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Radical love


July 3, 2019

Elections for mayor of Istanbul were held on June 23 and opposition CHP party candidate Ekrem Imamoglu was declared the winner with almost 800,000 votes.

This was a government ordered rerun of the election held in March, which Imamoglu had won by barely 13,000 votes. In the midst of a highly charged political environment Imamoglu ran a positive, hopeful campaign with the slogan “Everything Will Be Fine”.

In order to understand the immensity of the election outcome one has to understand the political landscape of today’s Turkey. President Erdogan and his AK Party came to power about 16 years ago and have increasingly taken control of all elements of the democratic society. Most print and television outlets today are in control of or closely aligned with the ruling party. So much so, that during the campaign for mayor Imamoglu was able to appear on television only once, just three days before the election.

Like so many other countries, Turkey is a deeply divided nation with supporters of Erdogan on one side and CHP-led opposition on the other. Like in so many other countries, the tendency has been to demonize and look down upon supporters of the opposing party.

This trend today is very apparent in the US, Trump supporters versus those opposing him; as it is in the UK where swords are drawn between Brexiteers and Remainers. During the 2016 US elections Hillary Clinton famously called Trump supporters a “bucket of deplorables”, driving many of them deeper into the Trump camp.

In winning the election, Imamoglu has shown the world another way. They called this approach “radical love”. He said “ignore Erdogan but love the people who support him”. Very simply trying to understand the reasons a segment of population supports a candidate or party shows respect for the electorate. Looking down upon them is no way to get their support.

In Turkey these divisions have an additional dimension. The ruling AK Party are seen as Islamists, something that had been maligned for decades in Turkey under the guise of secularism. The CHP is a left-leaning, secular party and throughout the ascendancy of Erdogan looked down on his supporters.

The fact is there was always a craving in Turkey for the right to practice one’s faith, openly and without obstruction from the government. The antireligious stance of the CHP over the years drove a large majority of voters away. Even as dissatisfaction grew with the increasingly autocratic stance of the AK Party, people were loath to vote for a party such as the CHP that did not respect them.

With the election campaign of Imamoglu, the CHP has seen the fallacy of their ways, hence the doctrine of “radical love”, trying to understand the concerns of opposition voters. After all, a secular system of government does not mean it has to be anti-religion. So now, local governments in Turkey’s five out of six largest cities are run by the opposition CHP party and their affiliates even though AK Party dominates nationally.

There is much that can be learned from the example of Turkey. Foremost among them is for the US where campaigns for 2020 presidential elections have just kicked off. Neither Trump nor the candidate from the Democratic Party can win the election by only attracting their base. They must reach out to voters in opposing camps. At the same time there is no way to fake empathy.

Politicians have to be genuinely willing to listen and understand the concerns of those who may not vote for them. In other words today’s deeply divided societies are in dire need of radical love.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Washington DC.

Website: blogs