Turkey: Moving Toward a Dictatorship

Why Erdogan is more than likely to make the Turkish presidency a “Putin-like” office.

Sunday’s elections in Turkey achieved success for Turkey’s “dictator in the making,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It “corrected” the failure of the Islamist AKP (Justice and Development Party) party in the June elections of this year, to become a one-party rule in Ankara. According to the latest results, last week’s election secured its position as a one-party government, winning 317 seats in the 550-member parliament. Turkey’s main opposition newspaper, Cumhuriyet, labeled the AKP triumph as a “victory of fear,” raising concerns about the security situation as well as the economy, and insuring that the rift within Turkey will remain. There exists a total disconnect between the Islamists ruling party, the AKP, and its authoritarian leader Erdogan, who increasingly rules Turkey like the other Arab Middle Eastern dictators, and the western oriented urban Middle class who seek a European or western-like democracy.   

Hurriyet Daily News (11/1/2015) provided four reasons for the AKP landslide victory.  It blames the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahceli, for declining the AKP offer to share power.  As a result, frustrated party members shifted their votes to the AKP.  Voters who cast ballots for the MHP on the June 7, 2015 elections added up to the four million new votes the AKP garnered.

The renewed attacks by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) on one hand and terror attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) on the other, raised the fear level of Turks who do not want a return of Turkey’s recent history accentuated by violence and instability. In addition, the failure of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) to take a firmer stand on the PKK, apparently influenced voter decisions to shift their votes to the AKP.

While the AKP did not focus on economic issues in its June campaign, this time it delivered economic promises targeting a large constituency of retirees and low-income citizens, a strategy that proved to be successful. It appears from the election results that the electorate believed that the AKP is the most likely party to deliver on its economic promises.

The fourth reason appears to be the AKP readjusting its candidate list by placing people’s favorites on their list. It is also apparent that the more religious and low income folks like the strong “father figure” Erdogan presented.

Erdogan continues to transform his regime into a one-man dictatorship.  First by opting to arrogate executive power to the previously ceremonial post of president, and now by eliminating opposing opinion in the press, that has enabled him to make the AKP into a single party rule. Erdogan has gradually been able to do away with the solid institutions established by Ataturk, who sought to create a secular and modern Turkey.  He has destroyed the military that served as the guardian of secularism, and along with it the judicial system, which he reshaped with like-minded people.  Once elected as president, Erdogan wasted little time in which to expose his intentions as president. He hosted a cabinet meeting in his new 1,000 room Ankara palace, and surrounding himself with powerful advisors, that constitutes, in practice, a shadow cabinet. Turkey, under Erdogan increasingly resembles the strong-man regimes in the Arab world or Russia.  

The U.S. expressed deep concern over Erdogan’s regime led campaign of intimidation and fear that coerced the opposition press into virtual silence during the last few months of the election campaign.  Reuters (November 2, 2015) reported that “Washington is deeply concerned that media outlets and journalists were subject to pressure during the campaign.” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, “The White House had urged Turkish authorities to uphold the values of its constitution.”  The OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) has issued a sharp statement pointing out that the Turkish elections last week were characterized by violence, indecency, fear and oppression practiced by the regime on the media.

The Turkish daily Hurriyet reported last week that two boys aged 12 and 13 were charged with insulting Erdogan by tearing a poster featuring Erdogan in the Kurdish majority city of Diyarbakir, in southeastern Turkey.  The Turkish prosecutor, according to Hurriyet, is seeking to impose a prison term of 14 months to four years and eight months on the youth.  During Erdogan’s reign, ordinary citizens, journalists, and youth were given prison sentences for the same “crimes,” which serves to highlight Erdogan’s repression of freedom of expression in Turkey. 

A week before the elections, Erdogan’s regime ordered the Turkish police to raid the offices of all the television stations critical of his government. Many of these stations are under influence or ownership of Fethullah Gulen (exiled in the U.S.), a moderate Islamic cleric with wide influence in Turkey and across the Islamic world, as well as Erdogan’s bitter rival. The police were ordered to arrest journalists and demonstrators, too. 

While the Obama administration refrained from openly criticizing the dictatorial nature of Erdogan, Professor Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University told the Jerusalem Post that “Turkey has been on the road to an authoritarian regime for several years as infringements on human rights have gradually increased.”  Inbar went on to say that “The longer Erdogan rules, he becomes more power hungry and his authoritarian personality becomes clearer.  Nowadays, he arrests even Islamist journalists that are critical of his policies.”

A supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, along with Qatar and Hamas, Erdogan’s Turkey, unlike the ousted Muslim Brotherhood Egyptian president, Mohammad Morsi, has moved cautiously in implementing his Islamic agenda.  Erdogan has been smartly taking over the country at a slow pace since becoming prime minister in 2003.  He gradually removed the military generals, the opposition within the judiciary, and since splitting with his hitherto backer Fethullah Gulen, Erdogan has steadily stripped away at Gulen’s influence within Turkey.

In an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations (August 7, 2014) Professor Henri Barkey pointed out that “The Erdogan of today is not the Erdogan of the early 2000s. Power has clearly gone to his head, and he has surrounded himself with sycophants. It's come to the point where he thinks he is infallible and is almost never challenged.”

In many ways Erdogan views himself as the successor to the Ottoman Empire.  His success at home will boost his megalomaniacal character, and he is likely to play the role of leader of the Sunni-Muslim world. While pivoting toward the Arab and Muslim world, Erdogan has shown his contempt for the West and the U.S.  According to Barkey, the “Anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric coming from Erdogan has to do with anti-Americanism. In last year's Gezi Park protests, what was surprising to the outsider was the way the AKP and Erdogan placed the blame on the U.S., its ally, for trying to instigate a coup d'etat with these demonstrations.  Anti-Americanism has been in Turkey for as long as I can remember. Less than ten years after Turkey joined NATO in 1952, Turkey was being convulsed by virulent strains of anti-Americanism among the left, the intelligentsia, and the military.” One might add that the Islamists too, have no “love lost” for America.

Erdogan is more than likely to make the Turkish presidency a “Putin-like” office, meaning, an absolute ruler of Turkey, a country which will be forged in his image.  Sunday’s landslide victory, which gave him the one-party rule, is likely to stir his egomania toward a dictatorship.

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