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Off with their heads

24 June 2013

Mr Erdogan and his government, doubtless taken aback by the public challenge to his authority, have decided to put blame on those who he describes as “provocateurs” in the social media.

Determined to stamp out the opposition, he is introducing laws that make it illegal to stir up public sentiment against the government.

The man has been challenged and perhaps true to Turkish macho culture, cannot be seen to back down; a stance which will doubtless please his more conservative followers. Further, he appears to have taken these challenges personally. Surely a more seasoned campaigner would have been able to step back, regroup and rethink his strategy?

As it is, the deputy prime minister has threatened to bring out the army to quell any further protests if it was deemed necessary.

It is clear that the prime minister is set to crush any further opposition to his rule. I do mean rule, given the pronunciations on child birth, alcohol consumption, the frantic constructions of mosques and building shopping malls, whether or not they are needed.

As reported earlier, a phone poll showed over half the Turkish population to be disillusioned by Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism. In one speech, he addressed the crowds as “my people”. Was there something lost in translation or does it mean that Erdogan has messianic delusions? They are not his people; they are the public and an apparently thinking public too.

Government ministers have long argued that ten years of a strong single party government have provided the basis of the country’s economic success – a contrast with the weak coalitions that preceded it. Since 2002, real GDP per capita has risen more than 40 per cent.

Turkey’s prime minister has done much to raise national economic standards, increasing trade, much with the EU. Ostensibly treading the middle path and attempting to join the EU; he was heard to say that when one makes a journey one does not have to continue on until the destination is reached; that route was towards democracy.

Mr Erdogan, who showed so much promise by appeasing secular voters and embracing the more conservative Islamic voters, who felt marginalised in the past by the intellectual, secular elite, is like Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, losing the plot after being in power for too many years.

Doubtless a very human fault, but perhaps there should be a time limit on holding a position of power, for that very reason.

Turkey’s reputation as a modern and developing country that stands at the crossroads between east and west has become damaged, its stock market and currency devalued by the twitchy world of investment.

What a shame that the prime minister has not been able to take the middle road and not overreact to protest. A wilier politician could have leant a listening ear to the protesters without deploying heavy handed police tactics. In fact he could have let them occupy the park until people became bored and went home. Indeed to not build a shopping mall and military barracks, as was proposed would be a small price to play to keep things on an even keel.

However, that would not be Erdogan’s style.

That is not to say that he is without support. Chances are that at the polls, he would win once more – only just. It would be naïve to disregard the more conservative element that supports the prime minister and political opposition to Erdogan is weak.

Turkey then is a strange hybrid between west and east. It appears difficult to appease both these elements. Now Turkey’s entry into the EU looks even more remote than ever.

In the latest turn of events, Germany and the Netherlands have said no to re-opening chapters for Turkey’s EU access. Clearly influenced by recent political events across the country and with the Turkish government willing to have its police deploy water cannon laced with pepper gas, firing plastic bullets and using tear gas on peaceful protesters, this has proven a step too far for some members of the EU.

The response from the likes of Egemen Bagis, EU minister, was that some countries can “get lost”.

The risk of refusing Turkey EU access is that inevitably, Erdogan will turn toward the east and more undemocratic regimes. Fed up with all the pussyfooting around by the EU regarding Turkey’s access, clearly feeling his country was not welcomed by all its members, he had some time ago, mooted the idea of joining the Shanghai Five, which includes China and Russia amongst its membership.

Perhaps, although this may sound distasteful, it might be better to at least try and woo Erdogan back towards Europe, if only to stop him hanging around with the other bully boys of this world?

 

 

 

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