It is not a secret that President-elect Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has in recent years preferred to more powerfully rule an increasingly polarized and divided country than to more mildly rule a more peaceful country. Despite an unusually soft-toned victory speech on Sunday, Aug. 10, (more commonly known as his usual “balcony speech”) Mr. Erdoğan will likely not metamorphose into political saturation.
Since he burst onto the political scene in 2002, he has won nine spectacular election victories, steadily increasing his popularity from 34 percent to 52 percent. It’s not just the numbers that speak, his fans vow to die for him. By 2023, he will probably have ruled Turkey for 21 years. Why does he not look like a politician who has been exceptionally/impressively successful? What is missing in this picture of pure glory?
Mr. Erdoğan rose to and consolidated power on the persistent promise to reform and make Turkey fit for EU membership. But he is probably not unhappy because Cem Toker, chairman of the Liberal Party, was perfectly right when he said, more than two years ago, that “Turkey will join the EU the day Israel joins the Arab League.” Mr. Toker may have proven slightly wrong today: Turkey’s EU membership may, in all reality, be a little bit more distant than Israel joining the Arab League.
Turkey may have failed to politically integrate with the EU, but its priority objective, given today’s political reality, should be to achieve a more alarming integration: between Turks and Turks (and with the Kurds). Mr. Erdoğan has so far deserved praise for his efforts to launch – and somehow make progress with – a plan to make sure Turks and Kurds shake hands after a bloody war. But soon, he may have to devise a peace plan between Turks and Turks.
It is good news that his angry opponents are, after nine electoral defeats, beginning to understand they cannot blame Mr. Erdoğan for winning. But it is not-so-good news that they are beginning to blame “the other” Turks for Mr. Erdoğan’s victories. That’s not a good omen – especially when Mr. Erdoğan’s fans keep on pledging to kill or die for him – in a country whose past is full of strife along ethnic, religious, sectarian and ideological lines.
Sadly, it is not the “balcony touch” that makes Mr. Erdoğan a surprisingly compromising leader. The presidential palace in Çankaya has many big balconies. All of them failing to suffice, Mr. Erdoğan’s opponents would be willing to sponsor the construction of a huge terrace at Çankaya. But no, the fact that he never fails to surprise the moment he finishes his balcony speeches is hidden in just one word he has endlessly referred to in his endless public speeches since 2002: “the cause.”
Mr. Erdoğan will not be content with just winning elections. He will not be content until he feels he has won the fight for “the cause.” With half the country fanatically loving him and the other half fanatically hating him; with one half (pretending to be) living like devout Muslims and the other half like infidels, he will not believe he has won the fight for “the cause.” Since this column has a limited space, the curious reader can always surf through the Internet to find out what “the cause” may mean in political Islam.
Mr. Erdoğan has statistically progressed from 34 percent to 52 percent in 12 years. A simple linear projection based on a ceteris paribus assumption will show he needs more than 25 years to reach a loyal 90 percent support. But social science, especially politics, can rarely be based on linear projections based on a ceteris paribus assumption. If, for instance, we made this simple experiment on March 30, we would find that Mr. Erdoğan would need nearly 63 years to reach 90 percent.
Not a single leader in world history has been able to ideologically/religiously uniform a whole nation of millions forever. Mr. Erdoğan’s supporters are less than 21 million Turks out of 77 million. His election victories are miraculous, but he still has a very long way to go before winning “the cause.”