« Voters suffering from the president’s terrible economic policies might have finally had enough » says The Guardian.
Courts in Turkey generally bow to the wishes of the country’s authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. This is unsurprising, given his purges of judges and prosecutors during his two decades in power. So last week’s court verdict sentencing Istanbul’s popular opposition mayor, Ekrem İmamoğlu, to more than two years in jail and banning him from public life followed a familiar pattern.
That this decision was politically motivated goes without saying. Little of importance happens in Erdoğan’s Turkey without his direction or consent. In short, a working-class populist who began life as a reformer fighting for social justice has developed into a cantankerous, dictatorial bully.
For Erdoğan, politics is personal – and İmamoğlu represents possibly the biggest threat to his re-election hopes in next year’s presidential poll. İmamoğlu has already bested the president once. In 2019, he triumphed in Istanbul’s re-run mayoral contest after Erdoğan’s ruling AKP party refused, Trump-like, to accept his initial victory.
İmamoğlu described pro-government election officials who ordered the re-run as “fools”, a mild remark that landed him in court. He will appeal but it’s clear Erdoğan wants him out of the way. Thousands of supporters took to Istanbul’s streets, vowing to end the Erdoğan era.
Regrettably, that is more easily said than done. The main opposition Republican People’s party, to which İmamoğlu belongs, already has a national leader – Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu – who intends to run for president. The six-party opposition alliance is divided over who to back. Some favour Ankara’s mayor, Mansur Yavaş. Both he and İmamoğlu are tipped to win a hypothetical second-round run-off against Erdoğan – if they are not prevented from standing.
The challenge to Erdoğan’s rule may be further complicated by 2023’s simultaneous parliamentary elections. A recent poll suggested the opposition bloc cannot win a majority without support from the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic party. But in what looks like more Erdoğan-inspired chicanery, a court is due to rule next month on banning the party for alleged terrorism links.
Erdoğan does not deserve another term. His economic record should be enough to sink him. Inflation has rocketed and living standards have plunged, while the lira fell to a record low against the dollar last week. Having devised an all-powerful executive presidency and dominated policymaking, this is on him.
Desperate to win back voters, the AKP reportedly plans to boost retirement benefits and the minimum wage. Gallingly, one of the few areas where Erdoğan can claim economic success is exports to Russia. Bypassing sanctions imposed by its Nato and European allies, Turkey’s trade with Moscow has jumped by 198% since the Ukraine invasion.
That’s one of the reasons why western governments would not rue Erdoğan’s political passing. He is seen as a troublemaker within Nato, not least because of dodgy deals with Vladimir Putin. Erdoğan’s decision to buy Russian ground-to-air missiles that could shoot down Nato planes caused a lasting rupture with the US.
Erdoğan is threatening to attack Kurds in northern Syria again. EU relations are bedevilled by Turkey’s democratic deficit, refugee disputes and Ankara’s aggressive attitude to Cyprus and Greece. Its accession prospects remain bleak. Meanwhile, it is still haggling over the Nato applications of Finland and Sweden.
While many would welcome Erdoğan’s fall, the Turks have the most to gain. His neo-Islamist agenda, authoritarianism and myriad abuses of civil liberties amount to a betrayal of Ataturk’s democratic secular legacy. İmamoğlu and the opposition must unite to defeat him at the ballot box.
The Guardian, December 18, 2022, Photo/Burak Kara/Getty Images