Turkish PM may take even rougher stance after Gezi Park blow

Turkish PM may take even rougher stance after Gezi Park blow

Amid the ongoing showdown between Occupy protesters and the Turkish police over the symbolic Gezi Park in central Istanbul, the dominant Turkish prime minister, who has been accustomed to being on the triumphant side since coming to power, is still insisting on not acknowledging that he has, this time, been dealt a serious political blow by the popular antigovernment fury across Turkey.

If Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could have been more tolerant and realized that the round over Gezi Park would not be in favor of his side, the unexpectedly erupting crisis would have had a better chance of being solved and the embarrassment for senior security and government officials would be minimized.

However, despite his top government and party officials’ insistence on staying mum on the political ramifications of the issue by belittling the protests solely as an environmental action for a little piece of green in the middle of Istanbul, Erdoğan knows that the turmoil is beyond Gezi now and he thinks that if he openly admits backpedalling, it would be the first of many other setbacks for him.

Besides, offering a public vote as well as the reminders about the judicial ruling on Gezi, which fell on the deaf ears of government officials during its first day, last week were the timid declarations of defeat by the government. But the Turkish prime minister appeared defiant on his harsh and criminalizing rhetoric on the Occupy protesters since he did want to be seen as admitting the loss both politically and psychologically over Gezi.

That being said, the setback to the Turkish government, the prime minister in particular, might not mean a source of cheer and joy for the antigovernment Occupy protesters around Turkey, considering the signals given over the course of the nearly three-week-old demonstrations and violent response by the Turkish authorities.

First, while not openly admitting a possible backtrack, Erdoğan has toughened his rhetoric, accusations and attacks in the last week, waging a smear campaign against the protesters amid failing efforts to have a negotiated solution. Confusion has been created by senior officials via a delusional dilemma of “good” and “bad” cops as the Istanbul governor tried to adopt a public-friendly face of the authorities but in fact offered a conflicting stance on the protest. The warning by the Turkish president, who adopted a more tolerant and problem-solving attitude toward the protests but failed to advance after the return of Erdoğan from his North African tour, of a possible “witch hunt” after the dust has settled was another sign of a possible political vendetta.

There are many other signals that the political setback dealt to the government would not be left unanswered as a pending bill for more restrictions on alcohol sales and consumption was approved by President Abdullah Gül earlier this week amid the chaos over Gezi Park. It was not a big surprise that the bill received presidential approval but the meaning was symbolic since an aggressive anti-alcohol campaign by Erdoğan was an another initiator for the Occupy protests since it was deemed another push on freedoms by the government.

However, it would be only a just a starter since the Turkish prime minister will most likely take a rougher path by introducing more conservative undertakings on the heels of his failure in managing the Gezi crisis. However, if he decides to embark on a domineering quest that would irk many into hitting the streets again, the path would not be rougher just for those protesting today, but for him as well, and he would be forced to make more concessions, including his dreams over the would-be powerful presidential post.