There are three bullet points in Turkey’s never boring agenda lately. One is Sedat Peker’s, a self-styled underworld boss, revelations and accusations that he broadcasts via YouTube from his exile in Dubai. The other is Israel’s harsh response in Palestine and in its own territory towards Palestinian Arabs following the events that started in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem. And the third is the election alliance that takes shape among the center left and the center right based on regime change in view of the upcoming elections. Let’s try and see whether we can connect the dots avoiding to fall too far away from truth, yet daring to err in our predictions. In short, this will remain an ongoing discussion but not be a final verdict. A recurrent local saying goes: “If we were not citizens of this country, it will indeed be fun to watch it.”
Apparently having been tipped off about an imminent dragnet and received the promise of a valiant return in April 2021 by the state security apparatus, Peker had left the country almost one and a half years ago to seek refuge in various Balkan countries. After having spent time in Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro (not in that order particularly) he had dashed over to Morocco and now ended up in UAE eluding arrest. A staunch supporter of the Islamo-nationalist government at the time, he now launches an already signature battle cry in the five episodes uploaded to YouTube that a suggested network of double-dealers around the Interior Minister and the minister himself will fall against “a tripod and a camera.”
In the meantime, the government and the president entered an “activism in foreign policy” beauty contest. Turkey is neither Arab nor an Islamic republic. To cite the obvious, Turkey is a NATO ally, a founding member of the OSCE and the Council of Europe and a EU candidate country. Yet the president placed phone calls to almost all Muslim countries of the world while the foreign minister spearheaded a virtual meeting at the OIC. They’ve put the blame full and square at Israel’s door and accused the UNSC of passivity. Presidential spokesman and de facto national security advisor went further to tweet the famous picture of Edward Said throwing stones raising a domestic chorus of critics reminding him the parallel with the Peace Academicians in Turkey and thus exposing his double standard.
Third, the main opposition party CHP’s leader Kılıçdaroğlu solemnly declared that without having to put it black ink on white paper the opposition now found common ground for an electoral alliance. Their consensus would be based on reverting back to a strengthened version of the parliamentarian system leaving behind the current presidential one. HDP is avoided both by the ruling coalition and the now widened opposition alliance as a leper colony. The bet is on gathering enough support adding the seats of the opposition to the ones that will be gained by the HDP which traditionally has strong showing in the predominantly Kurdish Southeast. As for the presidential ballot, the bet is to take it to the second tour. The opinion polls are getting darker for the ruling AKP-MHP week by week but does not get sunnier for the opposition as the “undecided” column grows longer increasingly.
The real story perhaps for the hapless citizen who flocked in millions to watch Peker’s YouTube elucubrations is still the confinement and the pandemic’s human and economic toll. Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu’s recent attempt to please his German counterpart Maas during their joint press conference in Berlin by stating that all Turkish citizens who would be serving in the tourism industry would be prioritized in vaccination did not go down well with the public. To add insult to injury, the Ministry of Tourism shared a publicity campaign video which depicted Turkish citizens wearing masks with a “Enjoy! I am vaccinated.” sign on them. That quickly became infamous and was promptly taken off the air after a mere couple of hours following a widespread public outcry.
The disconnect with reality of both Erdoğan himself and his ruling coalition is obvious. Missteps as cited above are getting increasingly common. The yawning gap between the fiery rhetoric and the actions on the ground are getting visibly larger. As per foreign policy, contents do not match the notice on the package. For, for Erdoğan and AKP, packaging is the essence of diplomacy. While at present diplomacy is remembered after a long absence, it is still conceived not even as a PR effort but a mere continuation of the propaganda. The fragility of the economy and the duplicity in language are at an all-time high while the persuasive powers are at an all-time low. Case in study, Israel is Turkey’s third trading partner. This “fin de règne” ambiance is getting more and more like a headlong dash into unknown.
To date, the opposition’s approach stubbornly remained on avoiding a frontal assault on the government to appeal to hearts carefully sparing the minds of the voters. On the contrary, Peker claims that “he sent his mind on a holiday but keeps his intelligence at hand to fight on”: An odd but already indispensable road companion it seems, to Turkey’s tired democrats in their search to come out of the woods at last. As the pandemic still dominates both the hearts and the minds, a snap election is out of sight and the diplomacy hits the skids. Although it is still too early to predict an outcome of the struggle, the scene gets never too boring.