Erdoğan’s health and Turkish politics

Erdoğan’s health and Turkish politics

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is expected to be in his office in Ankara after a break of 20 days because of a serious intestinal surgery on Nov. 25.

To be frank, political life in Turkey has started to get quite dull without him. As a prime minister having one of every two votes in the country, his presence in not only Turkish foreign and domestic politics, but also in-party politics is overwhelming. The opposition parties tried to keep their media profile high for the first few days but then, how to say it - there was little to oppose when there was a vast silence on the government side.

In his absence, other than the elder brother role of Bülent Arınç, many ministers and deputies of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) preferred to remain out of the sight.

Media friendly Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu kept an unusually low profile - perhaps in order not to give way to speculation that he might be among prime ministerial candidates after Erdoğan’s leave for presidency, for example. During U.S. Vice president Joe Biden’s Turkey visit for example, Davutoğlu decided to focus on the problems of the Turkish community in Germany; not an unimportant issue for sure, but in the absence of Erdoğan one could expect Davutoğlu to host Biden under other circumstances.

Yet thanks to Biden’s home visit, Turkish people had the chance to see the pictures of Erdoğan on the sixth day following his surgery. Actually they had known about the surgery one day after it was carried out in the secrecy of a covert operation.

To be frank, the handling of the public dimension of the prime minister’s health situation by his office was not a big success. Lack of sufficient and timely information led to a number of speculations regarding his health. However, both Turkish media and the opposition behaved responsibly about it.
After Biden’s visit, Turkish people saw Erdoğan’s pictures with the Amir of Qatar, the prime minister of Turkish Cypriot government and the Romanian president as well. But the pictures of visits by a number of ministers, Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek and President Gül - if there were any - were not given to media.

The AK Parti had an endurance test in his absence, with an unexpected vote by President Gül on a law decreasing penalties of match fixing crimes. At first, Arınç sided with Gül and said that he did not expect the Parliament would pass this “harm on the sense of justice” piece of work once again. There was a silence in the Party group for two days, except for a few pro and con lonely voices. Then, Erdoğan summoned Suat Kılıç, minister of sports, to his home and the whole thing has changed. The next day the Party group announced in the Parliament that they would stand behind their word and challenged the decision of the President.

The law has passed with support from opposition parties and Gül approved it yesterday; Arınç said he was behind his words, but has to abide by the parties authority.

The authority is obviosly Erdoğan, even when he is in bed and today he is back in office. The dull days will be over, not only in Turkish politics, but for regional politics as well.