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.
The state in Turkey treats its people as tenants without rental contracts. The people of the land are vassals who must obey. Minorities are expected to comply and there are dangerous crowds who are never to be trusted.
The new source of debate in Turkey is not whether the government would fall with elections; rather, it is whether the opposition alliance will endure. Instead of merely discussing the possibility of early elections, the opposition should push for the holding of actual elections.
National causes and many of the “existential threats” against Turkey have to do with foreign policy. Public opinion is sharp on “what is wanted from us and what is spared from us” though it cannot exactly pinpoint what it wants itself.
Erdoğan government’s ability to expand its repression and go further with ever more assertiveness without facing any resistance has to do with the haplessness and perhaps deficient aptitudes of those who could check it. Cynical pundits, eager to crush opposition figures, say “you’ll see what comes next,” and they are always proven right.
With regards to all protest movements, from the Gezi movement of 2013 to the “Justice March” of 2017, the government fears the prospect of people taking to the streets.
Today, the ruling AKP government is seeking a new consolidation formula that does not rely on voter support. Instead, it shall rely on a survival rhetoric spearheaded by MHP leader Bahçeli and based on the alleged “local and national” majority.
The resignation story of Interior Minister Süleyman Soyl, confirms that a political and managerial mistake occurred, and that responsibility arose from this error. This responsibility for the mistake is something that won’t be able to be written off by accusing “fools” or “ignorant” group.
Turkish government is frequently referring to the failures of the responses of European countries and the United States in tackling with the coronavirus outbreak. Turkey is truly in a “better position” in the sense that we can predict what our rulers are capable of doing. We can predict that our rulers will say only their views about an issue, without feeling the need to hide their opinions or stay completely objective.
The government has no strategy to deal with the coronavirus crisis. It is also clear that scientific evidence and models are not being followed. Those patterns of behavior already prevailed with regards to Turkey’s economic crises, to the Syrian fiasco, the refugee crisis and to the its failing presidential system.
More than two weeks have passed since the first corona case was publicized in Turkey. As very few tests are being carried out, the number of cases remains artificially low. The government is forcing this unfounded optimism upon the public. As usual, it accuses those who dare raise doubts of ‘national treachery’ and ‘ungratefulness.’
The only conclusion we can draw from the Osman Kavala saga is that there is a consistency in the nonsense of this country's political events.
The MHP is the losing side of the government alliance. When it gets too close to the AKP, the two parties sink together. Recent poll data shows that the decline in the AKP has also started to pull down the MHP.
In 2011, the AKP came up with a new strategy which became official in 2015. The party scraped its connection with the poor, referring to it only in an identity-focused discourse. As it rapidly slid into authoritarianism, the government instrumentalized its relationship with the poor, in line with right-wing populist practices.
While Erdoğan's government emphasizes unchangeability, resilience and sustainability, it is further moving away from its bid to solve problems and prospects for the future. The difficulties of the opposition, which has been engaged in a long-term quest to find ways to change the political landscape, have now been replaced by the government’s crisis.
Lately there has been an intense debate from both within and outside of the AKP in terms of whether or not anything will come out of the party initatives arising from within the AKP. However, what most likely should be argued is whether anything will come out of the AKP at all at this point.