How will Turkey survive until 2019?
Politics in Turkey is entering a highly stressful two years this fall. Since the referendum, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seems to be running a one-man show in decision-making and Ankara’s bureaucracy seems to be looking to his Beştepe residence for every small paper to be signed. So can this system survive until the necessary laws are passed? Will they even pass anyway?
Over the weekend a factory inauguration ceremony in the southwestern province of Isparta became the biggest talking point on social media. The Coca-Cola Company’s most recent beverage factory was built in Isparta and President Erdoğan, along with Global CEO Muhtar Kent and Anadolu Group President Tuncay Özilhan, cut the ribbon of the global brand factory. Up to this point there was nothing new. What is new was the rampant discussion and hashtag protests on social media against Coca-Cola’s role in bad nutrition, obesity and – yes - Middle East politics.
Several Islamic groups openly criticized Erdoğan’s participation at the opening. The Furkan Foundation claimed he would “never be able to say a word against Israel anymore.” The state-run Anadolu Agency pulled the name Coca-Cola from its story byline, while the official website of the Presidency only referred to the factory as “fruit juice factory.” What is behind all this fear and intimidation?
Sources close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) told me that since the Fetullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ) operations there has been massive pressure on the government to open up space for other ultra-religious communities like the Menzil and İsmailağa groups.
Daily newspaper Birgun recently classified these groups according to their infiltration into the state. Here is what it looks like at the moment: The Süleymanci group is active in the Education Ministry. The Menzil group is dominant in the Health Ministry, as well as the Justice Ministry, the Interior Ministry, and the Police Department. The Ismailağa group is powerful inside university dorms and low-level government jobs. The Hamiyet and Irfan Foundations are strong in the Family Ministry and the Ensar Foundation is active in the Eductation Ministry, dorms, and extracurricular activities.
Unfortunately, it seems that the AK Party and Erdoğan are falling into the same trap of “outsourcing” the government.
Meanwhile, there is a growing tide in the judiciary suggesting that main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu may be prosecuted because of the National Intelligence Agency (MIT) trucks case. Indeed, it was Ayhan Oğan, the former AK Party Central Board Member who had dropped the “new state” bomb two weeks ago by saying Erdoğan was “establishing a new state,” who gave the initial signal for that. During the Justice March from Ankara to Istanbul a month ago, Oğan raised the possibility of Kılıçdaroğlu being investigated.
As things stand, both the ruling party and the main opposition seem squeezed by forces outside of their control. Add in the U.S.-North Korea crisis, the ongoing Syrian quagmire and the general effects on the economy, and you have a full-fledged pressure cooker waiting to explode.
Hakan Bayrakcı, a leading pollster and the founder of SONAR Research, said on private broadcaster CNN Türk last week that Erdoğan was planning everything with the deadline of 2019 in mind. “There is a possibility of an early election. Erdoğan would like to see the results of the municipal elections in March 2019. For him, that is a big barometer,” Bayrakçı said.
The only way to survive until 2019 under these circumstances is to let pressure out of the cooker. For that you need greater freedom, fewer journalists in jail, and a more secular state - if one actually still exists.