Winners in a losing country

Winners in a losing country

Still too busy with his energetic election campaign, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan found time even to punish, on behalf of his useless NATO allies, Russian President Vladimir Putin for annexing Crimea by shooting down a Russian military aircraft. Well, the MI-23S did not actually belong to the Russian Air Force, but, after all, it was a Russian-made plane! Hence a banner that greeted the prime minister in a Black Sea town: Long live my sultan! 

Meanwhile, a television campaign commercial by Mr. Erdoğan’s party shows him in his famous 2009 Davos tirade against Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, with a running subtitle that reads: Nightmare of the oppressors. Sultan. Nightmare of the oppressors. Hero of a nation that, probably centuries ago, invented the very creative proverb “public property is [as big as] a sea; he who does not drink from it is a pig.” 

For their part, the Europeans may have enjoyed having an Islamist Putin at their doorstep since 2011 when half the Turks voted for Mr. Erdoğan, but the other half have certainly not enjoyed watching a license being given to strangle democracy since. Sunday will see a breath-taking derby between the two halves, or, in Mr. Erdoğan’s wording, “a war of independence.”

Mr. Erdoğan may not be speaking figuratively when he calls March 30 “a war of independence,” as an embarrassing result may be the beginning of his end, possibly all the way through to jail, especially if there is a result that makes his own political comrades think that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) under Mr. Erdoğan may be a sinking ship.

March 30 may not be too embarrassing for Mr. Erdoğan, although it may remove a few more stones from the foundation of sultan’s palace, sparking further erosion in the near future and bringing it closer to final destruction. March 30 may also provide the prime minister a fresh and perfectly legitimate license so that an increasing number of Turks may enjoy being strangled. 

But March 31 will almost certainly produce too many happy-looking faces in the world of Turkish politics. Everyone will be celebrating something, knowing that this game of pretension is just a game of pretension. 

Mr. Erdoğan will look happy because his party, as he claimed, will finish first and win in most cities, including at least one of the top three metropoles. The main opposition will look happy too because the party will increase its votes by a couple of percentage points, narrowing the huge gap with Mr. Erdoğan’s and winning more cities than before. 

The nationalists will look happy because they will rise by a couple of percentage points, too, ensuring parliamentary representation in any snap poll, or in parliamentary elections in 2015. The Kurds will look happy because they will increase their popularity in Turkish Kurdistan, a critical move to press for a greater degree of autonomy in the near future. 

Even potential deserters from Mr. Erdoğan’s party and their potential partners who are now playing wait and see outside the arena will hesitate but look happy because Mr. Erdoğan’s popularity has dropped by at least 10 percentage points from a peak of more than 50 percent only a year ago, paving the way for a rival political grouping. On March 31, there will be hope for everyone to keep on fighting for better days.   

Such a draw, all the same, may spark stadium violence among fans from both sides. Polarization may further deepen as Mr. Erdoğan entrusts his future to the less than half who believe that “public property is [as big as] a sea; he who does not drink from it is a pig” – the same men who feel lucky not to have a pig for a prime minister. 

The big angry Turks will privately add to their anger, looking down upon the other Turks who believe that “public property is a sea…” But they will be smiling for two reasons: for the first time in several years, their team will not experience a humiliating defeat at the hands of an archrival; and there is now hope even to win in the future.  

The bad news is that Mr. Erdoğan has not left behind a manageable country even for himself to govern.