Opposition remaining weak, Erdogan’s only foe is Erdogan
If “Quo vadis?” has been the question used most frequently in the context of Turkey over the past two decades, it is for a good reason. Despite the relative economic stability, its political system has remained corrosive and its complex society has never been liberated from turmoil.
Now, under an extremely visible authoritarianism promoted by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the very existential essence of the republic is in trouble, a harbinger of an even more profound crisis ahead.
Given Erdogan’s unshakable determination to reconstruct Turkey as a country run singlehandedly, under a model that has the blend of ingredients imported from Ba’athism and deeply dictatorial Central Asian republics, this seems inevitable. On the political, legal and social levels, screws are tightening at an accelerated pace.
Fiercely defying the March for Justice by the secular main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), which had assembled hundreds of thousands in Istanbul, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its de facto ally, the extreme-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), voted for changing the 44-year-old regulations of parliament.
The right to voice dissenting views as well as steps for accountability will be severely restricted when the changes are in force.
Far more radically, the steps mean that freedom of speech will be put under a yoke. The use of terms such as “Kurdish provinces,” “Kurdistan” or “Armenian Genocide” would be punishable by large fines and suspension from parliamentary activities of deputies. Criticism of “high dignitaries of the state” — for example the president — would be an equally high-risk adventure.
This move leaves parliament devoid of political weight. One CHP deputy described it as the “last nail in the coffin of democracy.”
There is more. Erdogan has subordinated the judiciary to his palace. The most recent arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders — without proof — are by far the strongest sign of another ingredient in his political architecture under way: Putinism.
Socially, society is more polarised than ever, with Erdogan responding to the CHP-led March for Justice with a mass rally to celebrate the rescue of democracy a year ago, when a small group of officers attempted a takeover by a limited uprising.
In many ways bitterly reminiscent of similar ones in 1930’s Europe, the assemblies in Istanbul and Ankara were pumped up by speeches filled with threats to domestic opposition and severe accusations to Turkey’s allies. CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu refused to attend events on the anniversary of the failed coup events because his speech was cancelled on orders from Erdogan.
To underline Erdogan’s resolve to take full control of Turkey, the ruling AKP, backed by the MHP, extended emergency rule another three months. Optimists were shocked to hear the president say, once more, that it would be extended “as long as we want it to be,” that Turkey without such limitations was inviting anarchy and chaos.
Allies and friends of Turkey in the West seem to have let go of the benevolent anchor and are preparing for a country that to their eyes is no different than Egypt, Pakistan or Malaysia.
“The president’s ideas for recasting Turkey are worrying for all sorts of reasons — not least because they are premised on an act of collective vengeance,” British newspaper the Guardian said in an editorial.
The essence of the debate thickens: Does Erdogan’s hiking tenacity point to strength or weakness? Critics at home see his raised acrimony as a sign he was frightened by the March for Justice and that his party is losing at the polls. This view, however, may be an illusion.
As far as his seizure of control of key state institutions and the way he has surrounded himself with hard-line cadres of bureaucracy are concerned, this is just the opposite. The fact is, as the Guardian pointed out: “His opponents are scattered. In politics, they remain divided between Kurdish, nationalist and leftist groups.”
Erdogan may have been seeing pockets of dissent within the army’s leadership — his emphasis on “purging out all subversive elements” was very loud lately — and decided to go full blast towards a meeting of the Supreme Military Council in August that will put final touches on reshaping the army to serve his political vision.
Once he passes that threshold, his attention will turn to tightening “loose screws” in his party and, his real challenge, the economy.
The latter means, clearly, that if Erdogan eventually has to leave power, it will be because of himself; not due to the opposition. The signs are telling of a “Turkish bubble.”
“Fears for the Turkish economy in international decision-making centres are running very high and it’s only considered a matter of time now before the bubble bursts,” wrote Alexis Papahelas, executive editor of Kathimerini. “The fact that the Erdogan system issues its own loans outside the institutional banking framework speaks volumes.”
Unemployment is rising — as is the budget deficit — and is three times higher than a year ago. Turkey has expanded state guarantees to pump in $14 billion loans to almost 300,000 firms. Nobody knows how these loans are spent. Approximately $200 billion of assets have been injected into a wealth fund.
Another Venezuela? Maybe. No matter what, one will have to follow the money to answer the question “Quo vadis, Turkey?”