Lim­its to Er­do­gan’s au­toc­racy

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - Anshel E[Z÷Zg THE VIEW FROM TURKEY

RECEP TAYYIP Er­do­gan, the Turk­ish Pres­i­dent, once fa­mously likened democ­racy to a train on “which you travel un­til you reach your des­ti­na­tion, and then get off”. Fol­low­ing the events of this Sun­day’s ref­er­en­dum in Turkey, it seems that Mr Er­do­gan has fi­nally reached his sta­tion. De­spite al­le­ga­tions of wide­spread fraud in the vote-count­ing and un­prece­dented chal­lenges by the main op­po­si­tion par­ties who refuse to ac­cept the of­fi­cial ref­er­en­dum re­sult of 51.4 per cent of Turk­ish vot­ers in favour, the Pres­i­dent claimed vic­tory and is go­ing for­ward with the trans­for­ma­tion of Turkey to a pres­i­den­tial regime, one which gives him wide-reach­ing pow­ers.

But even at the peak of his pow­ers, Pres­i­dent Er­do­gan is con­strained, at home and abroad. On the do­mes­tic front, he can­not ignore the fact that, even after fight­ing the ref­er­en­dum cam­paign on what the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Se­cu­rity and Co-oper­a­tion in Europe termed a “un­level field”, and all the vote-count­ing ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties, his op­po­nents man­aged 48.6 per cent of the vote.

To as­sume the new pow­ers of the pres­i­dency, he has to win an­other elec­tion in 2019, an elec­tion which will no doubt take place un­der even greater scru­tiny, and in which he stands to lose not only the en­hanced po­si­tion he has been try­ing to build for over a decade, but his le­git­i­macy. For now, how­ever, he is dou­bling down.

Mr Er­do­gan has lit­tle to worry about from chal­lenges to the ref­er­en­dum re­sults. The Turk­ish le­gal sys­tem, ruth­lessly purged of his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents, is un­likely to up­hold the chal­lenges. But he has more press­ing worries across the bor­der in Syria.

Turkey’s Nato part­ner, the United States, is about to lead an al­lied push against the Daesh strong­hold in Raqqa. The main forces on the ground are the Kur­dish-led Syr­ian De­fence Forces, to which Mr Er­do­gan is res­o­lutely op­posed for fear of a Kur­dish au­ton­omy tak­ing shape on his bor­der. He wants to launch an of­fen­sive of his own, with more friendly Kur­dish forces against Raqqa and is seek­ing back­ing from Rus­sia. But the Krem­lin’s sup­port will come with a price — re­lin­quish­ing Mr Er­do­gan’s long-held op­po­si­tion to Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad re­main­ing in power.

This is not the first time re­cently where Mr Er­do­gan has been forced to ac­knowl­edge his lim­i­ta­tions in the re­gion. In Turkey’s rap­proche­ment with Is­rael last year, it gave up its de­mand to “open up” the Gaza Strip and agreed to limit the op­er­a­tions of Ha­mas’s of­fice in Turkey. Se­nior of­fi­cials in Jerusalem and Ankara agree that, ul­ti­mately, the Turk­ish Pres­i­dent had to give up most of his de­mands to re­build the co-or­di­na­tion with Is­rael which is im­por­tant to Turkey’s re­gional in­ter­ests.

Now he will have to make dif­fi­cult choices to re­main a power-player in Syria’s fu­ture. Both Vladimir Putin and Don­ald Trump phoned him to con­grat­u­late him on his ref­er­en­dum win. It was a re­minder that not all his prob­lems can be solved by stuffing bal­lot boxes.

Be­neath Mr Er­do­gan’s bom­bas­tic and an­tag­o­nis­tic rhetoric is ruth­less prag­ma­tism and a cal­cu­lat­ing po­lit­i­cal mind. He knew that — in a coun­try fac­ing both Kur­dish and Is­lamist ter­ror cam­paigns and still in the state of emer­gency called in the wake of last year’s failed mil­i­tary coup — he could get away with a fraud­u­lent ref­er­en­dum. Once pow­er­ful mil­i­tary and le­gal es­tab­lish­ments are today pow­er­less to op­pose him.

He also feels that, with the cur­rent tur­moil in the Euro­pean Union, he can chal­lenge its lead­ers , call them “Nazis” and “Cru­saders” and use them as con­ve­nient hate-fig­ures to rally his base. Ear­lier in his long stint in power, he trod with much more care around the army and made sweep­ing demo­cratic re­forms to mol­lify the EU. He is aware that the power-bal­ance can change. Now he is much more care­ful with the White House, the Krem­lin and Is­rael than just a cou­ple of years ago.

Even ac­cord­ing to the skewed of­fi­cial ref­er­en­dum re­sults, Mr Er­do­gan lost the sup­port of Turkey’s main cities, in­clud­ing Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir. With the Turk­ish econ­omy tee­ter­ing on the brink of a re­ces­sion, he can ill af­ford tur­moil in the ma­jor com­mer­cial cen­tres, which are also the hubs of the cri­sis-struck tourism in­dus­try. With­out po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity and a respite from the ter­ror at­tacks, a decade-and-a-half of eco­nomic growth and rel­a­tive pros­per­ity will come to an abrupt end and Mr Er­do­gan will lose many of his re­main­ing sup­port­ers.

Iso­lated at the top of a nar­row hi­er­ar­chy, Turkey and its Pres­i­dent’s fate are in­ter­twined, de­pen­dent on his abil­ity now to rein in his au­to­cratic ten­den­cies and re­build bridges to trade part­ners in Europe and the es­tranged half of his own na­tion.

He feels he can chal­lenge the lead­ers of the EU

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