Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1249, (4 - 10 June 2015)
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1249, (4 - 10 June 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan and winning

Sunday’s elections in Turkey will decide not only a parliament, but also the very fate of a nation, hung in the balance on the downward slope to dictatorship, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid from Ankara

Al-Ahram Weekly

For whom will the bells toll come Sunday? From 8:00am to 6:00pm that day, some 47 million Turks will head to the polls to elect 550 members of the forthcoming parliament. Observers in Turkey and abroad see that day as a crucial turning point on which hangs the fate of the country’s political future. The results of those polls will determine whether the country rehabilitates itself and takes serious steps towards rebuilding an eroded democracy or whether it will plunge headlong into unfettered totalitarian dictatorship. The latter, of course, is to be tailored around a revered leader surrounded by a loyal and obsequious coterie, whose every wish is carried out by carefully vetted and controlled technocrats, who sustains a loyal but impotent opposition as part of the facade, and who has already built himself a fantasy palace as his seat of power, an edifice that outstrips in grandeur and opulence the luxury palaces of an era that was brought to a merciful end by the revolution led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk against the Ottoman imperial throne in the early 20th century.

Those close to the powers-that-be in Ankara, who always display a string of prayer beads in their hands these days and who have already begun to grow their beards in anticipation of the forthcoming Erdogan era, are thoroughly confident that the electoral results that will flash across state-run and private television screens four hours after the polling stations close will proclaim a definitive victory, with the aid of the Almighty, for the shining white knight of the Justice and Development Party (JDP). Here, they are not thinking of current Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, but rather Recep Tayyip Erdogan who plans to gird his presidential throne with unlimited powers inspired by a distant era.

Taking advantage of the 562nd anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople at the hands of Sultan Mehmet “The Conqueror” in 1453, Erdogan prepared a speech that he delivered at Yenikapi in Istanbul to remind all of the connection between that glorious era and his political party meaning himself. “We will not recede before those who want to extinguish the conquest’s fire that has been ablaze in our hearts for 562 years,” he proclaimed. “We will always uphold the spirit of conquest,” which “means reviving Turkey,” he added in an allusion to the 12 years he spent in power scoring achievements no less magnificent to that of Mehmet the Conqueror.

It was a speech heavily peppered with religious citations, underscoring the theocratic character of his demagoguery which has been increasing steadily in the course of the electoral campaign he is leading personally for the JDP, in flagrant defiance of the constitutional provision stipulating that the president must remain non-partisan. Meanwhile, others from his coterie have been working to construct an aura of religious sanctity around his person. Yasin Aktay, a prominent JDP official, has composed a song praising Erdogan in the form of a religious hymn. “Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Commander… Pray for the Prophet Mohamed,” the lyrics go. Another JDP figure likened Erdogan to a companion of the Prophet while Davutoglu likened his party to Noah’s Ark. As for the captain of that JDP ark, Davutoglu knows as well as everyone else that it is Erdogan.

It is perhaps not surprising, given this spirit of Erdogan worship, to find new mobile phone models on the Turkish market. According to the Zaman news website, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 plus are now out in the “Erdogan edition”, elegantly encrusted with precious diamonds. The new luxury models, specially designed by the Hong Kong-based Royal Tech Plating firm, will only be available in limited quantities. Naturally, the image of Erdogan is engraved on the back. In one model this image is plated in 24-carat gold while the stars in the frame are high-quality diamonds. It costs $19,000. As for those who can make do without the precious metal, the price is a mere $9,000.

Such are the images that are being marketed to the public day and night by the president’s media. But what about the other side?

Taking up pencil and paper, and calculating the realities of daily life, the concerns of ordinary people in the country’s cities, towns and villages, while factoring out the misinformation and ruses that are being propagated by all means, including illicit ones, one reaches the conclusion that the JDP can not emerge from the forthcoming electoral marathon as well as it did in previous rounds, including the municipal elections that were held on 30 March 2014, in which there was no small amount of tampering, some of which was even acknowledged by the Supreme Electoral Commission.

Recently conducted impartial surveys indicate that a probable JDP success will not be without a bitter taste of defeat, especially when compared with party predictions and aspirations, and of course those of its leader. Rivals are likely to attract votes through pledges that directly address people’s needs and seek to raise the standards of living of large segments of society. If so, the JDP may not find it possible to form a government on its own. This is what Murat Kazici of the Turkish Research Institute predicts. In its last poll, conducted before the 10-day cut off period before the elections, after which such surveys are no long permitted under Turkish law, the institute predicted that the JDP would win 39.3 per cent of the vote, compared to 28.5 per cent for the Republican People’s Party (RPP). The National Movement Party (NMP), according to this survey, will come in third while the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (PDP) will garner 12.4 per cent of the votes, which would earn it 65 seats in parliament. Naturally, such a scenario would burst all of Erdogan’s dreams that have led him to a world of megalomaniacal fantasies and his followers to become new types of sun worshippers.

As his behaviour suggests, Erdogan will settle for nothing less than sweeping victory, so that he can engineer an overthrow of the Turkish political system, and there is nothing that he would not do to bring this about. Therefore, there is widespread concern over the likelihood of electoral tampering and fraud. In an attempt to forestall this, the major opposition parties have begun to take a number of precautions, training its representatives in how to monitor the ballot boxes and to be on the lookout for possible infringements during the voting process or the tallying of votes. Still fresh in people’s minds are the incidents of tampering that took place in the municipal elections last year, especially in the case of the closely contested mayoral polls in Ankara that led to the defeat of RPP candidate Mansur Yavas after he had declared a victory. Erdogan, himself, made a curious remark regarding electoral fraud on 18 April last year. He called it “confronting enemies”.

Flagrant incidents of fraud in those elections, including some that took place in polling stations abroad, have heightened fears of systematic foul play in the forthcoming elections. Numerous cases were reported in some polling centres in Europe where there was at least one case of an official voting twice. More important was the notorious incident in which some ballot boxes were discovered to have been locked away in a room belonging to a member of the ruling JDP.

If such shenanigans do not pan out, what will happen? Yurt newspaper is of the opinion that Erdogan will turn to the “crazy scenario”, which would be to avail himself of a prerogative accorded to him under Article 116 of the Constitution and call for early elections. Like dictators everywhere in the world, he has a plan to counter every bad scenario and to avert prosecution for corruption and bribery after he and the members of his family are stripped of immunity, the newspaper wrote. There is a possibility that Erdogan could be brought to account before the Supreme Court for violating the constitution and law by intervening in judicial authority. If so, he would have another personal reason for his desperation to ensure that his JDP wins at least 330 seats in Sunday’s elections.

Whatever happens, it is clear that Anatolia is headed for a rough period. The decision makers in Ankara have woven a dense network of vested interests and are not about to risk giving all that up just because ballot box returns go the wrong way. Their determination to get their own way certainly helps explain the polarisation that currently exists and why it grew much more severe. Still, the hope remains that Monday will bring some fresh air, together with the tidings that Turkey will not be mutated into the entity that Erdogan has in mind.

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