Erdogan’s rise, Turkey’s fall

Given the temperamental and vengeful nature of Turkey’s new supreme leader and the country’s polarisation, it is foolish to expect the regime to soften.
Sunday 15/07/2018
Up in the air. An election poster of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a rally in Istanbul, last June. (Reuters)
Up in the air. An election poster of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a rally in Istanbul, last June. (Reuters)

“I have absolutely no concerns at all. All those institutions and boards operate now under me.” With those words, Turkey’s newly re-elected super-president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, sounded more confident than ever when questioned about any possible clash of power centres in the country.

He is right. Reaffirming the notion of a deeply rooted paternalistic political culture in Turkey, Erdogan has assembled almost every authority possible within his person. He has gained a kind of omnipotence comparable perhaps only with bygone Ba’athist leaders or, better still, those who rule with an iron fist in Central Asian republics.

Erdogan was sworn-in at a ceremony that left the remaining believers of the ultra-secular Kemalist doctrine in shock and awe — there was Quranic recitation and ritual reminiscent of the Ottomans. After that, Erdogan wasted no time in asserting his authority. The barrage of decrees was dazzling even to those who had some idea of what to expect.

The decrees abolished administrative structures nearly 100 years old and transferred immense power to the super-president. Erdogan can, at will, micromanage every aspect of life in Turkey.

The purge is comparable in magnitude only to the ones during Stalin’s rule. It continues deep into the security structures of the state, with the focus on the dismissal of nearly 20,000 police and army officers by seemingly irreversible decrees.

By and large, one could argue, the elections and their aftershocks, with all the allegations of vote-rigging and systemic manipulation, amount to a civil coup or, at least, a revolution aimed at a full-scale power grab.

In a way, Erdogan showed the world it was possible to do what, once upon a time, Alberto Fujimori in Peru failed to manage. In the process, he set precedents for his admirers, such as Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela or Viktor Orban in Hungary.

By the time Erdogan had declared to the world that a new era in the Turkish republic had begun, his staunchly loyal followers were high on the president’s self-confidence. In the Erdogan camp, there isn’t a shred of doubt that the new republic, under the authority of a single man, would be fit to implement policies decided solely by him and questioned by absolutely nobody.

As Burhanettin Duran, general director of the Turkish government-funded think-tank Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research, wrote: “Under this new model… the Turkish government can focus on strategic planning and coordination. It can promote an active, effective and risk-taking approach among senior leadership.”

“Transforming the notion of government, not just its structure, can be on the nation’s agenda. Provided that the new system highlights competition between various players in the policy development process, it could transform Turkey’s static, slow and guardianship-prone bureaucracy based on performance and merit,” Duran added.

“Now is the time to develop comprehensive policies to build a better future and prevent turmoil.”

For the cool-headed, the extreme accumulation of power simply means disaster for socially complex Turkey. Since the late 1940s, Turkey has had the habit of free elections and reasonable faith in the rule of law. Against such a background, what Erdogan will do causes deep concern.

In practice, he can appoint and dismiss the executive officers of the state. In his absence, he will be represented by a vice-president recruited by him. He can issue decrees, declare a state of emergency and martial law. He will enjoy near total impunity and immunity and be impossible to impeach.

Parliamentary control over the political executive will be null and void, as the presidential palace has the leverage to control the legislature. He will appoint almost all the top judiciary and the board of judges and prosecutors. His control of the media will be near absolute.

In a nutshell, Erdogan will be Turkey’s head of state, head of government, head of the ruling party, head of the judiciary and the chief arbiter of media freedom.

Given the temperamental and vengeful nature of Turkey’s new supreme leader and the country’s polarisation, it is foolish to expect the regime to soften.

That said, despite Erdogan’s political victory, the declining economy poses a threat to his power. There is always the possibility of social unrest gaining strength.

Now, Erdogan faces the greatest of all adversaries: himself. If Turkey soon becomes ungovernable, there is no one to blame but him.

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