"Seismic" instability in store for Turkey - Scholar

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has tightened his grip on Turkey after winning the Jun. 24 elections, but the country remains polarised and is on a dangerous trajectory for a period of “seismic social and political instability,” according to scholar Jenny White, writing for The American Interest.

Erdoğan rode his continuing popularity among conservative Turks and used every advantage granted by his dominance in the state and government to beat a coalition of opposition parties and secure vastly enhanced powers under the new executive presidential system.

“However, any hope that a solid win would relax Erdoğan’s iron grip on society faded when, soon after the results were announced, state-run television was already referring to the opposition as traitors and terrorists,” said White.

Since the elections, both Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) and their alliance partners in the elections, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), had begun to make aggressive and discriminatory moves against opposition politicians and citizens, said White.

These include MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli taking out “a full-page advertisement in several newspapers in which he listed dozens of names of journalists, writers, and others who he claimed had criticized and slandered his party, in essence putting a target on their backs.”

Bahçeli and his party have become “kingmakers,” providing the AKP with a majority in parliament, and judging by that advertisement, the hard-line nationalist MHP’s influence on the government will likely take the country on “a disastrous trajectory away from peace and instead deepen Turkey’s violent polarization,” said White.

With government supporting citizens trapped in a media bubble controlled almost entirely by pro-government circles, and the opposition similarly in a social media bubble, “neither side hears the other’s story,” said White, likening the political groups with siloes “that may change slightly in breadth and outer wrapping but otherwise remain regionally and culturally entrenched.”

“Erdoğan’s victory is a symptom of a culture of hierarchy that pervades Turkish political life, in which a single person dominates those around him, and their relationship is based on loyalty and obedience rather than shared ideology, goals, or even competence and merit,” according to White.

While the opposition parties’ alliance was an optimistic turn, the objective of defeating Erdoğan that had drawn disparate groups together is now out of reach, and there are already worrying signs of fragmentation.

“As the fissures deepen, Turkey seems headed for a period of seismic social and political instability,” said White.