Apr 1 2014, 4:03pm CDT | by Forbes
In Turkey, the March 30 local elections just handed Prime Minister Erdogan a victory and a kind of mandate for his Putinesque rule. His party (AKP) won over 45% of the votes and most of the big cities except for staunchly secularist Izmir. Depending on how you parse it, this is either a predictable or astonishing outcome. The question is, does he think Turkey can stay in the Western alliance at all with the antidemocratic methods and policies he has deployed for shaping the country. Because, as things stand, the only alignment that will tolerate him emanates from the Kremlin - and its cozy club of corrupt rogue nations with rubber stamp plebiscites. Ankara is fast becoming a second Moscow, with the one crucial difference that Turkey has no friends abroad after a decade of Erdogan’s leadership. Erdogan cannot bully other countries into friending him the way Putin can. Neither Europe nor the US will embrace his divisive leadership-for-life approach to politics. Turkey has nowhere to turn. It’s either isolation or Putin.
Erdogan’s playbook so closely resembles the Kremlin’s that the drift would seem inexorable. Elections held with all conventional media used as state propaganda. Turning off communications systems that aid the opposition. Voting irregularities everywhere. In the longer term, the switching of power between Premiership and Presidency so institutions wither away replaced by a personality cult, one that lasts until either the leader falls apart or the country does. And after him, there’s always a reckoning, less or more bloody depending on how much brutality intervened. All institutions become a sham, including the banks. Erdogan runs not so much a free market system as a nation-wide patronage network via terrified oligarchs, making the economy his power tool with one setting. His own. His pyramid economy harks back to Ottoman times as Putin’s does to the Czars. As in the ancien regime, both autocrats are bolstered by an alliance with the state religion. By definition, only the Godly thrive and those who thrive must be the divinely deserving. Except they’re corrupt as all hell.
Erdogan controls the media so transparently that he invites his followers into a kind of complicity of triumph against the other side. The other side always consists of dark global forces that constantly connive to unseat him through enemies at home, rendering all domestic opposition into unpatriotic enemies of the state. Are you hearing echoes of Moscow yet? Or Caracas or Tehran? A few more parallels: control of conventional media drives dissent to the streets and onto social media. Social media becomes the enemy, which confirms the paranoid tautology of foreign devils stoking instability. Ergo, protesters can be likened to terrorists, imprisoned and bludgeoned at will, because their cause is sedition.
This story can only go one way. Indeed, has only gone one way. A divided populace inhabiting utterly separate realities. A growing population of political prisoners and incarcerated journalists. A nation snooping on, at war with, itself. Anyone running a half-way democratic structure knows that once you cross a threshold of corruption, there’s no way back because rule of law will ultimately catch up with you and your cronies. So the judiciary and law enforcement must become politicized or you’re a goner sooner or later. The loyalist electorate needs constant bribing – via banks, via large holdings, via huge construction projects, all with state help – so financial institutions lose independence and credibility. Somebody has to foot the bill. Putin sells oil and gas. Who pays for Erdogan’s power? Thus far a great deal of it has come from dark money, shady infusions from the Gulf, from trades with Iran, from selling state land, misuse of Islamic foundations and the like. There’s a reason why the stowing of pure cash played such a dramatic part in the pre-election corruption scandals (leaked tapes apparently featured Erdogan on the phone telling his son to hide hundreds of millions of dollars at home).
Erdogan initially got a boost from sweeping away the automatic bribery at all levels, the old price of doing business. That boost has now dissipated. He has replaced it with his own corruption. And he has made half the country a beneficiary to it. And he has involved outside contributors in upholding his power because the country stands poised in the cross-wires of opposing strategic alliances and nobody outside wants Turkey to go to the enemy. So everybody must pay tribute to Erdogan’s whims. This is exactly how the Ottoman Empire survived for centuries in its decline, by playing outside powers against each other. But it also paralyzed the government into endless bloody defensive tactics for survival.
What does the future hold? Where can such an improvised and incremental autocracy alight, where stabilize, if at all? Alas, it doesn’t look good for Turkey. Dissent and protest can only grow. New scandals will erupt. Erdogan will need to hunt down more and more enemies of the state. He has already explicitly said so. More and more, international forces will make demands on Turkey to choose sides. Iran vs. the Gulf; the West vs. Iran; the US vs. Putin; Kurdish Iraq vs. Baghdad; the Muslim Brotherhood vs. the Gulenists: Turkey sits at the center of all these polarities and they require that Erdogan make choices. Because Erdogan cannot afford to do so, since he has tangoed with them all, disaffected countries will release more information about previous corrupt deals, will genuinely start fuelling strife amongst Turkey’s divided neighborhoods. Provocations along the borders with Iran and Syria and Kurdish Iraq will mount. The army will need to be strengthened – Erdogan’s greatest nightmare. The army and police will face off on an inevitable day of reckoning. He will try to Islamicize the army to head that off. Religion and secularism will face off with increased bloodshed. Sooner or later the business community domestically and abroad will begin to abandon him for causing such instability.
In short, triumph for Erdogan looks like disaster for Turkey.
Source: Forbes Business
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