As Erdogan tightens his grip on power, it’s now or never for Turkey’s opposition parties
Manjit Bhatia says the fractured Turkish opposition must come together in a coalition, as Erdogan’s dictatorial aims get a boost from referendum win, sparking alarming visions of state terror and bloody violence
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Sunday referendum to shunt Turkey’s parliamentary rule for dictatorship wasn’t a no-brainer. Several commentators argued diasporic Turks and followers of US-exiled preacher Fetullah Gülen would ruin Erdogan’s party. The sly nationalist and his AK Party won by a hair’s breadth, only to sink Turkey deeper into Orwellian quicksand.
Erdogan survived last July’s Güllen-inspired failed coup and launched a campaign of state retribution and witch-hunting. Over 50,000 suspects were jailed, 135,000 sacked from their jobs. He tried, and failed, to get Gülen extradited from the US. And he subtly deployed more state power to silence critics, including purging “insufficiently loyal” ministers.
“For the first time in the history of the republic,” Erdogan told his supporters, “we are changing our ruling system through civil politics.” Garbage. Military coups have featured strongly in Turkish politics. Erdogan, meanwhile, is scarcely enamoured of “parliamentary democracy”, much less “civil politics”. Like Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin, Erdogan is obsessed with absolute power.
For 11 years as prime minister until 2014, he had harboured presidential ambitions. Now Erdogan has the licence, before the 2019 “election” for head of state , to become Turkey’s unchallengeable dictator until 2029. As head of government, state and party, he has carte blanche. His first moves will be against Turks, destroying whatever freedoms are left over from July. He will plunder the post-1981 coup military-crafted constitution. The key opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) will be rendered voiceless through mass arrests, like the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, whose leaders are in jail. Both face demise.
Using fear-driven jingoism and false nationalism, Erdogan will reassert the internal/external threat thesis to Turkish “democracy” and “secular way of life” to fortify his power.
The opposition must coalesce quickly if Turkey is to be saved from chaos and bloody violence. Sunday’s vote was also noteworthy for Erdogan’s abject failure, since 1994, to win over the capital Ankara and Istanbul, of which he was mayor. The middle class here and in Izmir, once AK Party backers, deserted him.
Moreover, the CHP demand for a recount, after discovering fraud, puts pressure on Erdogan. This may galvanise the fractured opposition, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. The opposition must resolve their differences and forge a formidable coalition before the desperate Erdogan unleashes more state terror.
Manjit Bhatia is an Australian research scholar. He is also research director of AsiaRisk, an economic and political risk consultancy