Cengiz Aktar
Jun 27 2018

Will Erdoğan be able to govern?

Back in January, when there was no talk of snap elections, I made the following prediction about President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s regime: “The Justice and Development Party (AKP) was elected into power, but the regime will not be ousted through elections. Because falling from power would inevitably land regime officials in front of the High Court. It would behove the opposition to come to terms with this sheer reality and begin questioning its most basic assumptions.”

At the beginning of this month, I observed: “The regime lost long ago, likely in 2013 - the year when peaceful Gezi protests in Istanbul were brutally crushed and when an extensive corruption scandal implicated top government officials, including President Erdoğan’s family, in money laundering and embezzlement schemes. They are obviously in a state of panic because they fear the reckoning they could be made to face.

“This panic has taken hold not only of the regime, but also the huge mass of regime supporters. They would have to pay a price for the undue benefits and unwarranted positions they received and the violence they used against their fellow citizens.

“Thus political Islamists in general realise that if they fall from power, they will never ever return.

“Consequently, this mass is in an existential struggle to survive. They are forced to defend their current positions at all costs.”

With the recent elections, the Turkish political system has completed its transformation into an executive presidential system without checks and balances. The regime and its leader view the new system as their chance to forever escape the sword of justice.

This heavy-handed, arbitrary system grants all decision-making power to a narrow team in the presidential palace, relegates parliament to be the president’s notary and the judiciary his obedient servant. The system privileges quick fixes above consultation, deliberation, transparency and accountability. How long could such a system last?

As for the economy, the only option left to the regime is to expand the public debt. The ratio of government debt to national income is only around 40 percent. With private debt it reaches 70 percent. It has more room to borrow and spend, but paying off the debt has become a challenge.

All of the other indicators are in the red. Election-related expenditures, military ventures, prodigious spending, and the president’s refusal to raise interest rates have put the economy at risk of a fatal crisis.

With all of the power granted to it through the elections, the regime no longer has any use for the state of emergency that has been in effect for nearly two years. It will lift the state of emergency, which will boost the lira. Bewildered money traders might see the election results as signs of stability, but every economic indicators point to tumultuous times ahead.

As for politics, some analysts predict that since Erdoğan has achieved everything he wanted, he might now mellow in his domestic and foreign policy. This is patently not possible. It is conceivable that he might “pardon” some prisoners, showing his “magnanimity”, but without acquittal. As for the talk of return to peace talks with the Kurds, it is antithetical to the nature of fascism; it is simply a pipe dream.

Today Turkey is home to a multi-polarised society, a collapsing economy, ruined state institutions, destroyed natural and cultural resources, an aggressive foreign policy and a totalitarian regime. In short, it is a country that cannot be governed.  

Let us turn to the opposition. In addition to pro-minority Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), there is now another meaningful opposition figure, the main opposition’s presidential candidate, Muharrem Ince, the top contender in the race. How much support he gets from his obsolete party and whether he will be able to transform it, only time will tell.

As for the opposition coalition that ran against the AKP, this was a group of disparate parties that were united only in their opposition to Erdoğan. It is unlikely their coalition will survive the electoral defeat. The coalition simply opposed Erdoğan; it was neither an “antifascist” nor a “democratic” coalition.

Otherwise lawmaking is no more the Grand National Assembly’s fundamental task; it is transformed into a comfortable notary institution. It will not make any sense for the opposition, but it might push the opposition to be closer to the electorate. On the other hand, some of its members might be satisfied just to draw their sweet salary.

The delusion that lot of hope and an election with two votes could overcome fascism was merely a way of delaying serious inquiry into how Turkish society arrived at this point in the first place.

Commentators who have difficulty accepting the election results fail to appreciate the extent to which fascism had settled in Turkey. They gave people false hopes. They contributed to the mood of depression that has spread in the aftermath of the election.

Understanding the Erdoğan phenomenon and the regime he is working to establish requires more than studying Erdoğan’s background, his political party, his close circles, his business relationships, Turkey’s political history, mistakes made by past elites, as well as academic classifications and solutions. It requires understanding the masses who support his regime, those masses Hannah Arendt was studying in detail.

Erdoğan’s followers, whom he refers to as the “majority”, the “national will,” and the “glorious nation”, harbour glaring fascist attributes. These cohesive masses stick to those in power through brutality and venality.  

Sunday night proved that simply complaining about the lawlessness of the regime, which has gradually formed a “new legal order” outside the parameters of the existing one, is useless.  

Of course, pointing out at infractions of the law and keeping tallies of illegal actions is of vital importance. But for years, as “the new legal order” normalised previously unacceptable acts, the legal community has refused to take the new system seriously. Now, the leader and the regime have been forced down the country’s throat, and opinion leaders behave like the priests who argued about the gender of angels during the siege of Constantinople.

Unlike early 20th century Germany, Italy, or Russia, totalitarianism in Turkey did not result from a crisis that shattered society. Rather, it arose from a country that was a model nation with a promising economy and European Union ambitions.

Where Turkish totalitarianism came from, and what lies at its core have yet to be studied in depth. Such studies will hopefully be conducted as now fascism deepens and spreads.

Turkey’s Erdoğan problem has turned into a matter encompassing half of Turkey’s population. This fact cannot be tackled with optimism, invectives, irony and sarcasm; it demands politics in the noble sense of the word.

 

Will Turkey’s poor democratic credentials manage to cope with this monster or will the entire country learn to goose-step; the answer will depend on the brutality of the unavoidable collapse.