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December 30, 2012, Sunday

Theories about Erdoğan I and II

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's political profile as a great reformer in Turkey has undergone considerable change since his Justice and Development Party's (AKP) landslide victory in the general elections held in the summer of 2011.

In place of Erdoğan I, who distinguished himself as the leader of the broad democratic and economic reforms during his first two terms in office, there is now Erdoğan II, who has not only put a brake on reforms but is increasingly veering towards a Putin-style authoritarian rule, which I dealt with in my column last week.

While, of course, those who embrace hard-line Kemalist secularism reject the idea, claiming there is no change at all to talk about and that all that is happening is the coming out in the open of the real “Islamist” character of his politics, there are an increasing number of theories put forward to explain the change in Erdoğan's profile.

One such theory I have referred to in my previous columns claims that Erdoğan is essentially an “Islamic Kemalist,” so brainwashed by the Kemalist state, like all other Turkish politicians, that he does not know how to govern otherwise. Another theory says that he is so obsessed with getting elected as president, preferably with the powers of a “Turkish-style presidentialism,” in 2014 and running the country until the 100th anniversary of the republic in 2023, that he does not want to take any initiatives that would rock the boat of the current status quo.

The most widespread theory, to which I also mostly subscribe, claims that Erdoğan's increasing embrace of the status quo is due to overblown self-confidence arising from his conviction that he has been able to consolidate his power over the Kemalist state to such an extent that he can now run the country single-handedly and as he deems necessary. To put it briefly, he has assumed an “I am the state” mentality.

Last week a young academic friend of mine I was having a chat with challenged the above theory. She argued the opposite, saying that Erdoğan has increasingly embraced and identified with the status quo not because of overblown self-confidence but actually due to feeling “insecure” at the top. In defense of her theory, after a number of other indications, she referred to what Erdoğan had stated on television a few days previously. He had talked about the failure so far to cleanse the state of the “deep structures” and disclosed that his working offices were recently discovered to have been wiretapped.

Remarkably, Prime Minister Erdoğan continued to elaborate on the “deep state” in a press conference held later last week. He said the “deep state” is like a “virus” which no nation on Earth has been able to get rid of, one which attacks when it judges the conditions to be ripe. More remarkably, Yalçın Akdoğan, a member of parliament from the AKP and believed to be the prime minister's chief advisor, in an interview published in the Radikal daily, went further in elaborating on the “deep state,” which he likened to a “zombie” that you believe is dead but continues to survive by recruiting “normal state functionaries.” What this developing discourse on “viruses” and “zombies” in the Turkish state signifies remains to be seen.

A regular reader of my columns from Ankara who is highly informed about the AKP and its workings, however, sent me an email in response to the theory of “insecurity” I wrote about in my Zaman column. He said: “I do not believe that the insecurity theory makes sense. The problem has to do with the fact that Erdoğan has been in charge for too long. He believes that he knows best about all issues. He is surrounded by an increasingly small number of toadies who continuously shout ‘Long live my padishah!' It is really a great pity that he finds himself in such a position after having accomplished so much.”

Whatever the case about Erdoğan, I now have a much better understanding of why the constitution of the United States limits the chief executive's, that is the president's, term of office to at most eight years. I also better understand why Tony Blair, who did so much to improve his party and country, had to resign in the middle of his third term as prime minister of Britain.

Previous articles of the columnist