with us to reach our main goals,” she said, chief of which is to make Turkey’s constitution “more democratic”.


Additional branches
The party attracted about 100 members after forming last October, while 470 have applied to join in recent weeks. It plans to open five more branches over the next month.

To seek funding and to formally announce itself to the Turkish public, its founders will unleash a campaign to attract donations next month, with donors limited to pledging a maximum €10,000 per year. Individuals can pay up to €80 per month for membership.

“We don’t expect big money [from donors] because we don’t want people to tell us how to run the party,” said Ms Aksamhin, who added offers of larger sums had been turned down.

To compete in future elections, Gezi Party candidates would be chosen by residents of each province and not by the party leadership, says co-founder and artist Nurgul Guney. The party’s constitution states that candidates must cover their own expenses and campaigns.

By next year’s parliamentary elections, the Gezi Party plans to put forward representatives in all 81 Turkish provinces propagating an entirely new way of democratic governance.


Leaderless structure
But a major stumbling block is that, in a country where powerful political orators are popular, the Gezi Party’s structure is intentionally leaderless. Its candidates for parliamentary elections in 2015 have yet to be identified. Furthermore, uniting the wide variety of interest groups in Gezi Park last summer around a single goal would be near-on impossible.

“It’s a huge logistical challenge to create a new political party in Turkey, ” said Sabine Freizer, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. “Political parties that are not yet in parliament must meet extensive requirements to participate in polls.”

Last November, Turkey’s state media reported 77 political parties operating. Among them only 15 participated in 2011’s parliamentary vote, as meeting a 10 per cent threshold is required to enter parliament.

Mr Erdogan’s AK Party has more than eight million members, with the leading opposition party, the CHP, next with less than a million.

Regardless of how the government does at tomorrow’s elections, the prime minister is likely to launch an all-out offensive against the growing list of enemies he and his party face.

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