The month of May opened and closed violently in Turkey. No doubt it will be so for years to come. We had the May Day demonstrations that were repressed by excessive police force first, and finally the Gezi Park demonstrations that were repressed by police brutality, as the whole world saw over the weekend.
In both cases, the police were encouraged by Erdoğan not to stay its hand. He expressed surprise recently at how “tolerant” the Turkish police were against demonstrators. He also warned people not to go to Taksim to mark the first anniversary of the Gezi protests, saying the police had been instructed “from A to Z” to do what is necessary if they did.
Erdoğan clearly sees an existential threat from educated and liberal youth, trade unions, Kemalists, Alevis, social democrats or a mix of all of these. This fear has resulted in his use of repressive police measures, rather than democratic means, to try and stabilize Turkey politically.
Those looking at his victory in the March 30 local elections, and the positive way that international financial circles reacted to this, will say, of course, that Erdoğan is successful politically. This is true for the short term. The local elections showed that he has enough support to continue as he is doing.
How Erdoğan hopes to stabilize the country in the medium to the long term in this repressive way, however, and turn it into the international success story he dreams of, remains a mystery. He is also successful politically today because there is a class war of sorts going on in Turkey.
The conservative Anatolian masses and their counterparts in the cities, which suffered under repressively secularist and anti-left wing Kemalist administrations before the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power, continue to provide Erdoğan with their zealous support.
Erdoğan’s supporters not only see that the economy is relatively strong under his administration, but also believe he is speaking the truth when he claims that he is faced with domestic and foreign attempts to topple his government by undemocratic means. They see a threat to themselves in this also.
The government’s violations of the most basic of democratic principles, in knee-jerk reactions aimed at protecting itself politically, as well as credible accusations that members of the government are engaged in massive corruption, mean little for Erdoğan supporters.
This portion of society feels it has to hold its ground no matter what – having gained true power for the first time – and if this comes at a cost to democracy, then that is the price that has to be paid. Besides, is not democracy all about the ballot box? Well who can dispute that the ballot box has spoken in Turkey.
This is the simple outlook that is keeping Erdoğan in power, and will no doubt continue to do so for some time, even after he becomes president, which all the signs indicate he will, barring unexpected developments. But how long can he continue to govern as a divisive president at war with nearly half of society?
It is clear, after all, that those who oppose him today are going to do so in the future as well, refusing to see him as their president. In addition to this, how long can Turkey maintain its financial credibility abroad with social volatility continually in the background?
International financial circles appear to have “bought” into Erdoğan’s local election victory, and will probably do the same after his presidential victory. But how long will self-interested international financial circles tolerate the political volatility in Turkey, before they feel the risk resulting from bad governance – that is clearly failing to stabilize the country politically – is not worth taking?
Erdoğan and his supporters may be holding their ground presently, but these are questions that they will have to face up to sooner or later.