A couple of nights before the local election I was out walking. Outside one of the night clubs in the central historical part of Istanbul, where you will find many of the liberal Gezi youngsters partying and drinking, stood a group of taxi drivers, with their yellow cars, waiting for the night club guests to be in need of their services. I could tell, somehow, from the way they looked towards the entrance, that they weren’t happy with what they saw.
“How is business going?” I asked them.
Surprised that I spoke to them in Turkish, they asked where I came from, and after I answered we continued to talk about other things. I suggested that spring had come to Istanbul, they said it had been a warm winter.
After a while I cleared my throat.
“What are you going to vote for in the elections?”
A slightly noticeable discomfort spread among them, they started to look at each other, some turned aside and laughed nervously.
“I am going to vote for AKP” one of the short men, said, “I am voting for Tayyip!”, he continued in a louder voice, looking to the other men for assurance.
“Have you always?”
“Of course!” he exclaimed, like it was the most ignorant question on earth. “There is no one else than Tayyip Erdogan!”
The other men repeated “Tayyip Erdogan” in some sort of mumbly choir and laughed.
“So, You also vote for the AKP?”
“Of course” they all said.
A short moment of silence occurred.
“So, what do you think about the corruption allegations? Are they real?”
The men’s discomfort now became more evident than before, and one of them was just about to open his mouth, when a tall and rather well dressed man suddenly came in front of me.
“We don’t talk about this! AKP is going to win, we gonna vote for them, and Fetullah Gülen will be gone. Thats it!” he said in an aggressive manner.
I took a step back, and if the man had had a more rough look, I would have escaped the scene. But instead I stood silent observing how he seemed to spread fear among the men. He was clearly above them in the pecking order.
“We gonna win on sunday!” he continued now facing the men. “AKP will win! We going to vote! And after that Turkey will continue as usual!”
Then he hastily went away after someone had called on him from another group of taxis a bit away. All of us watched his back in silence as it faded into the night.
“Who was that?” I asked after a while.
“It is our boss!” the short man said. He organizes our taxis, gives us work…”
“From the municipality?” I said.
The short man smiled insecurely.
To me, this was a perfect illustration of how freedom of thought and expression in Turkey is a luxury that only can be afforded by the very few who are economically independent. One of the main reasons for AKP’s success is that they have managed to activate the grass roots of the society and make politics out of almost everything in their everyday life. In a society that is almost to an absolute extent already built upon friends, family, and social network, this has become a very efficient way to maintain support and silent opposition among the poor conservative, working people, who is in an overwhelming majority in the country. Especially occupations that in some way is under the government and municipalities control, have quickly turned into professions where only people who agree with the AKP is allowed to enter. This is valid for the professions high up in the hierarchy down to the very bottom, where even workers, are expected to agree with everything the AKP stands for. If you do not agree, you will face problems, likely get fired.
I said goodbye, and the group of men was dispersed. The short man jumped in to his taxi, started the engine and drove slowly towards a waving group of youngsters at the night club’s entrance.