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'Populism is a political logic based on negative emotions.'

A short interview on populism with Turkish MP Ayşe Gülsün Bilgehan at the 2017 World Forum for Democracy.

Ayşe Gülsün Bilgehan at the Council of Europe building in Strasbourg.Başak Polat: Dear Ms. Bilgehan, welcome to the World Forum for Democracy 2017. As you know, this year's title is ''Is populism a problem?'' As an MP, how would you answer the question? Do you think it is a problem? If so, why?

Ayşe Gülsün Bilgehan: Yes, I do think that populism is a problem. In fact, it is a global one. As we have seen during some of the discussions at the Forum, populism is perceived as a problem by the majority of the participants. When you look up the term populism, you will notice that it is a political logic based on negative emotions. The recent elections and referendums have proved the danger of populist ideas. However, they still attract voters from all around the world.

I believe that there is a need for a transformation in the mindset of politicians. Voters should bear the danger of populism in mind when giving a chance to new ideas and perspectives advocated by candidates.

BP: What can you tell about the situation in Turkey? Does populism in Turkey belong only to radical right-wing parties?

AGB: In Turkey it only applies to right-wing parties. This is evident in the results of the polls and is also in line with the subject raised in the [World Forum for Democracy 2017] discussion on the differences between popularism and popularity. We should pay more attention to these two terms. The difference is that the former carries a negative connotation. Populism in Turkey is different from elsewhere: Populism and corruption tend to go hand in hand. However, the necessary attention has not been paid to the latter in Turkey in comparison with European countries.

Take, for example, a political leader in the Nordic countries who would resign on the grounds of their involvement in corruption immediately. In Turkey, corruption allegations are rarely taken seriously. Those who are involved in the allegations are taken for granted as guilty by the public. Here, justice is the key to fight against corruption.

BP: How does the rise of populism in Europe affect Turkey-EU relations?

AGB: I think that the rise of popularism in Europe on the basis of xenophobia has hampered Turkey’s potential membership of the EU, which initiated as early as the 1963 Ankara Agreement. Unfortunately, I am not optimistic about the prospect of the membership.

BP: How does populism affect women? What do you think about populist women in politics and women voting for populist candidates?

AGP: As a woman in foreign policy, I believe that women should be more aware of populist political discourses. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In practice there is an alarming trend; female politicians tend to vote for populist discourses. Women shouldn't trust in these.

BP: What could you recommend young people in their fight against populism?

AGP: Young people should be very careful about the threats of populist discourse. Their participation in politics is a solution to fight against populism and corruption. There are many young Turkish participants here who come from different political parties. This makes me happy and hopeful about our future. I believe in youth, I believe in women in our fight against populism.

About the authors

Başak Polat is a former youth delegate to the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities/World Forum for Democracy. She has a BA in American Culture and Literature from Istanbul University.

Ayşe Gülsün Bilgehan is a Member of Parliament in Turkey.


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