Date posted: November 16, 2013
It appears that Turkey’s powerful prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and his popular Justice and Development Party (AK Party) have set the election campaign on fear and divisions, rather than a conciliatory tone in a very much polarized society.
Erdoğan’s people are determined to run a partisan campaign, hoping this will prevent defectors from peeling away from the ranks. In the aftermath of the May-June anti-government rallies as part of the Gezi Park protests, the AK Party was in fact able to gain some points it had lost since the last elections of 2011, when voters were scared off by the violence that erupted amid protests. This was a temporary spike, however, and the AK Party could not hold onto gains when the tension in society was diffused.
That is the primary reason why Erdoğan thinks he needs to invent straw men to attack in a bid to channel voters’ disillusionment with his government. Out of the blue, he comes up with issues that nobody has been discussing in society and in fact no mainstream political party was even proposing. Then he holds these up as if they are real issues that matter to voters. He played around with abortion, coed housing, capital punishment, the interest lobby and private prep schools to steer the national debate away from substantive issues that might damage his rule. Erdoğan is now pinning his hopes for election victory on sharpening divisions with artificially inflated issues.
The last straw by Erdoğan came this week when a draft version of a law seeking the closure of all kinds of privately established prep schools (dershanes) leaked to the media. The bill is so drastic that even private tutoring for kids at homes by parents is banned. The intrusive move is seen as a huge blow to free enterprise and the right to education, prompting concerns that the closure of these schools will block upward mobility in Turkish society. Many saw this as Erdoğan’s attempt to pressure the Gülen movement, which runs one-third of prep schools, into silencing criticism of the government on the eve of elections. The movement is critical of the government on corruption, weakened transparency and accountability, loss of enthusiasm for the EU process, lack of bold democratic reforms to address the country’s chronic woes, including the Alevi and Kurdish problems. The banning of prep schools curtails the free market credentials of the AK Party government while potentially scaring international investors into shying away from the Turkish market.
All in all, Erdoğan’s new way of ruling Turkey has dealt a big blow to his credibility as well as to the trustworthiness of the AK Party’s election program, which promised better accountability, increased transparency and better protection of privacy in government while boosting the free market economy and limiting the role of government. It will be difficult to convince voters on new pledges in the next election when the AK Party has already reneged on past promises.
Source: Today's Zaman , November 15, 2013