Turkey between 'yes' and 'no'
Claiming to protect democracy, Erdogan plans of becomming an absolute ruler
17 March, 2017
Turkish President Recep Erdogan is not the type of person to seek the cause of a given event in himself. On the contrary, the support he received from the Turkish people during the failed coup in July of last year seems to have boosted the perceived infallibility of his policies. And, domestically speaking, the latest episode of his tumultuous relationship with Europe these days works only to his benefit. It earns him the political dividends he needs to fulfill his dream of using the referendum scheduled for April to pass the constitutional reforms that will pave the way for a presidential republic.
After 13-14 years of purges in the army, the one-time sentinel of the secular state in Turkey, and the replacement of its leaders with Erdogan supporters, the Turkish president went on to shamelessly persecute the political opposition and critics of the regime and tighten his hold on the media, which exposed recorded telephone conversations between Erdogan and his son in 2014, implicating them in corruption. He also put the “disloyal” judicial system under his control after it had the audacity two years ago to acquit the 300 army officers accused of plotting a coup, the so-called Sledgehammer operation. In the wake of the failed coup of 2016, Erdogan felt justified in crushing the Turkish intellectuals, the same ones that educated the unruly young people who dared to protest against a government decision on Taksim Square five years ago. And so, without any qualms, he sacked over 30,000 teachers, public servants in the education sector, professors and deans of private and public universities across the country.
By persecuting any and all dissidents and putting fear into society with the argument that the Turkish citizens are prepared to die for his policies, the president asserted the idea of him becoming an absolute ruler.
Claiming that he is protecting democracy, the parliamentary system and rule of law from an exiled religious leader, Erdogan is portraying the image of a leader dedicated to the civilised world, who champions modern views against reactionaries. In reality, he is a reactionary in modernist clothing, or as Nobel Prize-winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk wrote, Erdogan’s true goal is to govern alone. He is simply clearing the obstacles on his path to absolute power. Obviously, he also enjoys seeing worked up crowds at rallies, as evidenced by his latest appearances. Erdogan is scoring points domestically by throwing labels as “banana republic” and “anachronisms from Nazi and fascist days” at the Dutch government and constantly threatening Europe to unleash the Syrian refugees on it.
What is an ordinary Turkish worker or salesman to think hearing the way their president is talking to the leaders of major European democracies given that the Netherlands and Austria banned Turkish campaign rallies on their territory? Of course, they would think that the Turkish are very strong and brave and that a former empire should never allow other former empires to dictate its actions, even on their own territories.
The behavior of European nationalists is also galvanising the Turkish people and increasing the chances of their president getting the desired result of the referendum. The efforts of some Europeans to paint the entire Muslim world as an enemy lead to radicalisation. But there are perhaps over 5 million Turkish workers and their descendants living in Member States and they do not like some of the values of European democracy to begin with. It all helps to consolidate the Turkish leader’s electorate.
There is another argument that works perfectly in favour of Erdogan. Turkey’s economic prosperity is at the foundation of the current president’s success. His rise to power began with the impressive economic growth fifteen years ago. It eventually turned him into the all-powerful statesman for whom the people are being called upon by imams to take to the streets and fight. And the people are dutifully showing up.
If Erdogan gains absolute power, it will be because of the bread he put on the table of people in the poorest social strata and regions like Anatolia and the most far-away corners of the country.
Erdogan can be expected to go beyond the presidential republic goal, imposing a dictatorial regime and we should not be surprised if he even scrapped presidential terms, taking over the position for life. It would certainly be in his character. His views also suggest that he will try to further undermine the secular state and increase the religious influence in Turkey.