Best-laid plans: on Turkish politics

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did not take many by surprise last week when he called presidential and parliamentary elections in June, more than a year ahead of schedule. In power since 2002 first as Prime Minister and since 2014 as the first directly elected President, he has overseen the country’s steady lurch towards right-wing authoritarianism; the snap poll could be another step in that direction. Last year he won a controversial referendum favouring an executive presidency, and he is clearly anxious to complete the transition, as the changes only come into effect after the presidential election. Mr. Erdoğan had pulled off a slender victory in the plebiscite, though the exercise was held under a national emergency and several opposition leaders were in detention. The outcome reinforced concerns about the sagging popularity of his Justice and Development Party (AKP). The risk of Turkey’s economy overheating, besides soaring inflation, would make Mr. Erdoğan wary of leaving time for the opposition to consolidate. For now, averting a run-off would be uppermost on his mind. Observers cite recent developments as a prelude to the elections. One highlight is the alliance the AKP struck a few months back with its one-time rival, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The latter’s hard line on the Kurdish question and opposition to the Western alliance — notwithstanding Turkey’s membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and long-standing ambition to join the European Union — are well-known. Curiously, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli spoke about early elections just a day before Mr. Erdoğan made the actual announcement.


The pact between the two parties is emblematic of Mr. Erdoğan’s overall political shift to a hardline stance at home and in his foreign policy. Turkey’s offensive in January against a Kurdish enclave in north-west Syria tapped into a deep hostility at home against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an insurgency movement. Conversely, the attack on Afrin drew strong condemnation from Ankara’s NATO allies, who count on Kurdish militias in their military campaign against the Islamic State. At home, democratic space in Turkey has severely shrunk since the imposition of a national emergency and the crackdown following an unsuccessful military coup in 2016. Since then, countless critics have been detained, including journalists, and Turks are careful about voicing their opinions openly. A recent clampdown in a reputed Istanbul university over Turkey’s offensive on Afrin has raised concerns over academic freedom. The routine labelling of protesters as terrorists and communists reflects a creeping intolerance against even normal expressions of dissent. Even as he seeks to consolidate his hold on power, Mr. Erdoğan can only salvage his reputation if he starts restoring civil liberties ahead of the election.

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Printable version | May 3, 2021 9:22:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/best-laid-plans/article23650512.ece

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