‘Erdogan making policy on the hoof’

‘Erdogan making policy on the hoof’
Protests in Turkey are the result of PM Erdogan abandoning his party’s original program. The gap between election pledges and real action as well as Erdogan’s personality cult has driven the Turks onto the streets, believes an academic interviewed by RT.

The Turkish Prime Minister was pushing for reforms which people “weren’t led to expect”, according to Mark Almond,  a visiting Professor of International Relations at Turkey's Bilkent University in Ankara.

RT:  We saw on Sunday perhaps tens of thousands of people cheering Erdogan. It's not all as one-sided as it's being made out to be, is it?

Mark Almond: It’s not necessarily one-sided, but it’s highly personalized. In the sense that this is the problem for Erdogan as well as his hopeful trump card playing on the cult of personality. Everybody who lives in Turkey, even before these demonstrations, were seeing how inflight magazines as well as political programs and posters emphasized Erdogan’s personal contribution to Turkey’s success that has begun to unfold. But of course it’s dangerous for him precisely because the opponents all say he must resign. For a Prime Minister that is the problem. And of course mainly the people in his party, who are perhaps chafing under his very heavy handed and dominant personality, may perhaps now begin to feel like pulling the log from underneath him. He would fall but the party itself would not. 

Supporters of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wait at Esenboga Airport for his arrival in Ankara on June 9, 2013. (AFP Photo)

RT: Erdogan has again warned that his patience is not limitless. What do you think he means by that? 

MA: I think it certainly meant to suggest to the peaceful demonstrators, the large number of people who haven’t been taking part in throwing Molotov cocktails that they could find themselves in the middle of a pitched battle and do they really want that. On the other hand I think that the personality trait of Mr Erdogan is that he is very stubborn. And he perhaps should take into account that the same could apply to his opponents. Any attempt to disperse them by force could well spark much bigger trouble. Because we saw crowds greeting him at his three meetings on Sunday. They were not huge crowds, they were not the scale of crowds that perhaps he would have hoped to mobilize just ten days ago had he needed to. And so there is a problem now for him that his level of support does not seem to be the overwhelming 50% that he could have called on before. As for the opposition, we don’t know exactly how many people support them, because we haven’t had elections, we don’t have rival opinion polls. But there are hundreds of thousands people who are taking part in these anti-Erdogan demonstrations.

RT:  These are protests against a legitimate leader, elected in a free election - and with majority support. Isn't he within his rights to tackle protests which turn ugly?

MA: Obviously, the police have a duty to protect people and property from violence. The problem is that precisely Mr Erdogan was elected by the large majority. But many of the things he’s done since he was elected weren’t in his party’s program. People weren’t led to expect them - were they these big property development schemes that the government supports, but it does not really publicize what they involve, or for instance his sudden turnaround from being a friend of Assad, friend of Gaddafi receiving presents from Gaddafi, to basically engaging in a very cold war, now increasingly in a hot war with people he used to be friends of in 2011, when he was re-elected. So we have to face the problem that there’s a sense of a gap between what his public statements used to be and then the rather capricious “I’m now making policy on the hoof”. And that seems to be the case with the Gezi Park. He now says it will be something more cultural and acceptable. Maybe it will be. Why then he couldn’t have said that in the first place? 

Anti-government protesters shout slogans and wave Turkish national flags during a demonstration in central Ankara June 6, 2013 against the Islamic-rooted government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (AFP Photo)

RT: Erdogan also had harsh words for the West saying the crackdown on protesters in Turkey was arguably less severe than if it would have been in the EU or the US. Why's he lashing out internationally? 

MA: I think it’s very striking, at this meeting with the EU Commissioner Fule and others he was very harsh and in the way he is trying to split the nationalist opposition, who don’t like him, because they say he is selling Turkey’s interests by negotiating with the Kurds, from what we might call more European style opposition – sandal-wearing musicians playing at protest meetings. He’s trying to split those by saying: “You see, I’m against the European Union, it’s pushing us around.” And the nationalists are against it. Whether that will work I’m inclined to doubt. He’s been very careful to avoid saying anything critical of the United States, though John Kerry did criticize the original heavy handed police activities a weekend ago. And I think one of his problems is that his international credibility depends to a great extent on being seen as the Unites States’ key ally in the region. But now his Syrian policy has really backfired. It was supposed to bring about a quick collapse of the Assad regime and the replacement of Assad with something that would be pro-NATO, pro-American and comfortable for Turkey. But now Turkey has a huge problem on its border, huge economic problems. It’s not by chance that border towns have had big demonstrations against him too.   

RT:  Erdogan's subordinates are cooling their words. The governor of Istanbul even tweeted that he wanted to JOIN the protesters. Are we witnessing the start of a change of heart?

MA: I think Mr Erdogan himself has great difficulty in backing away from taking a rather bullish approach to any opposition. But inside the AK party, there’s a sign that President Gul is not happy about that hardline rhetoric. Other people in the party do not necessarily feel that Erdogan is carrying out a sensible policy, that he may actually be leading their party, their candidates in the forthcoming local elections to a setback, and possibly they themselves could lose power. So there is a big tension inside the ruling party that this whole sudden crisis has revealed deep flaws in the Prime Minister’s management of public opinion, which had seen for the previous ten years to be masterful but not perhaps any more.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.