While the world is busy with the fight against Corona, the Turkish President is putting on tough bandages in the fight against his political opponents. What Erdoğan is all about seems clear.
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With a series of controversial decisions, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is causing international irritation and unrest in the country. He ordered the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention for the Protection of Women by decree – since then, demonstrators have taken to the streets almost every day. He fired the head of the central bank, who raised interest rates against the will of the president – the Turkish lira then plummeted. This is particularly bitter for people who are already suffering economically from the corona pandemic. The second largest opposition party, the pro-Kurdish HDP, is threatened with a party ban, and numerous opposition politicians are said to have their statutes removed. The list goes on.
Erdoğan demonstrates power, but he is not as firmly in the saddle as it seems. Despite numerous powers that Erdoğan amassed, including through the introduction of a presidential system three years ago, the president in parliament is dependent on the support of the ultra-nationalist MHP. But even with his partner, according to current surveys, he would not get an absolute majority. The next elections are not scheduled until 2023, but there is speculation that they could be brought forward.
Erdoğan has already lost many voters
But instead of compliant politics, Erdoğan relies on confrontation. From the government’s point of view, the latest controversial steps could make perfect sense, says Günter Seufert, head of the Center for Applied Turkish Studies (CATS) in Berlin. Because they took up demands from parts of the AKP electorate.
- The pushing on low interest rates is a concession to small and medium-sized companies and large companies, for example from the construction or energy industry, who want cheap loans.
- Of the Resignation from the Istanbul Convention in turn, religious circles such as orders and foundations had long been required.
- Of the HDP ban application is a concession to the ultra-nationalist Devlet Bahçeli from the MHP.
“Erdoğan has already lost the voters who do not rely on the AKP for better or for worse. The task now is to keep the voters who are still sworn by him in line,” said Seufert. With a possible HDP ban, Erdoğan could also hope that at least some of the Kurdish votes would end up with the AKP.
With his policies Erdoğan also wanted to stir up unrest in the opposition, says Mustafa Yeneroğlu, who has been part of the party for many years and a former confidante of Erdoğan, but is now a member of the opposition Deva party. Erdoğan is trying to instigate a “culture war” and drive society apart. Even if the government insists that the judiciary is independent, it is clear to Yeneroğlu that Erdoğan is also behind the HDP ban lawsuit: “Nothing works without his consent.”
Government bloc relies on undemocratic measures
Erdoğan wants to weaken the opposition, which is currently still working together, and is deliberately placing “dynamite under the traditional fault lines of Turkish society, the Kurdish question and secularism,” says Seufert. A ban on the pro-Kurdish HDP, for example, would have to be welcomed by the opposition Iyi party, a split from the MHP, in terms of its ideology. The small Islamist Saadet party, on the other hand, is likely to exit the Istanbul Convention. Saadet is still committed to the opposition alliance, but Erdoğan is vying for the party and its voters.
“We are seeing politics that try to make a living from crises,” says Murat Akan, political scientist at Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University and the Paris Institute for Advanced Studies. Constant attacks, “threats, imprisonment and legal coups” polarized society.
The democratic opposition is being demobilized “by not even giving it time to breathe, think and organize.” The government block hopes to create undemocratic conditions for the next elections. “This is proof that they themselves are convinced that under democratic conditions they cannot win competitive and fair elections.”
Erdoğan is only concerned with maintaining power.