The latest wave of arrests targeting mid- and high-ranking officers within Turkey’s police force marks yet another cornerstone on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s path to reach the final destination of absolute power.
The similarities with Peru under Alberto Fujimori are striking.
Having accelerated his speed (in fulfilling his mandate) since mid-December of last year, Erdoğan feels assured of a popular backing to accumulate all the necessary elements around his close circle, decisive at a shift to a presidential system, with or without any reasonable consensus.
The methodology pursued is a strong reminder what the political scientists called “autogolpe”* — a power grab in a slow-motion coup.
It is still unknown what caused the specific timing of the latest arrests. The tense build-up to further “institutional cleansing” was rather expected, due to persistent rumors.
One reason could be linked to what some newspapers claimed, that Erdoğan started to lose some voter support due to his ambivalent attitudes to Israel and the ongoing hostage crisis in Iraq. Some partisan newspapers on the left claimed that, while the Justice and Development Party (AKP) leadership was busy shouting against the Israeli state, it was more than business as usual with the very state.
Despite gag orders on the media, there are also critical voices and some reports keeping the hostage crisis — the so-called Islamic State militants holding more than 45 staff members of the Turkish Foreign Ministry in Mosul — on the agenda.
The second explanation may have to do with Erdoğan’s fears that there might be additional audio (visual) links which might stir up the campaign in his disfavor. It may not have anything at all to do with the police officers, but such a resolute action aimed at “liquidation” of all the independent law enforcers will certainly send a message to all institutions to consider submission.
The third explanation might target the very AKP itself. Some pro-government pundits lately conveyed the sense of unease that Erdoğan shared over the “attempts for division” and “provocations within.” It intends sending an authoritarian message to all the AKP figures who keep having second thoughts about where Turkey is headed under Erdoğan’s personal stringent guidance. Since history tells us that once a road to autocratic rule is taken by a leader, elected or not, there is no example that shows us a voluntary return to the line of democracy: The choice is an existential one-way road, often with dire consequences and multi-layered tragedies.
In a nutshell, Erdoğan’s autogolpe is taking place on four layers.
Invalidation of the rule of law: In the past year, a high number of laws were amended either for the rulers and bureaucracy to re-establish a culture of impunity or to enhance powers to grab a growing number of natural resources and impose large projects on infrastructure and privatization. Overall, these amendments mean a rigid construction of vertical, arbitrary, single power.
Dismantling of the state’s DNA: Measure after measure, the AKP leadership conducted staff changes and removals — appointments perceived as based on loyalty rather than merit. Massive changes of human resources applied to all the departments, lately entering the sensitive parts of the judiciary and law enforcement. The fear that was spread led to submission, a culture of informing and an internal “witch hunt.”
Hijacking the truth from the public: Having almost full control of the TV medium in general (the primary source of information for the silent majority in Turkey), and an enormously aggressive campaign of fabricated news in pro-government print media, and continuous intimidation, the AKP leadership feels it is winning the propaganda war it is keen on waging. In parts where it feels inefficient, it issues gag orders, bans and uses its majority base to dominate the regulatory bodies in a prohibitive spirit.
Fear-mongering, profiling and alienation: Recent reports by the increasingly thin independent media make it clear that there have been mass-profiling operations of business — around 100,000 companies — and even children who had attended the private tutorial centers. These acts seem to have sped up, ever since Turkey’s intelligence networks were centralized. The sense of alienation among the segments in society that are in disagreement with the government policies is so dense that it may take years to overcome the polarization, which is poisoning Turkey and may well cause it a nervous breakdown.