Will the local elections deliver what the AKP wants?

Will the local elections deliver what the AKP wants?

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan continues to get bad press abroad. In a Feb. 4 opinion piece, the Wall Street Journal pointed out that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) may have done a lot when it came to power a decade ago. It added, however, that Erdoğan’s “political thuggishness and fondness for conspiracy theories” has now put that progress at risk.

“Turkey’s economy can survive the bursting of a bubble. But a prime minister who trashes the rule of law and treats his political rivals as enemies of the state is, to borrow a financial term, a systemic risk,” the WSJ concluded.

Erdoğan is making no secret of the fact that he wants the local elections in March to be seen as a public vote of confidence for the AKP. “If people choose us as the first party once again, it will mean that this government is honest, that this government indeed continues to work for the people as they deserve,” he said on Tuesday during his official visit to Berlin.

He appears to be casting the law aside with these remarks, and relying on the ballot box to free his government of the stigma of corruption. He is saying in effect that it is politics, not the law, which will prove their honesty. Many would argue that under normal circumstances, it should be the law that proves honesty or dishonesty in such cases.

But normal circumstances do not prevail in Erdoğan’s Turkey. It is not for nothing, therefore, that the former ministers who were either forced to resign or replaced over corruption allegations have started appearing in public again with smiles on their faces.

Former EU Minister Egemen Bağış, who refused to resign and was replaced, went so far as to tweet his joy over being invited by Erdoğan to Berlin.

Former Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar may have said after resigning that he had done everything on instructions, adding that the prime minister should therefore resign also. But he is now bending over double to appease Erdoğan with apologies that make him look ridiculous.

These ministers have clearly been led to believe that the local elections will clear their names and result in the closing of the corruption and bribery investigations into their children or themselves.

These former ministers were further encouraged when the new prosecutor in charge of the current corruption investigation announced his intention to scrap the indictment prepared by the previous prosecutor, who was sacked after government intervention, and rewrite it.

This is all very well for these ministers, but the WSJ’s view quoted above points to yet another dilemma for Erdoğan. Even if the AKP wins the local elections, Erdoğan is clearly going to be considered “a systemic risk” by the international business community.

As the WSJ said, “The prime minister’s scorched-earth response to the investigators has left investors worried that they’d be no safer than the judges if they run afoul of the AKP.”

Such views are being repeated in almost all the major Western papers whose opinions are considered influential. In other words, a victory at the local elections may provide Erdogan and the AKP relief. It is unlikely, however, that foreign investors, who have been wary of Erdogan’s approach to domestic crises since last summer’s Gezi Park protests, will buy his arguments.

Put another way, the course Erdogan has been pursuing since Dec. 17, 2013, has put him in the situation of being a liability for Turkey should the AKP win the March local elections comfortably. While it is doubtful that such a victory will prove his government’s honesty, it is certain that it will leave Turkey with festering issues.

Clearly, though, saving his party and his political future is more important for Erdogan at the moment than getting Turkey out of the political and economic morass it is sliding into.