x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Turkey's strength is in its institutions

The strength of Turkey's institutions will be Mr Erdogan's real test

In a region of turmoil, Turkey has been an island of stability. Over its decade in power, the democratically elected Justice and Development Party (AKP) has won broad support, and ended decades of de facto authoritarian rule by the generals. And as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday after his re-election as head of the party, Muslim-majority nations can learn from Turkey's political approach.

Mr Erdogan has reason to boast. Since 2002, the head of Turkey's longest-serving single-party government has presided over solid economic growth and positioned the country as an important regional player. The era of military coups seems well and truly over.

In no small part, Mr Erdogan's personal popularity has cemented the AKP's grip on power. Although the prime minister will not stand for re-election, and this will be his last term as leader of the AKP, there is little doubt he still wields a commanding influence. The worst-kept secret in Turkish politics is that Mr Erdogan plans to run in 2014 presidential elections, and this year he proposed expanding the powers of that office.

Across the Black Sea in Russia, President Vladimir Putin has cannily outmanoeuvred mandatory term limits, after having served a single term as prime minister. Mr Erdogan, it appears, may be trying to also extend his career - although in his case that would involve fundamental constitutional changes.

There is already an inclusive process to draft a new constitution, which will in all probability transfer power away from the unelected bureaucracy. The present charter, drafted after the 1980 coup, is an anachronism, but the prospect of reshaping Turkey's political framework to suit Mr Erdogan's career is worrisome indeed.

As Murat Somer, an associate professor at Koç University in Istanbul, wrote in these pages yesterday, the AKP has succeeded in building a stronger country largely because it has been balanced by "secular, relatively democratic, and rule-based social and political institutions".

Instead of strengthening those impartial institutions, Mr Erdogan has sometimes threatened them. He has marginalised opponents and consolidated his own position, sometimes by dubious means. His supporters would argue that is the mark of a skilled politician. But it is the state of Turkey when he finally does exit power that will determine his legacy.