‘With a news cy­cle as mad as this, Turkey should ex­port its na­tional drama as a source of in­come.’ So goes the wise­crack about the head­long pace of news in Turkey, where a sput­ter­ing na­tional econ­omy, pre­car­i­ous ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Ankara and Kur­dish sep

Turkish Review - - FRONT PAGE - NOAH BLASER

Public de­bate over that whirl­wind of is­sues is com­pli­cated by a set of ob­sta­cles long familiar to Turkey watch­ers: Cen­sor­ship of op­po­si­tion news out­lets, an ac­cel­er­at­ing crack­down on so­cial me­dia and na­tional po­lar­iza­tion over Er­doğan’s fiercely di­vi­sive style of lead­er­ship.

Less com­men­tary, how­ever, has been de­voted to how the manic pace of na­tional news has granted Er­doğan’s rul­ing Jus­tice and Devel­op­ment Party (AK Party) a re­prieve from is­sues that prove widely un­pop­u­lar with its vot­ers. Less at­ten­tion still has been de­voted to the link be­tween the AK Party’s po­lit­i­cal agility and Er­doğan’s his­tory of start­ing highly po­lar­iz­ing de­bates over Turkey’s most sen­si­tive cul­tural dis­putes.

Er­doğan has long dis­pensed a range of con­ser­va­tive pre­scrip­tions for Turk­ish so­ci­ety, call­ing on Turk­ish women to have at least three chil­dren, vow­ing to in­tro­duce Ot­toman Turk­ish classes into Turk­ish pri­mary schools and dis­miss­ing gen­der equal­ity as “against na­ture.” De­lib­er­ately or in­ci­den­tally, how­ever, those out­bursts have at times helped his party es­cape tricky po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tions.

When prime min­is­ter, the head of state was once ac­cused of un­veil­ing a state cam­paign against abor­tion in or­der to de­flect crit­i­cism from a botched airstrike that left 34 Turk­ish cit­i­zens dead. In 2013, shortly af­ter a bomb killed 51 peo­ple in the Turk­ishsyr­ian bor­der town of Rey­hanlı, AK Party deputies rushed a con­tro­ver­sial al­co­hol law through Par­lia­ment, drawing na­tional at­ten­tion to­ward a heated de­bate be­tween con­ser­va­tives and sec­u­lar­ists.

“We should be ex­tremely skep­ti­cal about look­ing for a ‘hid­den rea­son’ be­hind Er­doğan’s po­lit­i­cal tac­tics,” said Aslı Ay­dın­taşbaş, a colum­nist for the daily Mil­liyet and for­mer host of the CNNTürk talk show “Karşı Gün­dem.” “But it is un­de­ni­able that [Er­doğan] has an in­nate sense of what the public wants and how to shape the public dis­course.”

As elec­tions near and the AK Party weath­ers in­ter­nal skep­ti­cism over a flag­ging econ­omy and Er­doğan’s vi­sion of a strength­ened pres­i­dency, it’s easy to imag­ine Er­doğan lean­ing on di­vi­sive is­sues to rally sup­port among his na­tion­al­ist, con­ser­va­tive vot­ers, said Soli Özel, an in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions pro­fes­sor at İstanbul’s Kadir Has Uni­ver­sity.

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