Cracks in Erdoğan front 10 days before elections

Cracks in Erdoğan front 10 days before elections

In the early hours of July 30, an Istanbul court arrested 11 ranking members of the Turkish police for spying against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government.

The judge, İslam Çiçek, did not say which country, group or company the police officers had been spying for. But this is not a surprise for the “New Turkey” that Erdoğan has been promoting throughout his rule since 2002. In 2011, another court case was opened against 56 members of the Turkish Armed Forces for spying against Erdoğan’s government, again without a single charge or evidence in the indictment showing whom they had been spying for.

Ironically enough, some of the police officers who were arrested on July 30 had taken an active part in the investigations of the “Military Espionage Case” as it is publicly known in Turkey.

According to pro-government media, the police officers are members of a “parallel structure” within the government apparatus. That is an expression Erdoğan started to use right after the corruption probes started on Dec. 17 and 25, 2013, against members of his government, party and even family for alleged Gülenists within the police force, the judiciary and other government agencies. Fethullah Gülen, a moderate Islamist scholar who resides in the United States, who was once the closest ally of Erdoğan, soon became denounced as public enemy number one by Erdoğan.

This is a major split in the Erdoğan trenches. Not in quantity perhaps, as the results of March 30 local elections showed, but in operative terms. Gülenists in Erdoğan government used to act as spearheads and were a dedicated and well-educated workforce; that is why the wound is deep.

One of two promises Erdoğan has made contingent on him becoming Turkey’s 12th president in the first round of the elections in 10 days’ time on Aug. 10 is to eradicate the Gülenists, or the “parallel structure” from the state; the other is to continue the dialogue with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in pursuit of a political solution.

But there are problems on that area, too. Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat, one of the 40 founders and a former number-two of Erdoğan’s AK Parti, resigned on July 28, claiming that the party had deviated from the original “democratic targets,” by doing things like pressing for a stronger presidential model. Being of Kurdish origin himself, Fırat said he was going to support Selahattin Demirtaş in the presidential elections, the candidate of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which is focused on the Kurdish problem, against Erdoğan.

There might be more to come. Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, who is known to be the silent force behind the AK Parti’s economic program of relative success, said July 26 that it was “unfortunately not possible” to say that Turkey was an “advanced democracy,” another theme that Erdoğan has been promoting. “Our legal system and economic system,” Babacan continued, “are subject to tests one after another.” Babacan has recently placed two of his closest aides in secure positions in the system (a chief adviser to the Central Bank and the head of the Treasury to the IMF) so that he cannot be jettisoned easily if and when he leaves the government. Babacan is seen as closer to outgoing President Abdullah Gül than to Erdoğan.

And Gül is leaving his post a bit broken. His intentions of leading the government and the party (in order to avoid a decline) in his own way if his long-time fellow Erdoğan replaced him as president have been frustrated by Erdoğan himself a number of times, who doesn’t want to share executive power with a number-two any longer.

These are the factors seemingly eroding Erdoğan’s power 10 days before voters head to the ballot box.

Erdoğan does not seem to care much about broken hearts and splits in politics. On July 26, when Babacan made that statement and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu (a candidate to succeed Erdoğan if he becomes president) was in Paris for Gaza talks, trying hard to put Turkey back in the picture in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Erdoğan was on the football pitch.

In the opening of a new stadium for Istanbul Başakşehir, the rebranded municipal football team, (The Gray Owls), he played as the captain of the Orange Team (the AK Parti color) as the number 12 (the 12th president) for just 15 minutes, during which he scored a hat trick against the goalkeeper of Turkey’s national team. Everything seemed farcical.

Farcical, because if, for example, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP) or Devlet Bahçeli of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) or presidential candidate Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, who is supported by both the CHP and MHP, had dared to watch a football game in a stadium – let alone play in it – they would have been the targets of Erdoğan for remaining indifferent to Palestinian suffering amid Israeli attacks or worse, to the 49 Turkish citizens (including the consul general to Mosul), who have been hostages of the Islamic State (IS) since early June.

But things might have started to change a bit on the Erdoğan front. Up until recently, Erdoğan ignored İhsanoğlu, the former secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) as a rival, preferring to not even mention his name but attack Kılıçdaroğlu and Bahçeli instead. Recently, he has started to attack İhsanoğlu with bitter words, which could be a sign of concern despite polls showing him victorious. But we won’t have to wait too long to see the real outcome.