Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1254, (9 - 22 July 2015)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1254, (9 - 22 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Authoritarian dreams

Despite the June rebuff at the polls, all indications are that Turkey’s Erodgan has not given up on his imperial dreams, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Can he bring himself to relinquish his grandiose dream to make himself the very centre of his country, the cynosure of all eyes, the linchpin that controls every string, the hub to which every detail must turn for approval?

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has certainly devoted every ounce of effort and untold sums from the nation’s budget to make this dream come true. During the last parliamentary elections he embarked on a marathon campaign trail, exhorting people to turn out to the polls to vote for the “fate of the country”, the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP).

The party is said to epitomise the “hope” of transforming Turkey’s system of government into a presidential one. Apparently, the parliamentary system is no longer suitable for the Turkish republic, now that it is approaching its centennial anniversary, in eight years’ time.

But things just did not turn out as planned. In the elections of 7 June the religious conservatives that make up the JDP won far fewer seats than they and Erdogan had set their sights on. But the liberals and secularists of the Republican People’s Party (RPP) did not do as well as they had hoped either.

Rather, it was the extreme parties that won, namely the ultranationalists and the Kurds. And it was the latter camp that the president, with his undeniable political cunning, used as his starting point for reviving his pet project.

This entails calling for early elections, banking on the fears of the simple people who cannotaccept the fanaticism of either the ultranationalists or the impetuousness of counterparts on the other end of the spectrum, the Kurds.

In addition, Erdogan can feed popular alarm and anger against the “enemies of Islam”, meaning the secularists who are forever weaving plots and conspiracies against their society’s culture and heritage with help from certain forces abroad. As we know from the lengthy lore of Erdogan’s rhetoric, every political party and NGO that opposes the JDP and him falls into this category.

Naturally, he knows the importance of striking while the iron is hot to keep a step ahead of his adversaries, and to undermine any plans they might get into their heads. At every Ramadan breakfast he hosts or attends, he warns of the grave problems facing Turkey. He speaks of the important decisions that need to be taken, and the urgency of forming a strong government with the wisdom and resolve to shoulder these burdens and meet the challenges.

A minority government is not up to this, he stresses, adding the reminder that in the event it fails to form a coalition government the matter will return to the will of the people, meaning early elections. And he is confident that it will fail.

He has good reason to be. He realises that none of the other parties want to be tainted by allying with the JDP especially after they had all vowed in their electoral campaigns to combat the corruption for which they allege the ruling party is responsible.

Erdogan is also banking on the interest groups that feel jeopardised by the results of the 7 June polls and the JDP’s decline. Proof of this is that some high-profile, government-sponsored mega-projects have ground to a halt. Against the backdrop of the current haze over the country’s political future, this has triggered panic among investors.

There was a time when investors could snatch up parcels of land in certain areas at about $18 a metre to build fancy compounds and resorts that immediately jacked up the price of a square metre to $250. That era appears threatened.

For example, construction of Istanbul’s third airport has stopped and it is uncertain when and if construction will resume. The project had been controversial from the outset due to the environmental threat it poses. Now, according to Bünyamin Köseli of Meydan newspaper, the real-estate sector of that area is experiencing its worst season in 15 years.

Another halted construction project is Istanbul’s third Bosphorus bridge, due to a court ruling prohibiting the construction of the roads leading to it. This precipitated a 30 per cent decline in land prices in that area. Similarly, real-estate prospectors are alarmed by the halt in the Kanal Istanbul project, the mega-project to build an alternative channel to link the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara.

Accordingly, all these investors are keen for early elections and the return to power of the JDP with a large parliamentary majority, so it could rescue all these mega-projects from their current stagnation.

As he still controls major satellite television networks and widely circulating dailies, it is no coincidence that these have begun to martial their energies to prepare the climate for early elections. Their general message is that he measure is essential to keep the country from sliding into chaos and instability.

In a similar spirit, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus, on Sunday, reminded the public that the step would be inevitable as long as the political parties are so far removed from each other and continue to bicker.

Still, the path to this measure is not paved with roses. True, there is considerable dissatisfaction among the public, but this does not mean that they will reverse course on the trends that were manifested in the recent polls. This applies, too, to the approximately million and a half voters who had reportedly nullified their votes.

At the same time, the JDP’s opponents are continually warning the public of the potential dangers of helping the current president give free rein to his dreams of power. There is little need for them to add the reminder that he already is taking full advantage of his constitutional powers, which he twists to suit his purpose while ignoring any constitutional restrictions that might hamper his manoeuvrability in the course of his single-minded pursuit of the imperial republican throne.

Cumhuriyet newspaper had little difficulty in explaining why Erdogan is bent on early elections. The polls on 7 June failed to give the party he founded the 400 seats needed to push through the constitutional changes he seeks, and he will not rest until the ballot box restores one-party rule and the avenue to his total monopoly on power.

Political observers in general believe that Erdogan will continue to work to forge a coalition government between the JDP and one of the opposition parties. At the same time, they say, he will do his utmost to portray that government as weak and to delude the people into believing that the problem resides in the parliamentary system, which, he claims, is not commensurate to the job of creating the “new Turkey.”

Nazlli Ilicak of Bügün newspaper made an interesting observation. Suppose, she said, that parliamentary elections were held again and suppose, moreover, that this time Erdogan did what the president is supposed to do, which is to refrain from taking part in parliamentary campaigns.

In this case, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, alone, would steer the JDP campaign. He would not stand a chance because of the prestige he lost due to constant intervention from the presidential palace in every decision and action he took, the effect of which was to make him look like an adjunct to Erdogan’s office rather than a prime minister, as commonly understood in democratic countries.

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