Turkey’s leader seems omnipotent – but his state of emergency suggests otherwise
Erdogan's lust for power spurs call for snap election
Not even the most ardent critics of Turkey’s swaggering strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan would deny his political dexterity. A day after his electoral allies in the Nationalist Action Party called for summer elections, Mr Erdogan brought Turkey’s presidential vote forward 18 months to June 24. If he can obtain 51 per cent of the vote, Mr Erdogan will acquire the executive powers granted by a tight 2017 referendum, completing Turkey’s sweeping transformation from a parliamentary to a presidential republic. It is a smart move for the ambitious authoritarian who has been in power as either prime minister or president since 2003, eclipsing Ataturk as Turkey’s longest ruler.
First, it allows Mr Erdogan to profit from the nationalist sentiment spawned by a successful military campaign against the Kurdish YPG in Afrin, northern Syria. Second, with the weakest emerging market currency, high inflation and double-digit unemployment, Mr Erdogan is pre-empting a morale-sinking economic crisis. So calculated is the supposedly spontaneous decision, that voters will decide Mr Erdogan’s political fate during the warm summer months, when Turks are buoyed by tourist revenue and negligible heating costs. Third, the disjointed opposition have been caught off guard. The main opposition CHP lacks a presidential candidate, many of the pro-Kurdish HDP’s leaders are in police custody and Meral Aksener’s fledgling ultra-nationalist IYI party – Mr Erdogan’s biggest threat – may be barred from running by electoral rules. Fourth, the election will fall amid a state of emergency, first implemented after the failed coup in 2016 and now in its seventh iteration. Mr Erdogan is widely admired, particularly among less educated and rural voters craving stability in a volatile region. But his supremacy is built on populism alone. As such he has stifled dissent, propelling Turkey towards its sectarian past. Mr Erdogan will probably seek to control all aspects of June’s election, raising fears for its impartiality.
Yesterday The National reported on the human tragedy Turkey’s state of emergency has wrought. More than a million people have fallen foul, with 159,500 arrested and thousands more rendered jobless. One disabled former civil servant, targeted for police abuse and trapped in Turkey after his passport was cancelled, told The National he is scarcely able to feed his family. He is but one in a muzzled million, tormented by Mr Erdogan’s purges, crackdowns and intimidation. Internationally, from Somalia to Syria, Mr Erdogan has dealt his trademark “Ottoman slap” to the world. His unexpected decision to back US-led airstrikes in Syria last week – after wooing Russia and Iran – demonstrated that no alliance or norm can match his lust for power. Turkish voters may well return an emboldened Mr Erdogan to office in June, but as the wounding state of emergency rolls into its seventh phase, his actions are not those of a self-assured ruler.