Turkey's annus horribilis: Deepening crisis, lost opportunities

2019 has passed at breakneck speed, leaving behind a blurred cloud of dust for Turkey and its crisis-stricken citizenry. It will go down in history as a year of deepening systemic crisis, collapse of state institutions, widening corruption, judicial meltdown, massive persecution of dissidents, a relentless crackdown on the Kurdish political movement, and the militarisation of foreign policy. 

It will also be noted as a year in which the mainstream opposition bloc missed a golden opportunity to shatter the ground on which President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's nationalist-Islamist coalition stands and build a new democratic front. 

As the economic crisis hit households across the country - unemployment rose and growth was slow - the first half of 2019 was, for those who disagree sharply with the way Erdoğan manages Turkey, marked by a surge of hope. The testing ground was the local elections on March 31. Normally fractious opposition parties united as never before and expectations were raised when the pro-Kurdish party, the HDP, asked its supporters to vote to vote tactically and back the bloc. The tactics worked well, and Erdoğan had to taste a bitter defeat, losing control of six major cities. 

The bleeding of support from within Erdoğan’s own party compounded the loss. Discontent with the Presidential Palace became public with Ali Babacan and Ahmet Davutoğlu, two former ministers under Erdoğan, broke away to form their own parties.

But the opposition bloc victory, topped by the election of Ekrem İmamoğlu as mayor of Istanbul, soon began to fade. The mainly Turkish opposition parties proved unwilling to reach out to the HDP and ungrateful for its support at the polls. 

Erdoğan, a true political fighter, launched a massive crackdown on the HDP’s Kurdish mayors and councillors. The move to divide his opponents was a success; neither the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), nor the opposition nationalist Good Party, were willing to stand up for the HDP and both watched passively as Erdoğan and his security apparatus attempted to break the Kurdish political movement.

Having driven a wedge between the opposition bloc and the Kurds, Erdoğan stepped up his political gamble. As his challengers faded, the president launched a military invasion of northern Syria and watched as the opposition bloc fell in behind him in support.

The threat of the opposition may not have been completely crushed, but at least postponed indefinitely.

The second half of 2019 was dominated by Erdoğan again raising the stakes in a foreign policy increasingly coloured by irredentism and militarism. Playing on the weakness and growing vacuum of global disorder, Turkey launched a series of moves in the eastern Mediterranean and Libya, flexing its muscles in what Erdoğan sees as a great opportunity for 'his' Turkey to claim its true place in the world.

It is into much more dangerous waters that Turkey sails in 2020. Domestic politics is one-sided, the economic crisis is deepening, corruption is spreading, natural resources are being looted, aggressive nationalism on the rise and state institutions are being weakened. Turkey is becoming rogue state presided over by an erratic leader and the Turkish crisis promises to plunge to new depths with little but gloom on the horizon for ordinary citizens.  

© Ahval English