The story of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the past four years will surely be revisited in history, but a key component is already crystallized: the accumulation of power in the hands of one person, limiting it to the “leader” — “chief” in his close circles — and the “purification” of decision-making processes on both the macro and micro levels.
His seemingly endless series of moves to liquidate all visible and potential contenders in the conservative political arena, either by bringing them closer to the “leader” — as was the case with Numan Kurtulmuş and Süleyman Soylu of the People’s Voice Party (HAS) and Democrat Party (DP), which no longer have any significance — or by cunningly chasing away other top figures such as Abdullah Gül from the party’s spheres of influence.
The great Machiavelli is surely smiling in his grave.
Now, such obstinate “verticalization” of political management is easier to observe as it approaches its successful finalization. If it produces good results — one rare case that comes to mind is Singapore — it is fine for the leader, but if it fails, as it almost always does in societies such as Turkey, which over six decades have had the pleasure and benefits of pluralism and a sufficiently strong culture of opposition, the “leader” comes inevitably to be seen as the “father of all the problems.”
The developing story of Turkey as of early 2015, utterly exciting from a journalistic point of view, leaves little doubt as to which direction Turkey will go, as day by day, events point to the latter.
He may be smiling in his grave about Erdoğan’s actions, but if he were alive, Machiavelli would also find reason to shake his head in despair as well.
If asked, he would probably utter a name: Alberto Fujimori.
You are probably familiar with the famous man who ran Peru with an “iron fist,” claiming legitimacy based on the “national will” and coining the term “Fujimorismo.”
The ex-president — currently serving a jail sentence of up to 38 years in his home country on charges of corruption and employing death squads — was recently sentenced to an additional eight years for having bought the editorial lines of a group of newspapers called La Chicha Press to smear opposition figures during the election campaign, demonizing critical intellectuals and discrediting all criticism with well-organized character assassinations.
As we can see, there may not be much difference between how La Chicha Press operated then and how Turkey’s shameless “havuz medyası,” or “pool media,” has operated since the Gezi Park protests and graft scandals, since the files of the recently closed probe on Dec. 25 included large sections on business figures implicated in government corruption.
But criticism focusing exclusively on Erdoğan may not be helpful to understand where Turkey is heading at the end of the day. Again, as expected, Erdoğan’s refusal to hit the brakes and comply with demands for accountability has injected a deadly virus in his party.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) is now — after the scandal of the legal and political acquittal of four ex-ministers of corruption charges — showing increasingly strong symptoms of internal unrest: traumatic stress and nervous fits that come in the form of accusations, confusion and frustration.
This is not unusual for a party that emerged as an alternative to chronically corrupt politics in Turkey, having large sections on “clean politics” in its election pledges. Its character has been defined by a social coalition of conservatives, some of whom still sound as if they care about staying clean.
Thus the virus will now create a fever and bring the AKP to the moment of truth.
The choice, inevitable as it is, will be a grand one, timed with the upcoming elections: The AKP will either continue to rot under a severely vertical management model by giving in totally to Erdoğan’s will, or will start showing signs of sound reason, eventually leading to a restructuring or a split.
Ali Yurttagül wrote on Saturday that Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu wasted his party’s last chance to deal properly with corruption when AKP deputies failed to refer the ex-ministers to trial.
Thus, the AKP is doomed, he argued.
I see the moment of reckoning further ahead in the replacement of Economy Minister Ali Babacan and Erdem Başçı, the governor of the Central Bank of Turkey — both of whom maintained some independence from the AKP. This moment will shed light on the future of the AKP.
Let’s wait and see.