The president is riding a magic carpet

Amid successive foreign policy and economic fiascos, President Erdoğan needs his sycophants to convince him all is well so his stature remains unchanged. Yet when they cease to convince him, his leadership will crumble.

Last year, Turkey claimed it was a crucial actor on the world stage. First, it launched a campaign in Syria, then it got assertive in the Eastern Mediterranean. Now it is sending troops to Libya.

Some said such moves had to do with domestic politics. Others said they were attempts to redefine Turkey's position in a context of shifting balances. Yet none of these moves promised actual interests.

In fact, the events unfolded so quickly that once the government had barely finished planning the propaganda and official narrative for one action that the need to defend another and opposite narrative arose.

Ankara's Syrian intervention - which it claimed would be carried from first to last - was wrapped up little less than a week after it was launched, as agreements with both the US and Russia were concluded.

In Libya, where Ankara claimed no mediation could be held between a legitimate government and insurgents, it was soon sitting at the negotiation table with Russia and the rebels. Yet somehow, those rebels quit the negotiation.

Despite such fiascos and the government's ever-growing struggle to convince voters, Ankara's self-esteem levels are still on a high. In a recent parliamentary group meeting with his party, President Erdoğan said “Everybody will accept that we will do what we say we will do.”

On the economic front, Finance Minister Berat Albayrak - who was told to keep a low profile for some time - came onstage with an announcement that the risk premium had dropped for loans. What he calls a drop is the lowest level in past 20 months. It is also a decline that has marked all countries and Turkey’s place in the ranking has not changed.

Only a few days ago, Erdoğan made even a bigger claim. "They are jealous of us. Our economy is about to kick-off again," he said. Figures that suggest a recovery were put forward though ordinary people have yet to feel it.

If those improvements do signal a slight relief from the current hardship, they do not entail a return to easier and more prosperous times. Youth unemployment has reached 27 percent. With regards to both the economy and foreign policy, the government's boasting is unfounded.

The presidential system that was meant to speed up everything is stumbling. For each two decrees it issues, one decree is corrected and the system is mired in constant deadlock. Still, we told everything is "perfect."

Turkey's political governance, from foreign to economic policy, has long been highly personalized. In leader-centered administration that is based on competitive legitimacy, mass support is of utmost importance.

Such a political mechanism rests on the task of making the masses believe in the importance of a leader and generate consent for each claim he or she makes. Yet for a while now, the Turkish public and ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) supporters have started to doubt whether the deeds and wishes of Erdoğan were in their favor. Increasingly, the political mechanism is strained.

Despite that, Erdoğan's clique have an interest in keeping the leader. Because of this, his close circles continuously need to make the leader believe everything is going well – even though they are not able to persuade the masses.

The leader should be convinced so he can boast about high achievements no one else can see. He should be convinced so his attitude remains unchanged.

In Turkish, a saying goes "The sheikh does not fly, it is his follower who believes he is flying." Then who are those sycophants carrying Erdoğan's magic carpet? For these are the ones that will, one day, pull the carpet from him.

September 14, 2021 Election threshold engineering