Mar 26 2019

Turkey's Erdoğan weaker, but more invincible than ever - analyst

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, despite becoming arguably the most unpopular leader the country has seen, is likely to dominate yet again in Turkey’s local elections on March 31, wrote Steven A. Cook,  Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, in Foreign Policy Magazine.

Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) seem weaker than ever, Cook wrote, pointing his scramble to stay on top by using of the recent Christchurch mosque massacre at campaign rallies, while accusing the opposition of supporting those who want to divide Turkey ahead of the local polls.

A total of 81 cities and almost 1,000 towns whose mayoralties are in play on March 31 play a crucial role for Turkey’s strongman, as ‘’controlling cities and towns means controlling the patronage that keeps the AKP machine going,’’ the article stressed.

Heightening Erdogan’s anxiety has been bad economic news, including a recession, inflation measuring at 20 percent, unemployment at 13.5 percent and the country’s per capita GDP falling.

Despite all of these setbacks, Cook wrote, ‘’AKP’s willingness to rig the outcome, the weakness of the party’s opponents, and the lack of courage among the would-be opposition, the ruling party will likely enjoy another victory.’’

His use of the footage of the New Zealand massacre, despite a horrifying and cheap political tactic, was brilliant, Cook wrote, as it allowed him to highlight and reinforce ideas about ‘’Muslim solidarity, Turkish leadership, and an unredeemable West that have long been part of his and the AKP’s political repertoire.’’

Erdoğan understands that political appeals based on identity have the power to overcome even bad economic news, Cook stressed, pointing out that this method allows the Turkish president to come out of crises strengthened.

Cook also points to Turkey’s opposition parties as an often-overlooked aspect of the AKP’s almost two-decades-long dominance of Turkish politics.

‘’The parties’ leaders cannot seem to find a message despite the abundance of issues on which to attack the AKP and offer a better future for Turks,’’ Cook noted.

The Turkish president and the AKP enjoy an advantage because the one group of people who might be able to challenge them - that is to say former AKP officials who have jumped ship such as former President Abdullah Gül -  ‘’have proved to be cowards,’’ the article notes.

While the Turkish president seems weaker than at any other time in the last almost 17 years, Cook wrote, this does not at all mean his at risk.

‘’Observers have been predicting the party will get its comeuppance or that it will split for at least the three elections. It may yet happen, but not this time around, and so the transformation of Turkey continues,’’ he concluded.