June 9, 2014

The two leaders' debate over dictatorship

A leader who receives the support of one out of every two voters in free and transparent elections is respected anywhere in the world. It is unlikely that this leader would face claims that he has established a dictatorship in the country shortly after this great success.

Unfortunately, this is what has happened in Turkey. It has been argued that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has established a dictatorship in Turkey.

Referring to main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, Erdoğan had said, “There are those who call me a dictator and who happen to be sitting right across from me,” during a speech delivered at the 70th Financial General Assembly of the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB), which was held on May 22.

This has fuelled the dictatorship debates between the two leaders. Some people claimed that with this move, Erdoğan aimed to show the 45 percent of people who voted for him in the elections that he is not a dictator.

Even if it were Erdoğan's real intention, it was the wrong move.

The 55 percent of people who do not support Erdoğan continue to put forth some very convincing arguments suggesting that he has established a dictatorship in the country. It is very clear that any references to negative attributions can tarnish the prestige of a leader. Moreover, even a 0.5 percent change in the Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) electoral support would influence the result of the upcoming presidential election slated for Aug. 10.

If Erdoğan said this as a tactic to prevent this claim from being adopted by a large group of people, it shows his uneasiness over this claim. Each statement made by Erdoğan to deny claims that he is a dictator allows the leaders of opposition parties to keep this issue on the agenda.

Referring to the book “The Psychology of Dictatorship” by Fathali Moghaddam, a Georgetown University academic, Kılıçdaroğlu said Erdoğan fits the academic description of a dictator. He listed the four criteria used to describe a dictatorship, which were later spread on social media. People started posting the tactics employed by dictators throughout history on their social media accounts.

For example, Erdoğan's strategy of defining a certain segment of society as the enemy and harshly insulting them is no longer considered an ordinary thing.

Alienating a certain segment of society is a tactic employed at the expense of social peace. This strategy naturally reminds us of the tactics of Joseph Goebbels, the infamous minister of propaganda of Nazi Germany.

Defending Erdoğan becomes more difficult each day for those who love and support him because his election strategy overlaps with Goebbels's eight-point propaganda tactics.

Let's look at Goebbels's propaganda tactics and Turkey:

1. People will believe a big lie sooner than a little one. For the last few months, unproven claims and accusations including the “parallel state,” a “judicial coup” and “illegal wiretappings" have been occupying the country's agenda.

2. Never leave room for alternatives. Prime Minister Erdoğan either makes his rivals join his party or discredits them. In this manner he thus eliminates all his political rivals.

3. Never admit a mistake or wrongdoing. Erdoğan claims there isn't any corruption or irregularity. The four former Cabinet ministers who are allegedly involved in corruption were slandered.

4. Concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong. Erdoğan has chosen Fethullah Gülen Hocaefendi as his new enemy, blaming him for everything that has gone wrong in the country.

5. Never accept blame. Erdoğan has never accepted his government's incorrect policies about Syria and Egypt. He also defends launching a witch-hunt against the members of the Hizmet movement, claiming it was the right thing to do.

6. If you repeat a big lie frequently enough, people will sooner or later come to believe it. Erdoğan has claimed his office and home were wiretapped, accusing the members of the Hizmet movement of wiretapping everyone.

7. Never allow the public to cool off. He makes statements and appears on TV every day. He levels slanders and baseless accusations and uses hate speech against the members of the Hizmet movement.

8. Never concede that there may be some good in your enemy. Erdoğan never appreciates anyone and always tries to insult those who do not think like him.

With these tactics, he secured 45 percent of the vote. However, 45 percent of the vote is not enough to win the presidential election. We can only hope he does not make any bigger mistakes when he understands that fueling this dictatorship debate will not be beneficial to him.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 08 June 2014, Sunday