Win and loss, success and failure are not completely unknown situations for politicians, but if you’re a leader like Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who has never lost one single battle throughout his entire political career, even the smallest loss of power may become a huge problem and be seen as an absolute downfall.
Part one of a two-part article. Read part two here.
When the Gezi-uprisings started at the end of May ’13, Mr. Erdoğan was enjoying his all-time high level of controlling the country and AK Parti, despite some “internal” problems with the Gülen movement and some minor criticism coming from liberal wing of his party. The opposition was vocal as usual but divided and the negotiations with the Kurds was more or less on the rails. He used brute force to suppress the Gezi uprising with a huge support from many different parts of the society. But somehow there was this feeling of something was not going 100 % perfect as expected. The youth made fun of him with slogans and drawings, some attempts were made among pro-AK Parti journalists and writers to properly analyse Gezi. They were just waved off and the whole uprising got categorized as a coup attempt by foreign powers (the usual suspects as international finance, Israel, EU etc.) who, allied with the leftist – and atheist and anarchist and terrorist and many other things – opposition inside the country.
Then came the 17/25 December 2013 corruption operations. This was an even bigger threat since it came from within the state, and it’s now clear that the Gülen movement was behind these operations via their followers who infiltrated the police and juridical system throughout the years, largely with AKP’s allowance. Erdoğan acted swiftly, though he forced his alleged ministers to resign, he did not allow any of the corruption cases to progress higher in the system. He demoted and exiled hundreds of police officers and prosecutors, used his full media force to gain position against Gülen movement and had to come out and say that there was a “parallel” organization inside the state which tried to make another coup attempt after Gezi, and now the war was all out against them. The history was rewritten and suddenly Fethullah Gülen, an ex-preacher living in exile in USA, and his followers were the utmost evil and they were trying to destroy the new and powerful Turkey, trying to diminish the country’s power in Middle-East. During the upcoming months, Erdoğan was largely successful in cleansing the remains of Gülen supporters from the state institutions and he enjoyed two more victories in local and presidential elections which were held March and July ‘14 respectively. He was elected as 12th president of Turkey and moved into the now famous presidential palace.
However all these events, battles and victories made Erdoğan and AK Parti ignore one simple fact that would affect the upcoming general election in June ’15. The humans were first and foremost “homo economicus” as Karl Marx put it, and the economy of the country was in a deep coma state. We will refer to it as a coma state because things did not seem to get worse drastically day by day but there was no improvement either and for a developing country like Turkey, being stale actually means going backwards. Despite all the propaganda and harsh cultural politics applied to all aspects of life from education to entertainment, the simple regular Turkish person always decided with their income and general state of the economy. The economical crisis of 2001 had cost central parties left and right their pure existence and let AK Parti win the majority with 34 % of the votes. The factor that brought him to the government was being ignored by Erdoğan himself, or, we can say that he thought it was possible that the people would prioritize other factors, so that economy would play a smaller role when it comes to voting for AK Parti or not. The people did not ignore their economical situation, they never did and they didn’t this time either.
Seeing the polls and the downwards trend in AK Parti votes, in a nearly panic state, Erdoğan ordered the chief of Central Bank – which is an independent institution in Turkey – to lower the interest rates to fire up the economy a bit, so that the growth would relatively come back. Seeing he did not do so, Erdoğan openly accused him with being a spy working for some financial lobbies abroad. It was a late move and markets reacted harshly to this interference. Turkish Lira lost value against foreign currencies and the stock market made a nose dive in just a couple of days. Erdoğan had to step back against this pressure and tried to find other tactics to stop the downfall of his party.
Ahmet Davutoğlu, who was elected as the leader of AK Parti and therefore the prime minister of Turkey after Erdoğan moved into the presidential palace, was a popular figure among intellectuals. Within the party he was considered to be largely successful in his period as foreign affairs minister. He was accepted in the lower degrees of the party and then again, Erdoğan had trusted and appointed him so why would there be any question for his directorial skills? However, Erdoğan was such a charismatic and powerful leader and AK Parti supporters were so much used to seeing a great man leading them to victory, they craved for Erdoğan. Davutoğlu miserably tried to imitate Erdoğan in his speeches despite the fact that he would be more successful in representing his own personality and style. It did not work. So for the pre-elections campaign Erdoğan felt he had to come out and talk with his people, maybe for one last time. So he did.
In the second part of this article, we will look at the other factors that played a role in AK Parti’s struggle with power and why the 2015 elections may be the beginning of a downfall for AK Parti and of course, for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.