Not so easy
If someone from the outside of Turkey wonders what’s going on in Turkey, they might easily be fooled that the country is very much like an Iron Curtain country during the times of the Cold War. An authoritative leader is trying to gather all legislative, judicial and executive powers, as well as party leadership, morality police, chief imam, family’s elder, a village’s headman all as himself. It is as if the secretary-general of a sui generis Communist party is running alone in the presidential elections.
Such an attitude is not, of course, democratic at all. Anyhow, the tall, bold, bald and ever angry man yelling at everyone is no longer talking of the democracy he once said was very much like a train car he would travel in until he reached his destination. Now that he has come to his destination, he is stressing that he will become the “new leader” of the “new Turkey” of “advanced democracy.”
But despite the superficial image of the country, as if only one candidate is running in the presidential election and that candidate will definitely win with an overwhelming majority. Why? Because there is such an image being pumped continuously to the masses as part of the election strategy of the prime minister. How is it possible that every other day someone is leaking to the media a public opinion poll showing the absolute ruler ahead of the other candidates with so many percentage points? Such “leaks” are, of course, attempts to influence the undecided vote, as it is generally believed that the undecided vote tends to eventually go to the strongest candidate. This is no joke if it is taken into consideration that some 23 percent of the Turkish vote has been floating around since the 1983 vote to return to democracy. That 23 percent has been voting in pursuit of stability, strong governance, a decided leader and of course in line with the “money in their pockets.” Last but not least, that group tends to vote in support of the “aggrieved.”
Since the 2002 vote, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been enjoying support of the undecided Turks by constantly playing the “aggrieved” role on the one hand, while delivering stability and strong governance with a macho style on the other. Since the purge of the Kemalists, intellectuals, journalists, businessmen in a 1984-style evidence concocting and justice bending and particularly after the all-out war on the Islamist Fethullah Gülen charity group, Erdoğan was stripped of his “aggrieved” dress and put on one of the “aggressor.” In the absence of a credible opponent, or as long as he was setting the pace of the politics and the rest were only reacting at him, there has been no problem for the premier.
However, when he was faced with an even more conservative, but equally far more democratic, intellectual opponent firmly anchored in civility and other norms that the premier has no idea about, all of a sudden the “king is naked” scream by a small boy started to echo throughout the country.
It is yet too early to say whether the waning political wind behind Erdoğan will be enough to carry him to the presidency in August or Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the former Islamic conference secretary-general and joint candidate of the opposition, will walk the uphill road to presidency with his values, norms, intellectual capability and civilized approach to issues, respect to gender equality, supremacy of law and a democracy with norms, values and functioning institutions.
With Erdoğan yelling every day at several corners of the country, using public funds extravagantly and İhsanoğlu leading a modest, but gentle campaign, the premier has lost his “aggrieved” card all together… How can he tell people he is “aggrieved” when he was given 500 plus minutes on state and public TV screens in one week, while the other two candidates hardly had any time at all? Or how can he claim to be “aggrieved” when, besides using public funds, millions are being cashed in as grants to his campaign by project-hunting “entrepreneurs?”
The roles have changed, but will that be enough... At least this time it might not be an easy victory for Erdoğan. Furthermore, even if he scores a victory – which appears very likely – will he be able to collect all of the powers in his hands and rule in comfort? Very unlikely…