Rethinking Europe

The Beginning of the End of Erdogan’s Era

Public sentiment is moving away from President Erdogan in Turkey’s largest cities, especially his hometown of Istanbul. This will have major political ramifications.

Credit: Kancelaria Premiera www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • Public sentiment is moving away from Erdogan in Turkey’s largest cities. This will have major political ramifications.
  • The great weakening of the Turkish economy has expanded the pool of the dissatisfied well into the AKP’s own voter pool.
  • Erdogan is keen to become the absolute leader who can both shape Turkey’s destiny as an Islamic state and serve as the head of the Sunni Muslim world.
  • The close alliance with the West has become an obstacle for Erdogan to realize his national aspiration. That is why he is distancing himself from his allies.
  • The beginning of the end of Erdogan’s era has begun and his eventual downfall is all but sealed. The only question is how soon.

The result of the recent municipal elections in Turkey represents a major shift in that country. Public sentiment is moving away from President Erdogan in Turkey’s largest cities, especially his hometown of Istanbul. This will have major political ramifications.

Contrary to the claims of any election fraud by the opposition, the reason for the AKP’s poor performance is rooted in the present economic crisis and the ineptitude Erdogan exhibited in dealing with it.

The problem with one-man rule

The problem with one-man rule is that, by centering all political power onto himself, the supposed strong man also becomes responsible for all problems in the eyes of disgruntled voters.

The great weakening of the Turkish economy has expanded the pool of the dissatisfied well into the AKP’s own voter pool. Already, there are noises about a potent break-away faction formed by former AKP stalwarts.

Public outrage against Erdogan has been building

The local elections provided the first expression of the public outrage that has been building up for the past several years. These were shaped by Erdogan systematically dismantling what’s left of Turkey’s democracy.

This snuffing out of the previous dynamism and growth momentum has not just reversed the most significant socio-political and judicial achievements of the previous reform era. It is also leading to a significant brain drain from Turkey.

The country’s creative class, including many top academics, no longer see a future for themselves in their home country. Erdogan’s efforts to get them to stay are bound to show little, if any success.

Erdogan and democracy

For Erdogan, a democratic form of government was always only a tool for purely majoritarian rule. But even that was insufficient to satisfy his ambition.

Erdogan was — and is — keen to become the absolute leader who can both shape Turkey’s destiny as an Islamic state and serve as the head of the Sunni Muslim world.

As he once stated, “democracy is like a bus, once you reach your destination you get off.” Following the failed military coup, which he unconvincingly accused his staunch nemesis Fethullah Gülen of orchestrating, he immediately dismissed some 125,800 public officials and subjected nearly 446,000 to harsh interrogation.

The insatiable Mr. Erdogan

In an unprecedented crackdown, 17,000 women with over 700 small children have been jailed and subjected to torture. He systematically persecuted the country’s Kurdish community while denying them their basic human rights.

It is a rare act of justice being meted out in Turkey that Kurdish voters living in the big cities were perhaps the decisive voting block that defeated the AK Party.

Insatiable in his desire to dominate as ever, Erdogan also shut down nearly 130 television channels, radio stations, newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and had 231 journalists arrested. His purges have inflicted suffering on more than a million and a half people whose family members were targeted by Erdogan.

To be sure, Erdogan made Turkey a police state. Ordinary Turks are terrified of the unfolding abuse as he robbed not only their freedom but their dignity. That, too, is a critical factor depressing economic growth in Turkey.

Another key factor in that equation is Erdogan’s relentless pursuit of an aggressive Islamic agenda. He wants to instil in the public consciousness that people’s overall well-being is directly linked to their being devout Muslims.

However, that is a battle he is bound to lose – both in the big cities and among Turkey’s younger voters. Erdogan’s increased attempts to insert Islam into society and politics is resented because it runs contrary to the public’s belief that being a Muslim can go hand-in-hand with Western culture.

Ottoman tastes are backfiring

To instil images of the Ottoman era, Erdogan built for himself a 1,150-room presidential palace. Against the will of the people in Istanbul, he went ahead and converted a large section of Taksim Square into a huge mall that includes one of the largest mosques, designed architecturally to reflect the Ottoman period.

The heavy investments that Erdogan made to promote his illusionary revival of the Ottoman era greatly disillusioned even some of his ardent followers, for whom bread-and-butter issues are far more critical.

This contrast in priorities will become more of an issue as the economy is continuing to limp along and unlikely to recover any time soon.

The dangers of cold-shouldering the West

For Erdogan, the close alliance with the West has become an obstacle to realize his national aspiration. That is why he made a conscious decision to distance himself from his allies.

For example, he defied fellow NATO members by purchasing a sophisticated air defense system from the West’s staunchest adversary, Russia, potentially compromising the United States’’ military technology.

Erdogan continues to think that he can have it both ways on the foreign policy front. That may be his most fatal miscalculation.

Erdogan’s growing closeness to Putin

Erdogan’s growing closeness to Putin is alarming for most Turks. Anybody with just a basic sense of history must realize that Russia’s attitudes toward Turkey — the Ottomans long pestered Russia’s rulers — are not determined by even an ounce of forgiveness.

Erdogan is but a player in Putin’s scheme to undermine U.S. interests in the Middle East, weaken the U.S.-EU alliance and destabilize NATO. Coopting Erdogan is not part of any budding alliance, but a part of Putin’s sinister scheme.

Conclusion

Some say that the result of the recent Turkish local elections is indeed harmful to Erdogan politically, but will not undermine him in the long run. I disagree.

Given the public dismay and resentment of his brutal governing, the beginning of the end of Erdogan’s era has begun and his eventual downfall is all but sealed. The only question is how soon.

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About Alon Ben-Meir

Senior Fellow at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs and Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute [United States]

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