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NİHAT ALİ ÖZCAN > Erdoğan and his capacity to manage the PKK problem

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The behavior of the Turkish government is similar to that of other governments struggling with similarly complex problems. This behavior entails biding time and hoping that favorable political and psychological conditions will prevail and demands become more acceptable. Of course, the best solution for the government is to manage the process with minimum costs. However, this strategy has its own limits and risks, especially when the number of actors increases and their uncontrollable behavior breeds uncertainty, or when the credibility of decision makers is low due to their inability to fulfil promises.

Obviously, the two most important factors that put Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s political future at risk are the economy and his health. The other important question is this: How important is the Kurdish or Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) issue, which is becoming increasingly visible on a number of fronts?

Since the summer of 2011, the PKK has intensified armed attacks and also made a number of tactical changes. Although these developments troubled the government, they did not have serious consequences. The problem is still manageable. The new strategy of the PKK will surely have long-term political consequences. If the PKK perseveres in its actions, the government may stop being perceived as the legitimate authority in certain parts of the country.

Moreover, the PKK wants to pressure the government through more street demonstrations, which provide new recruitment for the PKK. Still, the government has so far managed the streets without causing deaths. Demonstrations have so far not turned out to be a big problem.

Another factor is Syria, and this is a problem that won’t be solved in the short run. Therefore, its effects on the PKK problem will only be known in the long run. In light of the PKK problem, Syria is manageable for the government in the short run.

Hunger strikes are yet another tactical attempt to force the government into making concessions. Considering the attitudes of the majority of people and their electoral behavior, these strikes won’t be a problem for the government. However, they may trigger pressure from international public opinion. The government is likely to calculate that meeting the strategically insignificant demands of the protesters - except the demand regarding Ocalan - won’t be a problem in terms of domestic politics.

The management of the PKK problem by the Erdoğan government is more difficult and costly compared to the early years of the AKP rule. The number of arguments that can keep both the PKK and Turkish public opinion busy has declined. Erdoğan’s political capacity and experience shows that he can still manage the problem, so one should take into consideration what he does, not what he says.

November/15/2012

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