Turkey has steadily descended into a dark abyss during the past three years, and is now entering “a phase of fear, rage and loathing and, among the Turkish elite, one of wishful thinking”.
So writes Yavuz Baydar, self-exiled Turkish editor-in-chief of Ahval, while warning those who want to see the back of Turkey’s president of two decades Recep Tayyip Erdogan in elections due by next June that, whatever the polls might be telling them, they risk “underestimating the skills of a political animal”.
Baydar, who in 1999 became Turkey’s first news ombudsman and left the country after the failed coup against Erdogan in 2016, assesses what might be in store for Turks during the run-up to the elections, cautioning: “With the elections seemingly fixed for late spring next year (unless unexpected, extraordinary circumstances force snap polls) the country, whose bumpy adventures leave its neighbours—and allies afar—short of breath, shows all sorts of signs of a systemic crisis. It is bound to become unbearable at some point, inevitably leading to a domestic confrontation. Whether or not that clash is a peaceful one is anyone’s guess. Nobody has any idea what awaits Turkey in the course of some 10 months—and beyond.
“The main reason for this immense set of uncertainties is, primarily, the success of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in creating a country in his own image. His mind has always been chaotic, labyrinthine. Extremely volatile and ‘slippery’ in his acts, Erdogan has projected a sense of unpredictability to the entire society, and a mindset that thrives on it. The deeper the crisis he may have caused, the more determined his drive for survival appears.”
Turkey, says Baydar, is marked by an absence of the rule of law and the collapse of checks and balances, “accompanied by the de-institutionalisation of the state and a massive transformation of the bureaucracy by the appointment of partisan—and unqualified—cadres”. This, he adds, has “pumped up a tsunami of corruption and missteps—at the central and local level”.
Now ruled by the strategic notions of “security and militarism”, Turkey is now arguably a combination of a “police state” and “mafia state”, observes Baydar, saying of the nation’s authoritarian leader: “Having been extremely obstinate (in his quasi ‘economic theories’), relentless (in targeting the opposition and dissidents), and surrounded by greedy business circles (from all sides of the societal spectrum, not only Islamists), flunkey bureaucrats and the mob, Erdogan is fully aware of the stakes as the elections approach: The sheer scale of his abuse of power makes the vote a lethal game of survival: He simply cannot afford to lose.
“On the other hand, as contradictory as it seems, he has a vision for 2023. He is resolved to crown his rule as an ultimate victor, as Turkey will celebrate its centennial. Having come this far, Erdogan will do his utmost to turn the pages written by the nation’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. If he wins the elections, one should take it for granted that Turkey will have passed an historic threshold, a point of no return.
“With its Western vocation terminated, we shall all see the emergence of a Central Asian type of Turkish republic, with more ingredients of political Islam than those in existence, but otherwise identical in its structure: A dynasty taking shape with a dead-loyal administration, and a paralysed society, driven by fear—pushed to a uniform identity.”
But, says Baydar, the opposition “seem either unaware or indifferent”.
“The current political tendency,” he adds, “is to adopt the conformist notion that ‘the economic crisis will hit rock bottom so badly that Erdogan and his men will fall by themselves’.
Thus far, says Baydar, the election preparations of the six-party opposition alliance resemble a loosely connected “discussion club” which, despite months of “deliberations”, is yet to come up with a candidate to challenge Erdogan at the presidential elections. “Instead,” he adds, “their leaders are busy designing what they call an ‘empowered parliamentary system’, about which dismayed voters seem to have neither interest nor understanding.”
As the clock ticks towards the fateful day, Erdogan has on his side the state apparatus—with both the ministers of justice and interior “his men”—the Supreme Electoral Board, with its vote counting algorithms and his supporters, “many of them men armed to the teeth, ready to act whenever the ‘boss’ says so,” writes Baydar.
“Against this backdrop, some hopefuls nowadays claim that Turkish voters will, by way of the ballot box, set an example to the world that ‘it is possible to oust an autocrat’. This may prove to be a case of wishful thinking. Hoping for democratic change is one thing, underestimating the skills of a political animal is another. Yes, Turkey is heading for an extremely delicate period,” concludes Baydar.