More empowered, Erdogan to test patience of Turkish society
Regardless of the controversy his managerial approach has caused at home and abroad, there seems to be no slowing down by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in trying to accomplish his grand plan.
Having robustly claimed victory in the constitutional referendum, whose vote count was found dubious by international observers, he emerged as equally successful in sealing legitimacy by most world leaders.
Next, he sought to return as chairman of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). To do that, he did not even work up a sweat. In the party congress May 21, he was, as expected, the only candidate for the position and won by nearly unanimous vote. Crowds cheered in delirium when he began his speech with a brief question: “Where were we?”
The botched coup of last July gave Erdogan a chance to control the military, which he nearly did. The referendum on April 16 handed him extraordinary powers to steer the legislature and the judiciary as he wishes. On May 21, he regained full grip over the AKP. In terms of the construction of a perfect autocracy, the race is as much as complete. Erdogan proves over and over what an impregnable long-distance runner he is.
Observers and opposition figures in Turkey who voiced optimism that Erdogan would soften now that he had accumulated absolute power have also been proven wrong. Days before he was officially re-elected as party leader, top figures of the largest business organisation in Turkey, the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TUSIAD), pleaded with him in cautiously selected words to abolish the state of emergency.
“I don’t understand what harm it has done to you businesspeople,” Erdogan responded resolutely. “We maintain the state of emergency to keep everything on track and will not lift it till we achieve calm.”
He repeated this much more powerfully when addressing the crowd after the party congress. “They ask me when it will be lifted,” he said. “How dare you ask me this? It will not be lifted! Why should it be?”
The fact of the matter is, as some observers note, the more power he assembles, the more relentless Erdogan becomes. It leaves even the most prominent members of the AKP concerned that the purge sweeping over the country will penetrate their party and that a cleansing is under way.
They may be right. To consolidate absolute power, Erdogan’s next step will likely be to chase away past and present foes in the party he deems the sharpest tool to cut the upcoming political knots.
A little farther ahead, in a regular meeting of the Supreme Military Council in early August, lies the military redesign. As Erdogan prepares for a series of removals and appointments in the top echelons of the military, as unquestionable commander-in-chief, he faces no obstacles to doing so. This carries a potential for recurring tensions, or even a new mutiny, making August, when the key meetings for restructuring under Erdogan’s chairmanship are to take place, hot in more than a weather sense.
But is the path to autocratic rule without any mines? Is the ongoing shift sustainable? There are serious signs of rapidly accumulating anger. Tourism, a key sector for Turkey, is down 70%. More than 37,000 small shop owners stopped doing business between January and April. These are signs of a slow-motion crisis whose effects may be dramatic from the autumn on.
The most serious issue involves the continuing mass dismissal of public sector employees. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said the purge was responsible for nearly 150,000 people being fired, with 48,000 of them thrown in prison. This is, a recent report by Amnesty International claims, what turns Turkey into a slow-burning powder keg.
Calling the sanctions “arbitrary,” Amnesty International said that it has had a catastrophic impact on the lives of the families of those dismissed and damaged their livelihoods. Titled “No end in sight: Purged public sector workers denied a future in Turkey,” the report said that tens of thousands of people, including doctors, police officers, teachers, academics and soldiers, have been branded as terrorists and banned from work even outside the public sector and are struggling to make ends meet. One observer called it “professional annihilation.”
One of the victims interviewed, said: “They don’t allow us to leave the country. They don’t allow us to work… What do they want me to do?”
“Under a system like this, many of the country’s problems would fester,” the report said. “Many of the trends observed in the lead-up and aftermath of the presidential referendum point to the possibility of a much darker future, one in which Erdogan does, in fact, resort to draconian tactics to block opposition from rival fronts and, in doing so, pushes the country into chaos.”
President, party leader and commander-in-chief who rules de facto over parliament, the judiciary and the business, engineering much more resolutely the lifestyles of his people by testing the patience of the nation, Erdogan looks more determined for an iron rule than ever before. However, questions about the sustainability of his project become bolder by the day.