Erdogan and Turkey’s future
Turkey, as Daily Trust observed in its editorial of last Thursday, has lately been in the news for all the wrong reasons – well, almost all. And the principal culprit apparently is no other than its current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The man is probably the country’s most successful modern-day politician – bar Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the acclaimed founding father of secular Turkey, and Suleyman Demirel, who died at 90 last June, having served his country as prime minister seven times and capping it all as its seventh president for seven years from 1993.
Over eight years ago Turkey hosted the International Press Institute, the global association of journalists which champions free speech. This was for the third time in the association’s history, the first and second time being 1964 and 1988. The keynote address during the opening ceremony of the 2007 congress was delivered by Demirel. Erdogan, then the prime minister, gave the closing speech.
At the time of the IPI congress there was much talk about what many regarded as “Two Turkeys,” one, pious and Muslim, the other, urban and secular. The dichotomy was exemplified by two political rallies that took place in different parts of the country on May 12, the very day the congress opened in Istanbul. One was by Islamists and the other by secularists.
In his speech, Erdogan adverted to this talk of “Two Turkeys” in a most dismissive manner. “When a peaceful rally is held in Turkey,” he said, “they immediately start saying, ‘There are two Turkey’s.’ We cannot accept this. The Republic of Turkey is a democratic, secular, social state, with a rule of law, and this is how it is going to remain.”
Eight years on, it seems, the man has been doing everything he can to undermine his promise of keeping his country for ever democratic and governed by the rule of law, if not secular. The irony of it all is that he has done more than most Turkish politicians to enthrone democracy and the rule of law in his country in a career that took off when he was Mayor of Istanbul, the country’s cultural and commercial capital, between 1994 and 1998.
Following his mayorship, he founded and led the so-called “mildly Islamist” Justice and Development Party (AKP, in its Turkish acronym) in 2001. With more than a little help from a number of opposition elements, notably the Hismet Movement led by Fethullah Gulen, the American based Turkish intellectual and preacher, the AKP won the subsequent general elections in 2003, 2007 and 2011.
AKP won the first of these general elections against the wishes of secularists, most especially the powerful military which considered itself the custodian of the country’s secular Constitution. However, Erdogan’s three terms as prime minister saw the country’s transformation into a great economic success and a model of plural democracy.
He was voted as the country’s ceremonial president last year after he stepped down as party leader in what many must have presumed was a voluntary retirement and glorious exit from a successful career in partisan politics. Events since then have proved such presumptions completely wrong.
For, far from being satisfied with playing the ceremonial role of a fatherfigure constitutionally assigned to the president, Erdogan seemed to have become obsessed with transforming himself into the first executive civilian president of his country. Predictably this has led to his falling out with the opposition elements whose alliance made his successes possible.
One of the first signs of trouble for the man was a massive demonstration in Gezi Park, in Istanbul, two years ago against his decision to build a grandiose presidential palace which many of his countrymen saw as an ego trip and the despoliation of the park’s beauty. More serious, however, was the eruption of a 100 billion US dollar corruption scandal, also in 2013, in which he, some of his ministers and three of his sons were implicated.
His reaction to the scandal has been to clamp on the media for exposing the allegations. Journalists have been detained, tried and locked up on trumped up charges and a law is being contemplated to give government powers to block “undesirable” blogs. There has also been a ban on Twitter and threats to ban Facebook and YouTube.
For at least the last two years there has been no love lost between the man and the Turkish media, including many like Hurriet, the country’s leading newspaper, that have had little or no truck with opposition elements, especially those considered Islamist. But it is not only the country’s media that has had to contend with the man’s anger. Both the judiciary and the military have also suffered from his meddling.
As if to make the man even angrier, the AKP, for the first time since 2003, lost its majority in the parliament in last June’s general election, in spite of – some would say, indeed because of – his determined efforts to secure the two-third majority his party needed to amend the constitution to give the president executive powers.
So angry was the man with the result of the June elections that he refused, as president, to invite the party with the highest number of legislators to form a coalition government which the party could have done fairly easily. Instead, he chose the option of waiting without a substantive government for five months to have another general election, in the hope that this time his party will get the numbers it requires to amend the constitution.
Daily Trust’s editorial in question entitled “As Erdogan clamps down on Turkey media” was concerned essentially with media freedom in the country. “Journalism,” it said, “is increasingly becoming dangerous in Turkey as the government clamps down on the media covering stories it wants ignored through threats, raids, arrests and deportation.”
What is at stake here is much more than media freedom. Beyond media freedom, what is also at stake is the future prospect of a country which, until last year, stood out as proof positive that Islam, on the one hand, and democracy and the rule of law, on the other, are not necessarily mutually incompatible, as many in the West and Islamist extremists want the world to believe.
It is, as I’ve said earlier in this piece, ironical that the man who now stands between Turkey and its consolidation as a model of a successful Islamic political-economy is the very person who arguably has done more than most of his compatriots to make his country the success story it has been in the last 15 years.
Much of Turkey’s prospects now depend on how its citizens vote on November 1. Chances are it will be a reprise of the June 7 election which denied Erdogan his personal ambition to become their country’s imperial president. His reaction may be to play the dog in a manger, as many a petulant political loser has done. Hopefully, however, he will see reason and swallow his ambition.
But in case he doesn’t, one can only hope and pray that his country has come too far down the path of progress to allow one man’s over-ambition to destroy it, or even to reverse its democratic and economic dividends of recent years.
Ghanaian star Andre Ayew has emerged as a surprise transfer target for Liverpool, according to ESPN.
New Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp has reportedly highlighted Ayew, currently on the books of Swansea City, as one of his key transfer targets.
Klopp is said to be a big admirer of the Black Stars player and could make a move for him in the January transfer window.
Britain’s Heather Watson has battled into the second round of the Hong Kong Open, beating China’s Zhang Kai-Lin.
The 23-year-old British number two took more than two hours to overcome world number 191 Zhang 3-6 6,-1 6-2.
Watson’s serve was not on form as she was broken three times in losing the first set and did not serve an ace until the third game of the second set.