Predictability in Erdoğan’s Turkey

Abdullah Bozkurt
Abdullah Bozkurt

Date posted: February 21, 2014


The most significant damage beleaguered Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has inflicted on Turkey in a frantic effort to rescue himself, his children and close associates from legal troubles amid massive corruption, money laundering and illegal land-zoning deals was a blow to the “credibility” of Turkey and “predictability” in its political and economic environment.

Unfortunately, he has plundered state institutions with the unprecedented displacement of thousands of well-qualified and experienced law enforcement personnel, hundreds of independent judges and prosecutors, exposing the nation to huge security risks amid terror, organized crime and separatist threats in an unstable part of the world. He has pushed controversial — in all likelihood unconstitutional as well — bills through Parliament such as the Internet censorship legislation and amendments to the judicial council and penal codes, ostensibly in the name of reform but what in fact turned out to be a step backwards.

Now the Erdoğan government has submitted another bill to Parliament that gives the notorious intelligence agency sweeping powers with no accountability and no judicial review. If it becomes law, the agency will be able to collect all kinds of data on private citizens as well as companies. The education bill that will ban all privately funded prep schools will also terminate the jobs of almost 100,000 principals in public schools across the nation, paving the way for a reconstruction of the educational system based on political Islamist ideology. The haste in adopting these controversial laws without much public discussion indicates the government is in panic mode. Erdoğan, who made it abundantly clear that he has no interest whatsoever in a balance of power among state institutions, has been eroding checks and balances while trying to muzzle the critical press.

Erdoğan’s attempts cast a long shadow on the credibility of Turkey, a NATO member and important partner in most trans-Atlantic and European institutions. Questions are now being raised on the reliability of Turkey as an staunch ally in these circles after the Erdoğan government effectively suspended the rule of law, curbed fundamental human rights and freedoms including the right to privacy and the rights to free speech and assembly, and tainted democratic credentials in a once-shining-star country in a turbulent region. Erdoğan is fighting a losing battle, and he just does not realize that the game is over. He was left with only one arm to fight for his survival, and that is the ballot box. That is why he is constantly reminding his supporters to make an appearance at the March 30 local elections.

This great nation got rid of past authoritarian regimes even in difficult times in the aftermath of military coups when circumstances were even worse than today. Turks have always shown their disdain for autocratic governments and have gotten rid of each and every one of them when they got the chance since 1950, a year when the country made the transition to a multi-party system for the first time since the establishment of the republic. Even during interim periods when the military interrupted the functioning of the democratically elected governments, the political engineering and social design by the military rulers fell apart quickly. Therefore, no matter how hard Erdoğan tries, in all likelihood, voters will remove him from power as well — although it may take some time as the functioning of a democratic system moves slowly but surely. Erdoğan’s attempt to obtain absolute power is just a futile one and will backfire on him when the opposition is further emboldened against the encroachment into democratic structures.

In the meantime, however, the predictability of Turkey’s business climate, at least in the short run, will take a blow, impacting trade, investment and business. Perhaps long-term investors will work with what they have got in Turkey at the moment and do their best to map out their business plans under the circumstances. Yet many will recalibrate their policies and may even defer their investments until the dust settles in Turkey. Considering that this country desperately needs external financing because of its low savings rate and dependency on foreign energy resources, navigating through troubles under unpredictable times will be a big challenge for Turkey. That was one of the talking points US President Barack Obama raised with Erdoğan on the phone on Wednesday night when Obama highlighted “the importance of sound policies rooted in the rule of law to reassure the financial markets, nurture a predictable investment environment, strengthen bilateral ties and benefit the future of Turkey.”

The critical question to ask at this juncture, however, is whether Erdoğan gives a hoot about what Obama, or anybody else, for that matter, said. Swamped with personal legal troubles, I do not think Erdoğan cares about issues of credibility and predictability in Turkey at all. He is pressed with the immediate challenge of surviving local elections first and foremost with an outcome that he can claim relatively as a success. He already set the bar at 38.8 percent, at the same level the party got in the 2009 local elections, but way below the 50 percent Erdoğan garnered in the 2011 national elections. He has already acknowledged a more than 10 percent loss, and polling data indicate he is fighting to stay above 35 percent. Depending on new revelations of scandals involving his government, Erdoğan’s ruling party may even go to the low 30s and lose the landmark municipalities of İstanbul and Ankara.

The economic outlook will not get worse before the local elections, so he does not have to worry about shoring up predictability for investors for the moment. The only thing that matters to him is to buy enough time so that he can figure out what to do next. He can call snap elections to get a fresh mandate before the economy takes further blows with the US Federal Reserve’s tapering off policy and the big need to finance the current account deficit with hot money that becomes scarcer. The corruption scandal has exposed how Erdoğan was able to create a pool of funds in exchange for favors in contracts, tenders and influence-peddling. Hence he must have amassed enough cash on the sidelines as a war chest to wage a costly election campaign without engaging in too much populist spending from the budget.

The road markers pointing out that Erdoğan simply brushed aside valuable advice provided by Obama on Wednesday night were detectable in Erdoğan’s speech delivered at a pro-government union meeting less than 24 hours later in Ankara. He rehashed old arguments of a global conspiracy, lumped the opposition parties, media, business groups and Hizmet movement all in one basket of traitors. He even called them for the first time “bloodsucking vampires” because he alleged they all opposed the settlement process with the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Erdoğan’s escalation of rhetoric by a couple of notches in every speech is a clear indication that he is failing to gain traction on his agenda of distracting the Turkish people from the corruption scandal.

His relentless campaign to further polarize and divide Turkish society along ethnic, religious and ideological lines makes Erdoğan the most dangerous and biggest liability for Turkey at the moment. He knows he needs a major enemy to fight his epic battle and survive through elections. Targeting Hizmet, the most peaceful faith-based civic movement in Turkey, did not fit the profile of an enemy description he desperately needs despite his slanderous accusations. He tried to pick a proxy fight with the US by publicly threatening to expel its envoy in Ankara and orchestrated a smear campaign in the pro-government media attacking the US ambassador with fabricated stories from the headlines. The US, knowing full well that Erdoğan tried to elicit a harsh Hugo Chavez-type public rebuke from Washington, decided to convey the message privately. Erdoğan had to back down when US Secretary of State John Kerry dressed down his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoğlu, and warned about the serious consequences if targeting the US and its envoy continues.

Despite the fact that all the terms of agreement are in place for a compensation deal with Israel over the 2010 flotilla incident, Erdoğan has not given political approval to go ahead with the normalization with Israel ahead of the local elections. Because he needs to demonize Israel and bash the Jewish state while accusing the opposition in Turkey with working for Israeli interests and the Jewish lobby in a conspiracy without offering any evidence to that effect. Perhaps Syria remains the only avenue for Erdoğan to create an enemy, a big enough threat that the Turkish people will stop paying attention to wrongdoings of the government and overlook corruption scandals in the face of an impending threat from its southern neighbor. The scenario that Erdoğan may pick a fight with Syria must raise alarm bells in Brussels as war with a neighbor may also pull NATO into the conflict as well. If we see an incident like the Reyhanlı bombing that killed 53 people in May of last year in Hatay province and with the blame put on regime elements in Damascus, Erdoğan may find a pretext and immediately seize that opportunity.

Breaking news on Thursday night has clearly shown how far Erdoğan is willing to take its fight to distract the public. In a blistering statement, Hasan Palaz, former head of the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey’s (TÜBİTAK) Research Center for Advanced Technologies on Informatics and Information Security (BİLGEM), revealed that he was forced to tamper with key evidence in a scientific report that was prepared as part of a criminal investigation into the installing of bugging devices at Erdoğan’s office in 2012. Two years after the inquiry, Palaz said he was asked to change the date when the bugging device started functioning, perhaps as part of an attempt to implicate Hizmet because Erdoğan claimed the bugging device found was placed there by individuals close to the Hizmet movement. Palaz, who refused to falsify the original report, was sacked by government.

It is clear that the Erdoğan government will not hesitate in plotting false-flag operations to blame others in order to change the public discourse and to benefit politically in the meantime. With an intelligence agency that has full immunities, sweeping powers and a broad mandate to stage secret operation tasked by government at home and abroad at his disposal, Erdoğan can manage his dirty bidding and dealings. There is no judicial, parliamentary or independent oversight to monitor, check and hold him accountable for any of this if Erdoğan completes the plan to subordinate the whole judiciary to his rule.

Source: Todays Zaman , February 21, 2014

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