YAVUZ BAYDAR

Qualm

Is everything under control? With almost a year having passed since the national »»

Is everything under control? With almost a year having passed since the national elections too many things do not add up.

Yes, the vantage point matters. But whether or not the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is truly in charge of crucial domestic matters is being questioned more frequently. In the months since June 12 of last year, there has been some sort of bewilderment about the direction Turkey is taking. A sense of limbo prevails. Much has to do with the style of management. If the entire country were a municipality, it would have demanded a more technical approach. If it were a family-owned company, it would have been very easy to analyze and run.

But Turkey is neither. Most certainly, it requires strong leadership, but the issue is how strength is interpreted in this context. For many AKP supporters it means obedience, unconditional devotion and an endless series of ‘yes'. Strong leaders are part of the country's tradition, but the very quality of strength has never been seen as a virtue, which must be based on a style that shares power, displays tolerance and has patience for dissent.

Is Prime Minister Erdoğan feeling lonely at the top? In a common pattern, the more unchallenged he has become by his opponents, the more arbitrary he has begun to act within the party and the state and the further he stretches his risks to be erratic.

Strength in many senses has paid off well in his case. The main adversary before the enhancing of the civilian terrain, the military, has been pushed back to passivity. But this has become an end in itself, rather than a means to go further, to accelerate reform, to reach a stage of no return regarding authoritarian rule. As the AKP launched one step after another to dismantle the apparatus of tutelage, as old as the republic itself, it raised the expectations of the entire nation, for a Turkey many choose to describe as “new.”

However, many also see the old-type of “authoritarianism” now being gradually replaced by visible, arbitrary, harsh behavior. It is reproduced by an angry rhetoric; words and statements that are aimed at being regarded as verbal lawmaking, and constant finger-pointing at the otherwise most important corrector of wrongdoing, the media.

The AKP's second toughest adversary (after the military) has remained the same -- itself. This has been proven by the way it has dominated the agenda -- or the way it has stayed away from doing so. Its wisdom was based on the constantly checked notion that the party was held high on the hands of the hopeful majority, but also it could fall as soon as it adopted the old patterns that tarnished the parties before itself.

The AKP's challenge, more than anything else, is how to create a reasonable balance between the demands for change and the abilities and limitations to carry them out. Up until the autumn of 2007, it was very successful at pushing the limits to keep the hopes high, and achieve important political goals. But, from 2008 on, a certain arrhythmia has been making things difficult. Paradoxically, the fewer obstacles the AKP found itself facing, the more indecisive it has become. It has been showing zigzags, causing conjectures. Much of its causes are to be found in “managing the management,” and it has to do with the “overcrowded loneliness” of the prime minister up there.

Big challenges have defined the past 11 months. The first has been the sociologically and politically important case of match-rigging accusations. The second, the incident at Uludere, still has not been addressed in a satisfactory manner. Link these to the very questionable, legally dubious KCK cases. The dense shadows of all those crucial cases are haunting the popularity and democratic efficiency of the government.

Whenever feeling pushed to a corner by a media he may never come to control fully, Erdoğan's reflex was to avert the attention to the arena of culture, the daily habits and appease the worldview of the conservative masses. He has challenged the concept of state-paid theatres, turned insensitive when a governor arrogantly banned alcohol in public, pledged (and later apologized for) “one religion” and now attacked the sensitive abortion issue.

Popular as always, he knows that whatever he says will have its followers to take his chosen issues into a wide, loud debate. But, this does not help conceal the arbitrariness he is being identified with and will not make the issues go away.

Even for a popular leader like him, there is no escape from issues that helped keep him in power – for 10 years. Right or left, conservative or not, the expectations are still with him – to act resolutely, “humanely” and quickly to manage change. The more time passes, the more urgent his choice will be: to go down in history as a statesman that transformed Turkey as a free, solid democracy, or as a politician who took the easy way up to be a lonely president.

2012-05-27

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Columnist:: YAVUZ BAYDAR