Turkey Pulse

The ‘Putinization’ of Erdogan

Article Summary
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan formally announced his support for an AKP plan to transform Turkey into a presidential system in which he could run for office again. Semih Idiz on Erdogan's blatant attempt to hold on to power—and how it resembles Vladimir Putin's modus operandi.   

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has given his blessing for Turkey’s “transition to a presidential system.” This has led Turkish politicians, Western diplomats in Ankara and outside analysts to turn their heads and focus their attention on this [development], which was set off by propositions from the top echelons of the AKP, Erdogan's party. Nobody sees this as a “simple, routine and innocent debate over the Turkish political system.” Many rather see this as a sign of Erdogan’s determination to fortify his political future.

The Putinization of Erdogan

Instead of buttressing our existing parliamentary system, we are debating sailing into the uncharted waters of an unfamiliar system, without a clear idea how it all turn out. These developments are perceived by western diplomats as the “Putinization of Erdogan.”

It is likely that, over the past few weeks, diplomatic cables between embassies in Ankara to their respective capitals have been filled with information on this issue. Of course, Erdogan’s recent statement of “We want [to] educate a religious generation” makes the issue all the more significant from a Western perspective. Erdogan’s latest remark a few days ago calling for a “single religion in Turkey” can be interpreted within the same context.

When faced with strong reactions to his statements, Erdogan stepped back, claiming that it was a “slip of the tongue.” However, many interpreted it as a political “Freudian slip.”

The AKP’s Secret Agenda

To be blunt, many see the AKP’s revelations as an “accidental leaking at an inopportune moment” of a desire that was embedded in their thoughts but not yet openly admitted. This brings us back to the issue of the AKP’s “secret agenda,” which has become clearer with Erdogan’s remarks.

According to Western diplomats and observers, who desire to see Turkey as a strategic, political and economic partner of the West, to sideline the ongoing efforts at drafting a modern constitution with a debate on adopting a presidential system would represent a true loss for the country.

In reality, we do not need to wait for foreigners to announce their views to grasp this basic fact. If the work underway for progressive constitution is marginalized by efforts to endow Erdogan with additional powers by making him president amid a presidential system, this will indeed be this country’s greatest missed opportunity to date. The healthy debate that is being carried out regarding a new constitution will be taken hostage by “one man’s future.” Moreover changes to this constitution will deepen the rifts in an already divided society. One does not have to be a political expert to understand that domestic stability is essential to sustain Turkey’s social, political and economic development.

“Moses Wandering in the Desert”

Andrew Finkel, one of the foreign journalists who knows Turkey best, recently wrote in the New York Times, that Erdogan “resembles Moses wandering in the desert,” referring to how the Prophet Moses saved his people from slavery but was unable to lead them to the Promised Land.

This is an analogy for Erdogan’s pursuit of a “secret agenda.” The only agenda we should be pursuing is one that will turn Turkey to a modern, democratic country where all beliefs are respected, not just those of one man or group.

Found in: turkish constitution, secularlism, religion in turkish politics, religion, presidential system, erdogan, eu, akp

Semih Idiz is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. He is a journalist who has been covering diplomacy and foreign policy issues for major Turkish newspapers for 30 years. His opinion pieces can be followed in the English-language Hurriyet Daily News. His articles have also been published in The Financial Times, The Times of London, Mediterranean Quarterly and Foreign Policy magazine.


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