Saturday, 15 September 2012

The Amazing Teflon Prime Minister

The domestic social, economic and diplomatic problems may be mounting for Turkey, but so far they seem to have no impact on the Teflon-like popularity of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The once torrid pace of economic growth has slowed dramatically. The growth of the critical construction sector has slowed from 11% in 2011 to 0.4% in the second quarter of 2012. Empty apartments and half-filled shopping centres dot the horizon around most cities. The budget gap has widened, and the government is forced to raise an extra $5.5 billion in taxes – mainly on cars and real estate.
Typical Tower Blocks All Over Turkey
 The foreign policy with its pretensions of regional and global influence has become bogged down in the quagmire of Syria. Prime Minister Erdoğan continues his loud, bellicose rhetoric against the Syrian regime, but is powerless actually to do anything about the bloody war in Syria. He can’t retreat without looking weak and foolish. And he can’t go forward without risking a military confrontation. The highly-touted ‘Zero-Problems’ approach is in shambles as the country is faced with hostile neighbors along its eastern and southern borders. Turkey never had many friends to start with, and now it is even more isolated. By default its best friend has become the United States, a country that many AKP supporters loathe.
Syrian Refugee Camp In Hatay 
 The militant Kurdish separatist group PKK, perhaps supported by the Assad regime in Syrian, is escalating its attacks in Turkey. Once isolated in the remote south eastern part of the country the PKK attacks are moving into large cities like Izmir. The large Alevi minority, a sect distantly related to the ruling Alawites in Syria, is under increasing pressure in Turkey and the government refuses to recognize them as a legitimate branch of Islam.
Alevis Protesting In Turkey
 In short, as the astute columnist Nuray Mert notes, Turkish delusions are ending.

Being a ultra realistic observer of Turkish politics who has long been labelled as ‘pessimistic,’ I suggested as early as 2007, that AKP rule will end up with a ‘governability crises’ if it insists in its obsession with power. I suggested that the ever increasing vote of the AKP would not ensure political stability since Turkey is a vast country where people with very different convictions and lifestyles find a way to live side by side. The most important aspect of good governance should have been thought of as ensuring pluralism and social peace through democratic conventions. I thought that the AKP’s understanding of ‘democracy as a majority rule’ was very risky for a country such as ours. Nevertheless, I could not foresee things would become so disastrous until very recently. 

Last but not the least, the government’s delusion that it is a global actor and major regional player came to an end with its handling of the Syrian affair. Even before the Arab Spring
 diminished Turkey’s regional role, but it was easier to dismiss. Yet, Turkey’s direct meddling in the Syrian uprising finally reduced its role to that of Qatar and Saudi Arabia on one hand and created clear and potential domestic problems on the other. Despite efforts by the government to cover its failures on two fronts by linking the Syrian crises and the escalation of clashes with the PKK, it has not helped the government overcome its difficulties on both fronts.

And yet support for the ruling party continues strong. A recent poll by Habertürk-Konsensus claimed that if an election were held today the AKP would win 53% of the vote. How can this contradiction of deteriorating conditions in the country and continued strong support for the government be explained?

One friend put it down to the fact that there is no opposition, no alternative. Indeed the so-called main opposition Republican People’s Party has been steadfastly unable to provide a convincing alternative to the increasingly authoritarian rule by Prime Minister Erdoğan.

ColumnistSemih Idiz points to another explanation of AKP’s strength – the continued deep resentment of the Anatolian masses toward the old republican bureaucratic, economic and military elites. Erdoğan continues to ride this wave resentment and portray himself as the standard bearer of the masses against the elites.

Idiz notes that historian Kemal Karpat “has shown that if there is one element the predominantly conservative and religious Anatolian masses have come to despise over the years, it is the elitists who ran the country for decades after the Republic was founded. . .
It was inevitable that this should, in time, feed deep resentments among ordinary Turks. The bottom line here is that support for the AKP continues despite serious social problems because of an almost blind team spirit.
While the elitism of an established order that is waning today has always been reprehensible, it is nevertheless true that some of the key reforms enacted under the Republic made Turkey leap forward in time and modernize itself in a way no Islamic society has achieved to date. 
What we see now, however, is an ongoing process where these gains are being watered down due to historic resentments, and in the name of conservatism, and the “religious generation” that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan 
has openly said he wants to see in Turkey.
One can conclude, therefore, that the AKP is receiving strong support not to take the country forward, but to take it backward due to the resentments that have accumulated over time among the conservative masses.

Prime Minister Erdoğan is the undisputed and un-challenged ruler of Turkey, the most powerful politician since Atatürk himself. It would be refreshing if he used that power to correct the errors of the past rather than simply roll the clock back.

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