A new era
It must have been a very difficult decision to make. The presidency of the Turkish Republic must have been a very attractive post for a politician, even if he might have been exercising far more powers than the president as the prime minister. Yet, to be the “first Turk” must mean something to merit abandoning everything, risking all prospects, endangering the political future of the folks singing the “we walked these roads together” song.
The presidential candidacy of Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, announced with an imperial ceremony, underscores the great danger ahead of the already fragile and deficient Turkish democracy.
If elected, the macho character of Erdoğan and his declared “I will use all of my powers as president” intention may eventually land the country in a painful dictatorship worse than the present “I do it my way” obsessive regime.
Will Erdoğan be elected president? Irrespective whether he is elected or not, a new era will begin in Turkey. If he is elected, the country will have an even bigger systemic problem, even if a handpicked premier is appointed. Erdoğan will definitely use all of his powers and even beyond to try to be the “absolute power” and “sole decision maker” in the country. Whereas even if he “appoints” a successor for himself in the Prime Ministry and party leadership, a while later, that handpicked person who is supposed to remain a shadow character will try to become “the executive.” Such a development would take Turkey into an atmosphere of crisis, which despite all the troubles, may eventually help the country to proceed toward a better democratic understanding. On the other hand, if the successor manages to remain an abeyant puppet attached to his leader with full and unconditional allegiance, the already worrisome derailment of the Turkish semi-democracy toward an autocracy might be accelerated and the country may soon become a pandemonium. The ceremony during which Erdoğan’s candidacy was announced testifies to the primitivism the country is facing.
Already the country has serious shortcomings in its democracy. It has been turned into some sort of a police state. The Press for Freedom project of the Association of Journalists just reported in its April report how the use of horrendous power on demonstrators, silencing opponents through thriller-type concocted charges, polarization and the expectation of a full surrender to the absolute ruler have reached to such dimensions, threatening all liberties. Erdoğan’s consolidated presidency might turn the country into an unmatched dictatorship. For sure, with Erdoğan as president, there will be a new Turkey, which I am afraid will not be anything like his supporters have been sheering for some time. Such a dreadful fall of events might be scary, but there is consolation in everything – Pollyanna thinking helps – as once hit the lowest ground, the country will swing back to a better democracy… Hopefully!
On the other hand, if Erdoğan fails in the race, and somehow with a surprise development, Turks decide to dump him and his macho style – that won’t happen but anyhow – such a development means, as well, that Turkey will have to move to a new gear and leave behind the “Islamist autocracy-tainted democracy” experiment. The experience of the past dozen of years will definitely help the country, under a conservative president attentive to the sensitivities of the Islamists, but cultured sufficiently to embrace pluralism and democratic understanding. If such a Turkey emerges out of the current mess, than agreeing on a consensus candidate will be the greatest contribution the current opposition parties might have made to Turkish democracy. Even if some elitists and neo-Kemalists in the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) cannot still understand their time is over, Turkey is definitely moving toward a new dimension.
The problem at hand, therefore, is not where Turkey is heading, but how Turkey will make that journey. A shortcut is possible by dumping Erdoğan, but the country may insist on going through the uphill and traumatic road that might take longer. In any case, with such high and rich prospects and cultural accumulation, even an Erdoğan-led presidency does not greatly change the course of the country.