Articles > > Erdogan's Choice
Articles - Addostour - Date: 2019-07-03
In one of his mass rallies campaigning in Istanbul during the recent municipal elections, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan put the electorate before only two choices: Either to vote for his candidate Benali Yildirim, or to elect [Egyptian President] 'Abdelfattah as-Sissi, in reference to opposition CHP (Republican People's Party) candidate Imamoglu.
That is a peculiar tradeoff to be sure, but his populist instincts led him to realize that invoking the tragic demise of formerly elected [Egyptian] president Mohamed Mursi, who dropped dead in court, could rouse the enthusiasm of simple Turkish voters, especially since only five days had passed since his death.
So far, this style of rhetoric is consistent with someone who has been accustomed to express his major positions from the pulpit at mass rallies, like most ideologues of different stripes. But President Erdogan has the distinction of breaking the world record in the number of rallies and mass gatherings he has addressed and the scale of their participants. He is the most active modern leader in this regard.
However, what struck and amazed me was that he spoke to hundreds of thousands of Turks as if he himself, and not his candidate Benali Yildirim, was running for mayor of Istanbul, the same position he occupied in 1994 and used as a launching pad to assume the prime ministry before changing the country's regime from a parliamentary system to a presidential one, so as to take hold of various powers and privileges that no one has ever held before.
The other thing that caught my attention was when Erdogan said, 'They – I do not know who – threaten us with Morsi's fate? We do not fear them. They want to see us in shrouds? Well here we are wearing them.
This came as a great shock to me as an observer of Turkish affairs attuned to all their details. Who are those threatening him with imprisonment or death, as he suggested, and what does that have to do with battle for Istanbul? What (or who) is this Turkish leader, who has won the largest number of elections and referenda over the last quarter-century since he was elected mayor of Istanbul, afraid of?
One circumstance brings another to mind. In following the Danish elections a few days ago, I watched right-wing PM Lars Lokke Rasmussen peaceably hand in his resignation to the Queen of Denmark and unceremoniously leave his office on foot after gathering together his personal belongings in a backpack, unaccompanied by armed guards or fears or concerns about what would come after his electoral defeat. He went back to civilian life, eating, drinking, and walking as normal. It seems that Turkey's leader has never imagined himself in such a scene at any stage of his political life, and it certainly does not occur to him now.
In the lives of politicians, especially ideologues, there are three important 'boxes'. First is the ballot box, with its tiny opening that can propel them to the heights of rule and government as a whole. Then comes the box of ammunition that they use to assume power or resolve disputes with rivals at home and abroad. The third is a wooden box that comes in various shapes and prices and carries them to their final resting place, often because someone has put them there.
Erdogan has experience with the first two boxes. He resorted to the ballot box to reach power in strength and honor at the head of his party; not once, but many times. He resorted to the box of ammunition when Turkish voters let him down in the 2015 elections and refused to empower him to unilaterally lead the country. He waged a wide-scale war against 'Kurdish terrorism' and succeeded in playing on the Turkish people's nationalist sentiments after realizing that religious provocation alone would not be enough to secure his unilateral rule over the country. And he got what he wanted. Today, the specter of the third box has reared its ugly head, as is clear from Erdogan's statements, which surprised us as onlookers from a distance and perhaps even surprised the Turkish public itself, since invoking the terrible ends met by some government officials and politicians leaves no room for democracy.
Erdogan and his ruling party have won in free elections whose validity was unquestioned by anyone save the president and the ruling party (for example, the March 2019 Istanbul elections). However, in the last years of his long reign in particular, the man has begun to take his rhetoric to extremes on the domestic arena. He attacked the CHP's support base as being Alawite, and Imamoglu as a remnant of the 'Byzantines' who were Islamified and Turkified.
He threw HDP (Turkey's pro-Kurdish Democratic People's Party) leaders who were elected MPs in prison and jailed tens of thousands of activists and forced many times that number to leave their jobs, pushing the state of internal polarization and disputes over identities to the breaking point. He alienated most of his party's historic leaders and longtime comrades. There are even stories of corrupt practices extending to the inner circle of his close friends and relations, although there is no room to delve into them here.
It is for all these reasons, perhaps, that he has begun to act on his fears based on the principle of 'either kill or be killed' rather than the democratic precept of 'congratulations, or better luck next time', posing as a tragic hero in advance of any defeat.
It seems that staying in power is the only thing that will ease the heart of the most important man in Turkey's modern history since Ataturk. If he loses his throne, it will open the door to a war of reckoning and vengeance - at least in the mind of the man who is afraid he will meet the same fate as Mohamed Mursi and that his party will meet the same fate as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. What did the man and his party do to be plagued with such a phobia?
"What, or who, is Erdogan afraid of?