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It will be hard to get rid of the Turkish Erdoğan – POLITICO

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Expressed by artificial intelligence.

Jamie Dettmer is Opinion Writer at POLITICO Europe.

In any fair election, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would be heading for electoral defeat.

But let’s be frank, Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections in May will not follow Queensberry rules, and they should not be treated as such.

On the face of it, Erdoğan appears to be in deep trouble, facing the toughest election he has seen in his 20 years in power – especially if the opposition bloc pulls itself together and campaigns consistently and concertedly. , leveraging strengths and relentlessly focusing on the ultimate goal of ousting Erdoğan.

Recent opinion polls show Turkey’s opposition candidate, scholar Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu – hardly the most charismatic of politicians – leading the incumbent president by more than 10 percentage points, weeks before the election. And according to polls, the six-party National Alliance could win the most seats against Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its far-right partner, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). .

It’s also hard to see how Erdoğan can bridge the gap, as southern Turkey is in turmoil over the government’s inadequate rescue and relief response to last month’s massive earthquake. The devastating disaster has so far claimed an estimated 48,000 lives and sparked furious complaints that the devastation had worsened due to poor urban planning and intermittent enforcement of building codes, all compounded by negligent crisis management planning.

When a massive earthquake shook the Izmit region near Istanbul in 1999, Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit – paralyzed by the scale of the disaster – was widely condemned for not mobilizing quickly enough. Some 18,000 people died in the disaster, and the outcry helped pave the way for the AKP’s landslide victory in the subsequent elections. And the opposition hopes last month’s jolt will be enough to similarly end Erdoğan’s rule this time around.

On top of that, Erdoğan’s economic management has been bizarre. Thanks to its eccentric monetary policy of lowering interest rates in the face of rising inflation, Turkey has been rocked by runaway inflation, hitting a 24-year high last fall when it hit 85% – although it is now down to just 55%. percent.

Battered by economic headwinds and Erdoğan’s idiosyncratic thinking, Turkey’s currency has lost 60% of its value against the dollar since the start of 2021. is dug to 38%. The pressure of the cost of living is ejecting the middle class from the lifestyle it expects and plunging the poor into deeper despair.

How then, in this context, can Erdoğan win?

First and foremost, the Turkish leader has huge upsides as a starter – and particularly intimidating and unscrupulous. Erdoğan is not magnanimous and he has stubbornly cemented a tighter grip on Turkey.

During his two decades in power, Erdoğan has reshaped Turkey with creeping Islamization and weakening a parliamentary system, turning it into a presidential system that amounts to virtual one-man rule. The modern sultan of Turkey has purged the courts, law enforcement, civil service, intelligence agencies, the cadre of armed forces officers and the media, and he piled them with loyalists.

The Turkish president also largely took advantage of a failed military coup to speed up the shaping of the “Erdoğan system”. Upon arriving at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport after the 2016 amateur coup, he vowed revenge against the bumbling plotters. “They will pay a heavy price for this,” he said. “This uprising is a gift from God to us.”

Erdoğan never hesitated to pull the levers of power at his disposal, and those who have watched him for years have no doubt that he will pull them to their fullest, like an evil wizard of Oz who will never not hearts or prizes.

“American and European leaders must not let their hope cloud their vision,” warned Sinan Ciddi, associate professor of national security studies and author of the book “Kemalism in Turkish Politics.”

In an article for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Ciddi argued that Erdoğan “could win without even rigging the vote.” The ballot stuffing, the miscounting may not be necessary – the system he has created could still bring him the victory he needs.

And the media will be at the forefront of the system’s efforts to secure victory.

Erdoğan’s grip on large sections of the Turkish media is formidable. “The biggest media brands are controlled by companies and people close to Erdoğan and his AK party, following a series of acquisitions starting in 2008,” a Reuters investigation concluded. Tight hierarchical editorial control is coordinated from the top, with former academic Fahrettin Altun, head of the Government Communications Directorate, overseeing instructions sent to newsrooms.

For example, when Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak resigned as finance minister in 2020 in an unprecedented rift within the Turkish leader’s inner circle, newsrooms across the country were told not to. signal the resignation until the government gives the green light.

The opposition therefore finds itself with a handful of independent Turkish media, such as Medyascope and Halk TV. But as they focus more on the internal politics of the opposition bloc, if squabbles break out between the parties – as happened over the selection of Kılıçdaroğlu as the joint candidate – they risk becoming embroiled in infighting, looking away from the bigger game.

So, can social media help break Erdoğan’s grip on the media? Turks have migrated “to online news sources that the government is less able to control,” noted the Center for American Progress in a 2020 study. “Yet while social media has offered an alternative to pro-government voices that dominate television and print media, it is also a mix of facts, half-truths and inflammatory disinformation,” the study authors noted.

Of course, the government has also gone to great lengths to control and censor social media, with parliament passing even more restrictive legislation in October. “With a controversial new law on social media, Turkish authorities now have the right to control and, if necessary, restrict freedom of expression online in a way that would be unthinkable in any democracy – or even in Turkey it years ago,” noted Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, visiting scholar at the Brookings Institute.

Moreover, when checks fail to deter, there is always the threat of imprisonment on flimsy and vague charges of defamation or insulting the president or government officials, which have already landed 43 journalists in jail as well than opposition politicians.

And if the unthinkable happens, and the system fails for Erdoğan on election night, how can he afford to lose? Opposition politicians have already made it clear that if they win, they will push him to face charges of corruption and abuse of power with members of his family – not to mention those around him.

“If Erdoğan senses defeat, no one should expect him to leave quietly,” Ciddi said. “If defeat seems imminent, judges and election officials loyal to Erdoğan could overturn the results, as they tried to do by overturning the results of the 2019 Istanbul mayoral elections. Or he can even count on the police and armed forces. Indeed, he cannot relinquish power after losing an election,” he added.

As May approaches, the Turkish opposition and Turkey’s Western allies have cause for concern.

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