The election of divisive politician Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as president of Turkey in Sunday's election with a slim margin above the required majority is a harbinger of a new era where constitutional, political and social crises loom large on the horizon.
As he will push to the edge in exercising presidential powers, some symbolic and others not, this will trigger a series of crises with the other branches of government, despite the fact that he will try to place his loyal deputies in charge of important positions. Judging from controversial policy choices and his belligerent discourse, Erdoğan does not seem to have the best interests of Turkey at heart and he does not think of the nation first and foremost. His main concern is how to escape the many legal troubles that have accumulated as he tried to hush up damaging investigations of corruption and of the Iran-backed terror network that have incriminated senior officials in his close circle. In the new term, the judiciary, under attack by the prime minister for some time, will likely act more assertively and defensively against incursions by Erdoğan.
The fight for positions within the ruling party has already been launched with many jockeying for power in different capacities. There are at least four important factions that are trying to seize power, all headed by heavyweights who know intimately how corrupt Erdoğan is and how he orchestrated his success in the election.
The race was clearly skewed in favor of Erdoğan from the start, as he enjoyed a clear advantage in terms of his media presence. State resources and institutions were mobilized at all levels in support of him. Erdoğan was also helped by a huge amount of funding and support -- some was direct donations to his campaign while other support was indirect aid in different forms.
There has been a latent but noticeable and growing resentment of Erdoğan's combative style of governance, which is not open to any sort of compromise or dialogue. As prime minister, he has shied away from delegating power to others and ruled the country, the government and the ruling party all by himself through a small group of political hacks appointed as advisors to the prime minister who merely echo what Erdoğan would like to hear. That has generated a lot of frustration among members of his party who have been patiently waiting for some time for his departure after the presidential election. Now these divisions will burst into the open.
Erdoğan may have acquired more immunity to save himself from legal troubles, since the president can only be tried for treason during his term in office. But he has left behind huge problems that his successor and the ruling party need to tackle, ranging from a flagrant abuse of the justice system to a highly polarized society and from growing economic woes to colossal failures in foreign policy.
The election results also indicate that the ruling party lost a significant chunk of voters compared to the local elections in March, spelling trouble for the national elections next year. The governing party officials know well that the main reason Erdoğan was able to win in the first round was low voter turnout.
Now, whoever is left to head the government will have to deal with these serious challenges. Erdoğan will not make the job of his successor easy, either, as he will try to meddle in every policy decision of the government. Rumors circulating in the capital indicate that Erdoğan will likely place total loyalists in the next Cabinet, most as dirty as he is, as well as within the ruling party, to counterbalance anyone who may try to challenge his authority. That will add more fuel to the fire that is set to inflame the internal feud. It will likely crack the coalition the Justice and Development Party (AKP) represents.
Let's not forget, the position of prime minister is the most important post in Turkey because of two significant powers. One is control of the legislature through a majority and the other is the finances through which the prime minister exerts control over the budget, contracts and tenders. The president does not have these powers, which can be used to effectively distribute lucrative favors. Therefore, Erdoğan will try to bring in confidants to lead the AKP's parliamentary group and economic management before making his final departure to the presidential office. This will naturally create more tension within the party, sparking clashes among factions.
The opposition to Erdoğan's polarizing discourse in Turkey will not weaken, either, as businesses, authors, artists, representatives of the media and nongovernmental organizations will continue to be vocal about the harsh language Erdoğan will use from the presidential office.
Erdoğan ceased to be a stabilizing force in politics a long time ago, prompting many in Turkey to express their concerns over his style of governance. Instead of focusing on building democratic institutions and a pluralistic culture after the ejection of the military from politics, Erdoğan has engaged in consolidating his power and amassing wealth using dirty politics of mudslinging, blackmailing and outright pressure.
In a nutshell, Erdoğan is his own worst enemy as he quickly yields to inflammatory and passionate rhetoric over sound policy decisions and as he resorts to political Islamist discourse that harms Turkey's national interests. Betrayed by his own abrasive manner, Erdoğan will be a growing liability for the ruling party and eventually he will have to be distanced from the party platform in order to not alienate many supporters at home and abroad. He will pay the price for employing a dismissive style of politics that has placed a chokehold on the ruling party while he was heading the government.
Erdoğan will continue to suffer from the public feud he deliberately engineered with 74-year-old popular Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who has inspired a worldwide network of educational and social activism with a strong emphasis on interfaith and intercultural dialogue. His victory speech on Sunday night alluded to his futile fight with millions who endorse or are otherwise sympathetic to Gülen's ideals.
It is clear that Erdoğan's hateful speech directed at Gülen has rubbed many AKP supporters up the wrong way. Many saw that Erdoğan's divisive political Islamist discourse exploiting religion for politics has dealt a blow to the Islamic religion, first and foremost. Erdoğan seems very worried about Gülen's unwavering stand against the totally uncalled-for attacks. Gülen made it clear that he won't be silenced in his criticism of corruption, polarizing discourse, abuse of the justice system and hampering democratic achievements in Turkey.
Most in Turkey are resigned to the bitter fact that Erdoğan is no longer a stabilizing force in Turkey. Perhaps his departure to a more symbolic position in contrast to being prime minister will be a welcome development. No doubt, Erdoğan will fight to the end as the political machinery in Turkey gradually isolates and marginalizes him in the presidential office, as was the case in the period of former Presidents Turgut Özal and Süleyman Demirel, who left their parties to become lame-duck presidents. As a result, Turkey will face more turbulence in the short run and things will get worse before getting any better.
Published on Today's Zaman, 11 August 2014, Monday