Erdoğan — destroying his own legacy

Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, remains the most powerful and charismatic man in Turkish politics today. Yet, despite the many positive steps he has taken during his term in office, with his increasing retreat from the path of democracy and growing disregard for freedoms and the rule of law, Erdoğan may well have pressed the self-destruct button on his own legacy.

Erdoğan has led the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to three consecutive election wins. This is no mean feat. On Nov. 3, 2002, after years of shambolic coalition governments, the elections ushered in a major realignment of the Turkish political landscape.

The three consecutive wins may be attributed to two main things: successful policymaking, in particular not only revamping the economy which has gone from being on skid row to a success story in a world of austerity and economic downturn, but also addressing key issues that were previously taboo, such as the Kurdish issue and putting Turkey in the spotlight on the international stage. The second thing is weak opposition forces, meaning the AKP has faced no serious competition. Turkey’s opposition misses real leadership and real policies. Hence they have helped Erdoğan far more than they have helped themselves or their supporters.

However, too much power intoxicates, and during this third period of AKP rule, Erdoğan developed an increasingly “Jekyll and Hyde” character. One moment he portrays himself as a reformer and a democrat, talking about equality and values and freedoms for all. A short time later, he will burst into a fit of anger and rage about just about anything he does not agree with. He has developed a number of particular pet peeves, including Twitter, famously stating: “There is now a menace which is called Twitter. The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.” Because he has progressively become a “loose cannon,” this has made Turkey an increasingly unpredictable partner.

Erdoğan has also developed a tendency to explain his actions by linking them to morality — how it is necessary to take such steps for the good of the people, to protect their virtue. When trying to defend (but clearly failing) a new draconian Internet law, not only did Erdoğan claim the law advanced Turkish democracy, he went further, stating it protected society from the “porn lobby” and “parallel state.”

A quote from George Orwell’s book “Animal Farm” seems to describe Erdoğan’s view of life: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” Nowadays he is unable to embrace Turkish society as a whole because it seems he has a problem accepting that not everyone is going to support his ideology. The gestures that he makes are generally aimed at shoring up his own support, rather than genuine tolerance and acceptance that there is another way of life in Turkey other than his.

Erdoğan and his colleagues always boast about creating a “new Turkey,” that the old Turkey was a “sick” country with low levels of democracy and respect for human rights, where torture existed with impunity and where freedom of expression was strangled. While there are no longer military coups today and the military’s role in the country has, quite rightly, been neutered, many things that were problematic in the “old Turkey” have resurfaced in the “new Turkey.” Yet this is not that surprising. Turkey is not a consolidated democracy.

Rather, democracy is a fragile work in progress, with the modernization and democratization of Turkey being a long-term project. Turkey has never had an independent judiciary or fully functioning rule of law. Freedom of expression was problematic in the old Turkey and it still is. While Erdoğan may have started off taking steps to advance democracy, he is now going in the opposite direction, including trying to cover up corruption allegations and meddling with the judicial system. Yet for his core base, no matter what he does, it seems they will stick with him. It’s the “floaters” that Erdoğan needs to be concerned about. And it may be these floaters that could determine the outcome of the March local elections that will decide his political weight in the country.

Source: Today’s Zaman

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