Turkey: Erdogan tightens grip on power
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is going all out with his cult of personality, said Eren Guvercin in Die Zeit (Germany). As he was elected the leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) this week, portraits of Erdogan emblazoned with the slogan “An iron will, a powerful Turkey” appeared on billboards and all over social media. Under the old constitution, the president was supposed to be a nonpartisan figurehead—which is why Erdogan left the Islamist AKP when he became president in 2014. But the April referendum that Erdogan narrowly won changed Turkey from a parliamentary system to a presidential one, and freed the president to again head his old party. The aspiring autocrat celebrated that change this week with an AKP conference “reminiscent of one of those jubilant displays of unity typical of North Korea.” Erdogan announced there that the state of emergency he declared after last year’s attempted coup— which has allowed him to jail more than 40,000 alleged coup plotters—would continue until the country achieved “welfare and peace.” There was no discussion or debate about the party’s mission, only oaths of fealty.
By refocusing the political system, Erdogan has saved Turkey, said Merve Sebnem Oruc in Sabah (Turkey). The old parliamentary system, which often produced unwieldy coalition governments, would have turned Turkey back into “the sick man of Europe.” That is something we can’t risk in these dangerous times. The West is again meddling in our region, just as it did in the years after World War I, when it grabbed the Ottoman Empire’s Middle Eastern territories and carved them into volatile new states. With war now raging in Syria, “the map drawers” are again trying to reshape the Middle East—perhaps by creating a Kurdish state that will include parts of Syria, Turkey, and Iraq. It is only because Erdogan is standing up to them, and strengthening Turkish democracy, that Westerners label him an autocrat.
The way Erdogan is reshaping the AKP certainly bears the hallmarks of autocracy, said Murat Yetkin in Hurriyet (Turkey). The president has begun removing veteran politicians from the executive bodies of the AKP and replacing them with sycophantic neophytes— people who are “loyal to him, more than they are loyal to an ideology or even the party.” This vision of one-man rule is profoundly antidemocratic, said Orhan Bursali in Cumhuriyet (Turkey). But the opposition still has a chance. Just about every party aside from the far-right Nationalist Movement Party is united in opposition to Erdogan’s plan to transform Turkey from a secular state oriented toward Europe into an authoritarian, Islamist state allied with Russia. Right now, the outlook for Turkey’s economy looks grim, and we’re becoming more internationally isolated, which reflects badly on the ruling AKP. If the opposition parties “behave smartly,” not selfishly, they might be able to reclaim the country in the 2019 presidential and legislative elections. ■