Erdogan Consolidates His Grip
But Turkey’s downslide on scale of democratic freedoms and human rights is too palpable to be missed.
Turkish strongman Recep Teyyip Erdogan has emerged even more strong from the June 24 Presidential election. The over 52% votes which he received against several rivals are likely to embolden him to assume wider powers in months ahead as the newly drafted Constitution ushers him into ‘Executive Presidency’. Erdogan, who arrived at the centre of power in 2003 and served as Turkey’s Prime Minister till 2014, will now remain President till 2023 while remaining eligible for another five-year term.
Although Erdogan and his Islamically-rooted Truth and Justice Party—known by its abbreviation AKP—have imparted political and economic stability to the nation, symptoms of growing authoritarianism are too palpable to be missed. Ever since their advent in power, AKP and Erdogan have salvaged Turkey from the brink of bankruptcy, brought in reforms to resuscitate the failing and faltering economy and took it to great heights. But they have also been seen to be using strong arm tactics to marginalize the opposition parties, curbing media freedom, jailing journalists and monopolizing the national debate in their favour through tactics that liberals detest. Distinct improvements were affected in transport and health services. Serious steps initiated by his government to join the European Union (EU) have taken his appeal beyond his core constituency of conservatives and won it support of many liberal European intellectuals.
But around the third term in power Erdogan had begun showing definitive signs of power corrupting his actions and insolence replacing wisdom. The Gezi Park protests were suppressed ruthlessly. The April 2017 referendum to amend the Constitution and install an executive presidency was tilted in his favour through fraudulent means. Probe into charges of corruption against his cabinet ministers was undermined through a variety of means and by subjugating the judiciary. Finally, the July 15 coup against his government was exploited to purge the Army and the Bureaucracy of all elements from whom the Government suspected some challenge. An Emergency clamped over the nation is still in force and elections were held under it. Amnesty International says of all the journalists jailed around the world, one-third are in Turkish jails.
Turkey has been the only glimmer of hope in a Muslim Middle East dominated by brutal monarchies, ruthless Sheikhs and tyrant dictators. Though under military rule off and on, it has largely sustained a democratic set-up, with periodic elections, multiparty system, freedom of the press, human rights, gender equality and a robust economy where the common man has unhindered access to best opportunities in social, political and economic domains. It will be a real loss if Turkey and its industrious people are now being asked to exchange stability with curtailed human rights, restricted freedom of expression and a judiciary beholden to the powers that be. Erdogan’s moves will be watched keenly in days ahead as to how he steers Turkey forward.