Ten years of AKP rule. Turkey has indisputably changed. Erdogan talked about that extensively in his speech to the fourth AKP congress yesterday. The economy had stabilized and grew despite global economic problems, the power of the army had been limited, steps had been taken towards reconciliation with the Kurds. All history. No great visions of the future, although the slogan of the congress was ‘Goal 2023’. But who could blame Erdogan for that? He can afford to be politically lazy.
The AKP has gone from reformist party to establishment at a staggering speed. In the first few years of Erdogan’s reign, the old establishment was still going strong the AKP kicked them out of their seats effectively. The army was sent straight back to their barracks. The judiciary, straight into the AKP’s open arms. The Higher Board of Education, too,was AKP-fied And the last fiercely Kemalist President, in the first years of AKP reign still a left-over from the previous era, was replaced by an AKP man too.
Sure, it helped the country forward. But that doesn’t seem to be have been the most important goal. The goal was to consolidate power. Okay, every party wants to do that, I understand that. But when you claim to be reformist, you lose your credibility when you straight away set to work on holding on to power in the very way the old establishment did. Putting your men and a few women in all key positions, favouring your voters and businessmen loyal to you above others, misusing your power to enrich yourself.
If the AKP was really reformist, they would have broken with this old Turkish way. They would have democratizised on that level too and striven for a Turkey in which who you know and who you support doesn’t define your chances in life and career.
The higher goal
And it’s worse than that. Erdogan got leadership inspiration even further back in time. In the early years of the Republic, to be precise. He copied Atatürk. He also started out making revolutionary changes but soon turned establishment, and restricted freedoms, claiming to do that for the higher goal of helping Turkey forward. An unacceptable strategy for a leader in today’s world who claims to be a democrat.
But Erdogan’s supporters, they love it. Turks are brought up with the glorification of this ‘one man’ that changed the course of history for Turks, and thus came to love the notion of one man showing the whole country the way. Erdogan appeals to that notion. His authoritarian rule doesn’t make him less, but more popular.
Also other things that Erdogan is being criticized for are in general not deemed important enough by his voters for them to turn their back on him. They think issues like the lack of press freedom, the silencing of the Kurdish political movement and Turkey’s failing foreign policy don’t affect their lives directly. The growing economy does. That the foundations of that were laid before the AKP’s rule, by Kemal Dervis, of course doesn’t matter to them.
Without direction, without vision
To make things even easier for Erdogan, Turkey lacks a credible opposition. It’s amazing and even shameful that the biggest opposition party, the CHP, didn’t manage to come up with a strategy to counter Erdogan’s success. Their leader is weak and can’t even change the course of his party single-handedly, let alone the course of the entire nation. The CHP is without leadership, without direction, without vision, without message. Not a threat to Erdogan in any way.
So why would Erdogan be reformist now? Making huge reforms now is only risky. It would endanger his ‘Goal 2023’. In 2023, the Turkish Republic celebrates its 100 year existence. Erdogan has no goal, no vision for Turkey for 2023. He only has a goal for himself: become the President, use his power to change the system so that the President becomes more powerful, and stay President till the party in 2023. And that’s how it’s going to be.
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