Turkish PM Erdoğan’s dangerous ‘traitors’ game

Turkish PM Erdoğan’s dangerous ‘traitors’ game

Turkey has always been a somewhat polarized country, but the rising tension within the society, especially since the launch of a graft probe against members of the government on Dec. 17, 2013, and the following “tape wars” on the Internet have brought the country to a dangerous point.

Turkey’s main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), was attacked in the corridors of Parliament on April 8. The attack on Kılıçdaroğlu might have echoes on the street, despite his calls for calm and restraint.

Having put almost anyone who is not a supporter of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in his targets, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s campaign before the March 30 local elections aimed at uniting his voters against the “enemies.” Judging by the election results, the voters seem to have liked Erdoğan’s “we are good and the rest are evil” motto, supporting him with a vote of around 45 percent, which is higher than the party received in the 2009 local polls.

This “us and them” rhetoric, whose main targets were the Fethullah Gülen Movement, the CHP’s members and supporters, the Nationalist Movement Party’s (MHP) members, Gezi protesters, Kurds who do not vote for the AKP, anyone who suspected that some ministers might be corrupt, and of course “leftists and atheists,” has been the core of the prime minister’s recent speeches, especially since the anti-government protests last June. He has also been more often using the term “traitors” against his opponents since a secret meeting on Syria at the Foreign Ministry was recorded and leaked to the Internet days before the elections.

And buoyed by the election results, Prime Minister Erdoğan upped the ante in a parliamentary group speech April 8.

“Traitors waged a war on us, but they received the people’s answer in the ballot box; we will never bow to traitors,” the prime minister said, one hour before a young man punched CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu in Parliament, reportedly after shouting “traitor.”

The prime minister and his supporters blame the Gülen Movement, which they claim to have formed a “parallel state,” for the corruption charges against the government and the leaked tapes on the Internet incriminating Erdoğan, his family members and senior AKP figures. They also claim the CHP and MHP have created an “axis of evil” with the Gülen Movement “to steal the national will.”

Erdoğan, who said before the election that his party would be cleared of corruption charges with a victory at the ballot boxes, argued the people “have ordered us to fight the Gülen Movement.”

“The Turkish people gave us the vote of confidence. More importantly, they have given us the instruction to fight against the parallel state. They have given us the instruction for the elimination of this parallel structure, whose treachery and espionage have come into the picture,” Erdoğan told his parliamentary group.

The AKP has been a master of rallying its supporters against “the enemies.” The enemy was first the judiciary for an attempt to shut down the party, then the military for trying to block President Abdullah Gül’s way to the post, and recently a wide range of AKP opponents. The tactic has worked in every election so far, and Erdoğan has enjoyed success at every tense election.

With four months to go to the presidential elections, it is no secret that Erdoğan aspires to be the country’s first president elected by popular vote. For this, he will need the majority of the votes in the two-round election, and his attitude since the locals polls proves that he will once again rely on the polarization of the society and the rallying of his troops against the enemy in the presidential run.

However, if the deadly incidents during the election campaign period were not enough, the attack on Kılıçdaroğlu must be a wakeup call. Erdoğan is playing a dangerous game to win the presidential elections, while putting societal peace at risk.