A new year has begun and, judging from several articles of Brig, we could not wait to get rid of the old one. Even when speaking strictly politically, Brexit, Trump, extreme right popularity and new instabilities in Italy marked 2016, but I know you have heard it all way too many times.
So, let’s look to the new year and one of the not so positive things coming our way with 2017. In three words, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. And yeah I know this guy has been the leader of Turkey since 2003 – as prime minister until 2014, and as president since then. Yet, if all goes to plan, the Parliament of Turkey will support his radical constitutional amendments this year handing him more power and autonomy as well as a 3rd term as president.
Assuming he gets re-elected at the end of his first term in 2019 and holds snap elections in his second term, he would then be eligible for a 3rd term, despite the limit staying at two terms for presidents.
This would mean that Erdoğan could stay on Turkey’s leadership up to 2029. Would that be so bad? Probably. The Turkish President has been accused of behaving in an authoritarian manner, of pushing Turkey ‘backwards’ socio-politically, and of prosecuting anyone that seems to be standing in his way. And the evidence is pretty much as bad as the accusations.
While some are rumours and some are facts, during Erdoğan presidency since 2014, a couple of not so positive things have been happening. Various activists, journalists with opposing views and public figures that have spoken openly against him have been prosecuted and many of them sentenced with fines, and in some cases imprisonment. Turkey has been internationally criticised for its unfair treatment of refugees and for allowing the illegal transfer of refugees into Greece and Italy by traffickers in poorly maintained vehicles and life-threatening conditions.
This summer a failed coup attempt brought immense chaos which finished with extravagant riots in support of Erdoğan which many saw as staged. In fact, while nothing has been proven, the authenticity of the coup itself has been questioned since it now serves as a justification from more arrests and prosecutions against ideological enemies of the Turkish president and his conservative regime.
If all that was not enough, the construction of an 1100-room presidential palace has been described as a gross abuse of state funds for personal gains, as well as an attempt by Erdoğan to increase his status and expand the public’s perception of him as a result. So, smaller and larger incidents have triggered concerns regarding the personal aspirations of the Turkish president and possible plans he may have to push Turkey into an authoritarian state with less public freedoms and a stronger power elite with him in its centre.
And now he wants extended and further unregulated powers. Turkey has been caught between a cultural and religious geopolitical divide for years and tension has been boiling within it until it finally tipped over. While a new rendition of an Arab Spring could have happened, Erdoğan was always there to use the tension for his benefit.
Those attacks and incidents that are caused by outer powers are immediately employed within his rhetoric and those incidents that have been described as government-created by critics are conveniently placed within fragile spaces of everyday life and of the cultural narratives and traditions of the country. Can it get worse? Just make him an almost absolute leader and you will see.
Maybe right about now some of you are thinking: “Why do I not know more about this?” Turkey is mentioned in news segments around action against ISIS, terrorist attacks in Istanbul – by far the most ‘Western’ part of the country – and the refugee crisis.
Yet the internal politics of the country often remain out of the international spotlight and are deprived of the attention of global audiences. This does not mean they are not active though. National politics are very active and since Turkey is there in all the topics mentioned earlier, its internal affairs may affect more than what sits within its borders.
Of course, most of this is discussed based on the current pictures of the issues in mind. We do not know what Erdoğan has in mind or what the Turkish people believe about all this. Yet, what we do know is that it would not hurt to hear a bit more about Turkish politics alongside all the other international news narratives.