February 8, 2015

Who will put an end to Erdoğan’s power?

Mümtazer Türköne

The only realistic and plausible answer to this question is: It is President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who will put an end to his own power.

Byzantine palace intrigues, unlawfulness, arbitrariness and tyranny create, in return, a loss of legitimacy for Erdoğan in a country that is relatively open to the outside world, where democracy is limping and where only bold journalists can voice their objections. In any autocracy, the only way to compensate for this loss of legitimacy is to step up oppression. But as oppression increases, the rate at which Erdoğan loses his legitimacy goes up as well. Erdoğan's charismatic leadership is rapidly eroding in this vicious cycle. Erdoğan built his charisma by marketing his "victim" image and gaining public support. Now, he has assumed the role of a cruel and brutal leader in the run-up to the general elections in June. He makes one error after another in an effort to cover up his mistakes. He is moving toward an inevitable end.

Erdoğan came to power by securing the support of the social groups that were victimized during the post-modern coup of Feb. 28, 1997 -- when the Turkish military forced the coalition government led by the now-defunct conservative Welfare Party (RP) out of power, citing alleged rising religious fundamentalism in the country. The most powerful of these groups were the small and medium-sized businesses in Anatolia. Islamists, liberals and impoverished groups who were feeling the crushing effects of economic crisis put the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in power. Having eliminated his rivals one by one, Erdoğan began establishing his personal power in 2011. Then, liberals and organized social groups who had given their support to him in the past started to raise objections to this dictatorship. As the opposition grew, the sphere of fundamental rights and freedoms, particularly freedom of the press, started to shrink.

The popular support behind the current government relies on a shadow public sector that is subordinate to Erdoğan's personal network. People who are impoverished and not organized eke out subsistence from this network, which is mediated by the AK Party's local organizations. This system is funded by public resources under the pretext of "social relief" as well as the mandatory donations made by the private sector companies. This network also includes the agricultural sector, as farmers are concerned about repaying their loans if the AK Party falls from power. The problem is that it is no longer possible to sustain their crony capitalism system that is contingent upon hot money, the current accounts deficit and state-subsidized rent.

Erdoğan's Bank Asya operation is an example of the above-mentioned paradox. Erdoğan has to go on with this oppression in order to maintain his autocracy, but this overt unlawfulness has undermined the economy and destroyed the legitimacy of his power. Legitimacy can be measured directly by looking at popular support. If hundreds of thousands of people flock to Bank Asya branches to deposit money to support the bank and protest the government's operation, then that government has lost its legitimacy in the eyes of those thousands. It is impossible to make an open economy that is functioning according the rules of global markets operate in a healthy manner given this eroding legitimacy. On the day of the Bank Asya operations, there were reports that Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) auditors conducted unexpected inspections at other big banks as well. But what Erdoğan gained from this unlawful operation is quite obvious. The shares of all banks except Bank Asya plummeted on the stock exchange. The excessive rise in foreign exchange rates is posing a serious risk for the banking sector and for the overall economy. In short, Erdoğan's crony capitalism has gone beyond its rational limits.

Erdoğan's power has come to its end. This system was functioning properly when Erdoğan was prime minister, but he has so far been unable to establish a mechanism at the palace for running this system. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is aware of the gravity of the situation, but the "transparency package" he had prepared to sort out this crony capitalist mechanism was rejected by Erdoğan.

Just like a crocodile that eats its own offspring, Erdoğan is undermining his own power with every illegal move he makes.

Published on Today's Zaman, 07 February 2015, Saturday