Erdogan at a crossroads

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No matter what people say about the success of the ruling Justice and Development Party led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And no matter what they think of its achievements to improve the standard of living of a large sector in Turkish society during the last 12 years, it still suffered several losses. First, and most importantly, was the distortion of the party’s image in the minds of broad segments of Turkish society. This distortion peaked after Erdogan’s family was involved in a corruption scandal and judicial authorities were trying to bring suit against his son, Belal, and other party leaders.

However, Erdogan resorted to trickery to steer clear of those law cases. He urged his parliamentary party members to pass a law that enhances executive control over the judiciary and grants the Ministry of Justice the authority to appoint members of the Supreme Judicial Council. As a result, the regime controls judges and general prosecutors, which is clearly against the concept of power separation.

Most likely, Erdogan seeks to fit the Turkish scene to his political aspirations. He considers the judiciary system a stumbling block in the way of his ambitions, especially after its crucial role in the investigations into his involvement in corruption cases.

Despite pressures placed on the judicial system to ruin investigations, the general prosecution refused to comply with Erdogan’s government decisions and the prime minister’s relations with the judiciary turned sour.

İhsanoğlu

Secondly, the authoritarian policies practised by Erdogan in his party widened the gap between him and other party leaders. The best example of this rift is the resignation submitted by hundreds of party members in protest at his negotiations with Kurds, his way of facing corruption scandals and the unlawful transfer of hundreds of security leaders to alternative posts.

Another looming loss facing Erdogan may happen in the next presidential elections in August. He has been the top figure in the Turkish government for more than 10 years, but now he may face a tough opponent if Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu decides to run for the presidency, bearing in mind that İhsanoğlu is supported by the Republican People’s Party and the Nationalist Movement Party.

Although the Justice and Development Party won 44 per cent of the parliamentary seats, the reason for this success was not that people believed in the party, but because there was no suitable alternative. The Turkish opposition parties were divided among themselves and they were more preoccupied with their ideologies at the expense of people’s concerns and needs.

İhsanoğlu’s candidacy for presidency may jeopardise Erdogan’s chances of winning the elections, because İhsanoğlu has all the characteristics of a perfect candidate. For example, İhsanoğlu does not belong to either the government or the opposition. In other words, he is not involved in government corruption or in the opposition’s mistakes. In addition, he is a prominent international figure by virtue of his job as the secretary-general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and he was the first elected secretary-general.

On the other hand, Erdogan’s relationship with important European states has become strained. For instance, Austria accused him of launching election propaganda and causing troubles during his visit on 20 June. In this visit, Erdogan called on his supporters from the Turkish community in Austria to respect the country that hosts them, but avoid being absorbed in Austrian society.

Austria is not the only European country with concerns about Erdogan. During his visit to Germany on 23 May, the Berlin government asked him to handle wisely the Turkish community in Cologne, which was outraged by Erdogan’s underestimation of the Soma mine disaster.

After Erdogan’s attitude of indifference that was clearly expressed during his visits to Austria and Germany, and the Turkish immigrants’ anger against him, it was only natural that worries concerning Turkey joining the European Union increased.

Turkish protesters gather in Taksim Square to protest against police violence during the Gezi protests (photo: Reuters)

The European Union previously rebuked Ankara after dispersing Taksim Square protests by force and dealing violently with protestors without responding to their demands. It deferred talks related to Turkey’s accession to the European Union for four months.

Similarly, the European Union severely criticised the internet-monitoring law which Erdogan managed to pass behind the scenes after noticing Facebook and Twitter’s role in revealing his scandals. It also denounced law amendments related to Turkish intelligence, giving it absolute authority to launch a crackdown any time without any legal accountability.

Perhaps this explains the European Parliament’s demand to send observers to Turkey during the municipal elections at the end of March, after increasing doubts about the integrity of the electoral process, in light of the heightened tension there.

Erdogan came under bitter criticism from EU leaders for failing to support minorities’ rights, especially when the community reforms he adopted were nothing more than mere show. Not to mention his government’s insistence on imposing a fait accompli on the minorities without responding to their urgent demands.

Erdogan has reached the stage where he stands at a crossroads and he has to choose either Turkish presidency or EU membership. His seemingly courageous actions and his promises of reform may not be enough for him to win either of them. Now that the Turkish government has turned a blind eye to the mounting protests, the crisis has deepened even more and it cries out for a long-awaited change.