Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1259, (20 - 26 August 2015)
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1259, (20 - 26 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan back in dictator mode

After a period of relative quiet, Turkey’s president is again looming large, seeking to revive in fresh elections his imperial dream of absolute power, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Apparently it was an illusion. Millions of people had imagined that their president would simply retreat into a corner after having been delivered what could only be considered a personal defeat at the ballot box on 7 June when the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) suffered its biggest setback during its 13 years in power and failed to obtain an overwhelming parliamentary majority. After all, he had personally campaigned for the party he had cofounded and ensured that it had access to all the resources of the state. And certainly he must have felt the sting of defeat, for the Turkish public was suddenly treated to a long respite of silence from his quarter after having heard and seen him several times a day on national radio and television during the run-up to the electoral marathon.

But that welcome relief was fated to end. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has returned with a vengeance, making his daily appearances in which he projects an image starkly contrasting with that gloomy countenance occasioned by the parliamentary losses. Speaking from his birthplace in the Black Sea town of Rize, he declared that the JDP was the very symbol of honesty. As this comes from someone who is constitutionally bound to be non-partisan, the message was clear: all other parties could go to hell as it was time for the people to rally around their ruling party which should rule alone.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who heads the outgoing government, confirmed on 30 July what everyone knew to be a fact. “Everyone should be aware that it is impossible to form a government without the directives from Erdogan,” he said. He should know, being one at the beck-and-call end of those directives. He certainly knew what his president wanted ahead of 11 August, the date when some people anticipated an announcement of the creation of a coalition government between the JDP and the opposition Republican People’s Party (RPP). Don’t expect any historic speeches on that day, Davutoglu cautioned those people. He knew better than others how much his president, who had officially charged him with forming a coalition, shuddered at the very mention of the word coalition. Needless to say, there were no historic speeches.

The leader had other plans. Some of these began to surface in his call for meetings with village mayors which, on the surface, were intended to win them over to his side but, at another level, were intended to entrust them with the tasks of spying on the citizens of their village. Borrowing a leaf from the Stalinist totalitarian handbook, he expected those mayors to transmit to him every detail of what took place in their villages. Still, this came as little surprise to opposition leaders who have long since begun to liken him to Hitler, Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein.

With imperiousness, Erdogan scoffed at those who have the nerve to insist he comply with the constitutional stipulation that he be a non-partisan president, saying, “I will not be the president they want. I came to power through free and direct elections.” Evidently he forgot that those elections were based on a constitution that he is sworn to uphold and that accord him primarily honorary powers. Just last year, around this time, he took an oath of office in which he pledged, “to abide by the Constitution, the rule of law, democracy, the principles of the secular Republic, not to deviate from the ideal according to which everyone is entitled to enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms under conditions of national peace and prosperity and in a spirit of national solidarity and justice.” He also pledged “to perform impartially and without bias the functions that I have assumed and to maintain an equal distance from all.”

But then, judging from his actions, he has little respect for those portions of the constitution that are not to his liking or that do not serve his ends. On the other hand, when there is a provision that serves one of his purposes at a particular time he will be the first to cite it. A case in point is his argument that he does not have the power to extend the 45-day period called for in the constitution to form a government.

Meanwhile, all who have rallied beneath the banner of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) cry out again and again, “Just as we kept you from realising your ambitions the first time around we’ll keep you from realising them the second time around.”

Which brings us to the crucial question as to where Turkey is heading.

There was a time when Erdogan was against broadcasting scenes of the funerals of soldiers on television. He feared that this would broaden the gap between Turks and Kurds and hamper the peace process he was leading at the time. Yet, last Sunday he made a point of personally attending the funeral of a martyred police officer in Trabzon during which he took the occasion to vow that he would hunt down terrorists wherever they were. What explains this 180-degree turnabout? One does not have to look far. He is gambling on winning over the votes of the ultra-nationalists.

In this regard, Candas Tolga Isik of Posta newspaper drew attention to an important point which is the common ground that exists between the JDP and the National Movement Party (NMP). “Pay attention to what spokesmen for the latter party are saying in their negative comments about Ak Saray (the presidential palace). The chairman of that party (NMP), Devlet Bahceli, had once said that the society that combines nationalist culture with Islam is the ideal society for Turkey. Therefore, Bahceli said, while his party does not resemble the JDP ‘there are common denominators between us and it.’” Bahceli’s point was clear: the NMP could come to an agreement with the JDP.

Isik goes on to observe that if snap elections were held in November, the parties would fall into two camps. On the one side would be the parties that promise death (the JDP and NMP), on the other side will stand the parties that promise life (the RPP and PDP). He cautioned that, before the latter party is dissolved and its leaders are thrown into jail, the two parties promising life needed to get to work, without wasting any more time, in order to make it clear to public opinion that the JDP and NMP will only plunge the country into civil war and domestic strife. Turkey will not attain happiness or stability until it returns to European standards, he warned.

Albay Sahin echoed this view: “Let there be no doubt that the sea of blood will grow deeper and broader day after day if Turkey goes the route of early elections which are the life raft that Erdogan needs so as not to be brought to account for his corruption.”

Veysel Ayhan, another well-known columnist, also warned of the dangers that awaited the country if the Erdogan scenario were allowed to persist. This was the man, Ayhal reminded readers, who placed all the services of the government at the disposal of his party, who controlled and personally intervened in the content of state-owned media, who insisted that his inauguration of some project or other be covered live on 12 TV stations (regardless of the fact that the majority of those projects never saw completion). This was also the man who hurls insults and highly offensive remarks at all who differ with him, routinely accuses the opposition of treason, and invents some imaginary link between anyone he dislikes and the “parallel entity” by which he refers to the faith-based movement founded by his archenemy Fethullah Gulen.

As for the firestorm that has begun to blaze in southeast Anatolia after more than two years of calm, many have no doubt as to who struck the match. In his column on the T24 news website, Hasan Cemal points directly at the occupant of the presidential palace. “The main problem is Erdogan. Period,” reads his title.

Another columnist, Ömer Nurettin, elucidates: that problem had to do with the mentality of those who once rhapsodised about democracy, the rule of law, respect for the will of the people, and bowing to the results of the ballot box, but who suddenly turn against all these principles the moment they realise they no longer serve their ends and who have no compunction at driving their country toward disaster if that promotes their own interests.

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