Erdogan: a man with too much power 1 juin 2015Posted by Acturca in Turkey / Turquie.
Tags: AKP, Recep Tayyip Erdogan
The Guardian (UK) Monday, 1 June 2015, p. 21 & 22
Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A stable Turkey is vital for Europe and the Middle East. More power for the president won’t help.
Turkey is a crucial country. In spite of its recent drift toward authoritarianism, in spite of the increasing intemperance of its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and in spite of the loss of the sure touch in foreign policy its government once possessed, it is still a rock amid the sea of troubles that is the Middle East today. Although growth is slowing and unemployment and inflation rising, Turkey is still among the world’s stronger economies, and aspires to join the top 10 within the next decade. And, while there must be serious concern about the government’s rough treatment of the media, its bullying of lawyers, and its general readiness to bend rules for political advantage, it is still a relatively free and democratic polity, one of only a handful such in the Muslim world.
The Turkish president is instinctively authoritarian, often furiously bad-tempered, and given to persecuting his critics
So it is hard for outsiders to know what to wish for in the Turkish general election next Sunday. President Erdogan wants his party, the Justice and Development party, or AKP, notionally led by the former foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, to win a majority large enough to swiftly change the constitution and bring in an executive presidency. Party rules meant that Mr Erdogan could not stand again after his third term as prime minister ended in 2014, so he sought and won office as president, until then a largely ceremonial position. Power moved seamlessly from the prime minister’s office to the presidential palace at that moment, but he wants that formalised, and he also seeks even greater control over national affairs as president than he had as prime minister. The changes he wants are not in themselves bad: the Turkish constitution is a far from perfect document. Yet, given Mr Erdogan’s personality, they have to be seen as problematic.
The Turkish president is instinctively authoritarian, often furiously bad-tempered, and more and more given to persecuting critics at home and abroad. A recent example is the case of Stephen Kinzer, a former New York Times bureau chief in Istanbul, who was due to become an honorary citizen of the city of Gaziantep this month because his articles years ago helped save Roman mosaics that had been discovered there, transforming the place into a serious tourist destination.
Mr Kinzer arrived in a happy glow, looking forward to being feted, only to find that the ceremony and the citizenship had been cancelled on the president’s direct orders because of a critical piece he had written in January. Mr Kinzer was merely disappointed. Turkish journalists who offend the president have lost their jobs or ended up in jail, and, although some have recently been released, Turkey still has a large number in detention. Journalists are far from the only sufferers. Is this then a man who should have more power, or less? Clearly the answer must be less, if he cannot change or if his colleagues and advisers cannot restrain and guide him.
He has captured one half of his society but lost the other half, if he ever had any hold on it. That is unhealthy
The president’s considerable political talents seem to be intact, but his sense of balance has deserted him. And there is a more fundamental reason to be fearful of what the future may bring for Turkey. Mr Erdogan has maximised his constituency in the somewhat poorer, somewhat less westernised and more religiously inclined segments of Turkish society, and he has acquired a substantial body of big business supporters who benefit from association with him. But he has no lines out to the younger, more modern classes of Turkey, people with concerns about the environment, sexual tolerance, ethnic and religious pluralism, and grassroots activism, as was shown by his bilious reaction to the protests against plans to replace a park in central Istanbul with a shopping mall in 2013. He has captured one half of his society but lost the other half, if he ever had any hold on it. That is unhealthy.
Mr Erdogan is likely to win his election and to get the constitutional changes he wants. It would be better if he had to negotiate them with other political forces, and to argue for them in the referendum campaign that would be needed if the AKP fail to get a big majority that would allow an immediate constitutional revision. A strong showing for opposition parties and in particular for the Kurdish party would point in that better direction. Beyond that, the growth within his own party of a moderate wing that could restrain his worse instincts and contain his tantrums would be very welcome. The Turkish constitution may need reforming, but so does Mr Erdogan.