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Rise Of A Nationalist Despot In Turkey

The world is going to watch with great interest what happens to Turkey now. This country, which is on the geographical borderline of Europe and Asia, has voted in a referendum to give more powers to President Erdogan. There have been comparisons made among Donald Trump, President of the United States, Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, Recep Erdoğan, President of Turkey and Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India. These four are seen as strong leaders whose strength comes from radical nationalism. They have one more thing in common: they are committed to fight Islamic State and other groups wedded to religio-political Islam. Marine Le Pen, the president of the National Front of France, an ultra-nationalist herself, who has emerged as a strong contender in the upcoming presidential elections in her country, recently praised Trump, Putin, Erdogan and Modi for their radical nationalism and tough anti-IS stance.

However, Le Pen made some error of judgement about Modi there, though she might have been right about Trump, Putin and Erdogan. Modi is pursuing radical nationalism only in the domestic context. His mind is shaped by the RSS ideology whose core creed is nationalism. However, there the resemblance of Modi’s nationalism and the nationalism of Trump, Putin and Erdogan ends. The latter three leaders use their nationalism to deny and undo globalization. Modi does not denounce globalization. He has been introducing reforms to attract more and more foreign investment. He is trying to boost exports. Trump has made declarations against US involvement in NATO and other international treaties. Putin has taken measures to roll back Russia’s steps toward globalisation. Erdogan is also going on the lines of Trump and Putin. Now that Erdogan has won the referendum for investing himself with absolute authority he needs to be watched very closely, because we Indians might have a lesson to learn there.

Erdogan’s win takes politics in Turkey along a new course. It will lead to abolition of parliamentary democracy and its replacement with an executive presidency with sweeping, unchecked powers. Actually, the way the referendum was conducted itself suggests how Erdogan is changing the course. He won by a slim majority gaining 51 per cent of the vote. Many doubt he would have failed to get the slim majority had the High Electoral Board not allowed counting of nearly 1.5 million unsealed ballots. According to a law that governs Turkey’s electoral process, only sealed ballots were to be considered valid votes.

However, all dictators rise and all dictators fall. Erdogan’s slim win, coupled with suspicions of manipulations, sets the scene for opposition to him which has already been shown in nearly half the electorate voting against him. The three biggest cities in Turkey – Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir – voted against him. The opposition parties, which fear repression, are going to take their challenge to the courts. As supporters of Erdogan filled the streets of Ankara, beating drums and singing victory songs in his name, the ‘no’ campaigners also staged their protests and vowed to keep fighting to save democracy. There is opposition building up within Erdogan’s party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) itself. The president and co-founder of the party and former prime minister Abdullah Gul; former deputy PM, speaker and AKP co-founder Bulent Arinc and  former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu now face the threat of being purged and imprisoned and are likely to emerge as rallying figures for the resistance to Erdogan’s autocracy.

Of course, the fight against Erdogan is not going to be smooth, easy and short. Even though he won by a slim majority, it shows that more than half of Turks have been swayed by his ultra-nationalism. Erdogan has maximally exploited the fears arising in the minds of the average Turk about Turkey facing the threat of losing territories on its southern borders with Iraq and Syria owing to the wars raging there. He also capitalized on the failed coup against him last year to excite the sentiments of insecurity from political instability among Turks.

How long those who voted for him would continue to support him when he establishes one-man rule ending the liberties and rights of ordinary Turks can be anybody’s guess. Turkey does not have the resources and skills to develop without the benefits of globalization and without the membership of the European Union. Those who voted for him would be forced to re-evaluate him when the country is seized by shortages and unemployment owing to Erdogan’s economic ultra-nationalism. A massive debt crisis already looms over Turkey that could lead to the collapse of its economy. That could trigger a social and political uprising against the despot.

Categories: Editorial
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