The quest to defeat Erdogan

For the past three years, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken his nation on a seemingly endless political roller-coaster ride. Under the auspices of his government, the country has seen two parliamentary elections and a controversial referendum that vested wider powers in Turkey’s presidency. Meanwhile, the purges he commenced after a failed coup attempt in 2016 are still roiling the country.

The next big event comes June 24, when Turks will vote for their next president and parliament. For Erdogan and his opponents, the stakes are as high as ever. If he wins, Erdogan will assume the Turkish presidency’s expanded executive powers, granted by the bitterly fought referendum in 2017.

After a decade and a half in power, Erdogan has become the most consequential Turkish politician since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. But his critics fear the death of Turkey’s enfeebled democracy and the strengthening of an overt authoritarian. A growing body of analysts cast Turkey under Erdogan as a prime example of how democracies can backslide and how ostensibly liberal politics can give way to toxic majoritarianism.

Erdogan is a canny political operator, and he has preserved his rule by mobilizing a divisive yet effective brand of religious nationalism. He has trained his ire on a vast web of supposed enemies abroad, from obstreperous Western governments to a Kurdish separatist terrorist group to a geriatric cleric living in exile in Pennsylvania. But although he once could campaign on a track record of economic prosperity and development, the Turkish economy is teetering dramatically.

Erdogan 3

“Years of irresponsible policies have overheated the Turkish economy. High inflation rates and current account deficits are going to prove sticky,” Atilla Yesilada, an analyst with ­Istanbul-based Global Source Partners, said to The Washington Post. “I think we are at the end of our rope.”

“Opposition leaders have also cited encouraging poll numbers that they say reflect voter fatigue with the president after a tumultuous few years in Turkey marked by growing tensions with some of the country’s NATO allies and intensifying social polarization at home,” wrote The Post’s Istanbul bureau chief, Kareem Fahim. “The results suggest a possible opposition victory — if not in the presidential race, then in the parliament, where they hope to roll back the majority held by Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP.”

Erdogan’s challengers are stronger this year, thanks both to the political winds and the emergence of an opposition alliance that includes not only leftists, religious minorities and secularists but also right-wing nationalists and pious Muslims.

Erdogan’s main opponent in the presidential race is Muharrem Ince of the Republican People’s Party, a centrist party once associated with decades of stifling secularism as well as the repression of ethnic minorities carried out by the Turkish state. Ince, a former schoolteacher, has worked assiduously to dispel this image and champion a more inclusive future.

Turkish presidential candidate Muharrem Ince spoke to a crowd of enthusiastic supporters from atop a bus at a rally in Kadikoy, near Istanbul, on June 8.

The challengers say that Erdogan is hobbling the country by sparring with the European Union and NATO, and making moves that tanked the Turkish currency. “The policies that Erdogan or his government are following do not help Turkey stand up on her own feet in almost all aspects and policies, whether economic or foreign policies,” Islamist presidential candidate Temel Karamollaoglu said to the Guardian. “His method of approach, the discourse, causes polarization in Turkey.”

But there are limits to the time-for-change argument. “The opposition’s main message is, enough is enough. You have been in power too long, you represent the past,” Omer Taspinar of the Brookings Institute said to Fahim. “Maybe that would work if he was 80 years old. Erdogan is still a force to reckon with, despite his vulnerabilities. He has done well for the middle class.”

As in elections in 2015, all eyes are on the Kurdish vote. Kurds represent about 20 percent of the country’s population; Erdogan, who moved to liberalize restrictions on Kurdish cultural rights, once drew tremendous backing from religiously-minded Kurdish voters. But the resumption of conflict with Kurdish militant groups in Turkey, Syria and Iraq has weakened that support, as has his government’s persecution of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, a left-wing, pro-Kurdish party that Ankara accuses of collusion with outlawed Kurdish militants.

If the HDP can win more than 10 percent of the national vote required to gain seats in Turkey’s parliament — as it did in June 2015 — Erdogan’s AKP will struggle to win a majority. The HDP’s charismatic leader, Selahattin Demirtas, has been thrown in jail on terrorism-related charges he and his supporters flatly reject. He is running for president behind bars.

“The Kurds are a reality, and in every country in the Middle East, in Iraq, Turkey, Syria, they are on the front lines for the struggle of democracy,” Demirtas told me in an interview in 2016, before he was sent to prison. “There’s a fundamental ideological conflict between the Kurds and Erdogan, who has a Turkish Islamist ideology.”

Turkey elections 2018: everything you need to know

Erdoğan is running for president, of course, but who else is in the running for control?

What is happening in Turkey?

The country will hold presidential and parliamentary elections on 24 June. If no candidate wins an outright majority in the first round of the presidential elections, a second round will be held on 8 July between the top two candidates in the race.

Why are the elections being held now?

The elections were supposed to be in November 2019. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, however, called for early elections back in April. He said that Turkey needed to “overcome uncertainty” at a troubled time in the region, amid its ongoing military operations in Syria and Iraq.

Critics, however, say the race was brought forward because Turkey’s currency and economy are suffering and the president wanted to preempt the downward trend. He may also be hoping to capitalise on nationalist sentiment after military victory in Syria, where rebels backed by Turkey defeated Kurdish militias near the border in a region called Afrin.

Why are these elections important?

This is arguably the most important election in Turkey’s modern history. The new president will assume an office imbued with sweeping executive powers that voters narrowly approved in a constitutional referendum last year. These include the power to issue decrees with the force of law, appoint the cabinet and vice-presidents as well as senior judges. If he wins, Erdoğan will continue to shape Turkey and its society for years to come.

Who is running for president?

Erdoğan, of course. He remains the most popular political leader in Turkey. But he faces several important opponents who have done unexpectedly well so far in the campaign, and, as a result, a second-round contest is now the most likely outcome.

There is Muharrem İnce, a charismatic physics teacher who is the candidate of the main opposition group, the Republican People’s party (CHP), and Meral Akşener, nicknamed the ‘she-wolf’. She is the leader of the new nationalist Iyi (Good) party and is popular with both youth and working-class Turks.

Temel Karamollaoğlu, the leader of the Islamist Felicity party, is also running, and has emerged as a key critic of Erdoğan even though their parties share ideological roots. Selahattin Demirtaş, a charismatic politician once dubbed the ‘Kurdish Obama’ and who leads the leftist and Kurdish issue-oriented People’s Democratic party (HDP), is running for the presidency from his prison cell in the city of Edirne. He awaits trial on terrorism charges.

What’s happening in parliament?

There are two main coalitions running for parliament.

The first includes the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) of Erdoğan, which are in a coalition with the nationalists.

On the opposite side is an alliance that includes the secularists of the CHP, the breakaway nationalists of the Iyi party, and the Islamists of the Felicity party. They make strange bedfellows in a political system where secularists and Islamists have traditionally been bitter enemies, but such is the importance of these elections that former rivals have banded together to oust the president and his entourage. The HDP is running by itself.

The Turkish constitution requires that parties obtain at least 10% of the national vote to enter parliament, a law that favours larger parties. A new bill recently allowed the formation of election alliances like those described above, which will allow smaller parties like Felicity to win some seats in the legislature if their alliance as a whole crosses the 10% threshold.

If the opposition alliance performs as expected, and the HDP gets over 10% of the popular vote, the ruling AKP could lose its majority in parliament.

So who will win?

Erdoğan was hoping to catch his opponents by surprise when he called for a vote, but attendance at ruling party rallies has been lacklustre, and the Turkish leader does not appear to be at the top of his game. The economy has also caused headaches, with the Turkish lira falling in value against the dollar, concerns mounting over the long-term health of the economy, and fears over the Central Bank’s independence.

Still, Erdoğan is the most popular Turkish politician, and is likely to win the presidential race. Polls are notoriously unreliable in Turkey, but for now it looks like he will easily win the first round, but without an outright majority. A second-round race against Ince or Aksener still favours the president, but is increasingly looking too close to call. It will depend on whether the opposition can draw away conservative and nationalist voters, as well as Kurdish voters angry about Erdogan’s alliance with the nationalists.

Also, there is a very real possibility that Erdoğan will win the presidency but lose parliament to the opposition, which has promised to roll back the constitutional amendments passed last year.

But, under those same amendments, the president can dissolve parliament, and the legislature can call new presidential elections in response. According to some ruling party officials, that’s exactly what Erdoğan might do, which would give his party a chance at a do-over, but plunge Turkey into uncertainty.

Source> the Guardian

Economy and Elections in Turkey: The Invisible Hands

Hossam ElShazly

The Turkish economy is an impressive one; with 7.4% economic growth and the creation of one million jobs, Turkey was the fastest growing G-20 economy in 2017. This growth exceeded all expectations including the IMF ones and surpassed the Chinese figures, hitting a new record. The socioeconomic measures showed rapid improvement as the income of Turkish citizens has doubled more than once during recent years. President Erdogan has paid great attention to improving the military industry infrastructure; Ankara spends around $18 billion on the defence budget annually and half of its equipment is made domestically. Records show a 18% increase in defence exports in 2017, reaching $1.65 billion, and President Erdogan aims to produce defence exports worth $25 billion by 2023.

In an attempt to secure the country’s democratic transition and to avoid being trapped in the critical zone, Mr.Erdogan accepted moving the planned elections of 2019 forward by more than a year. However, the devil was wearing an election tag, and the economic situation deteriorated dramatically. The Turkish Lira hit its lowest point in eight years, recording 4.39 against the Dollar and resulting in a 13% loss. Speculations about the ability of the central bank and the government to manage the crisis have been discussed in regional and global media on a daily basis. The talk about the economic voting in the forthcoming elections on the 24 June occupies all the news headlines.

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Looking Behind the Charts: 

The conventional wisdom will be that we are facing an economic tragedy moving at a rocket speed heading towards its target on the election day to hit Erdogan. Nevertheless, looking behind the charts, and digging deep in the story, several questions remain unanswered. Are we witnessing a natural economic disaster that follows the rule that success breeds active inertia and active inertia breeds failure? Or are we watching another planned orchestrated crisis designed to remove President Erdogan via reinventing the 2016 failing coup attempt in a new economic vehicle? 

To answer these questions, we should explore the Turkish case in the context of its geopolitical relations, its role in the region, economic rivals, the nature of ties and diplomatic relations with major players in the region.

The Invisible Hands: Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israel

Economic collapse is not a product of a few weeks and not in the case of the strong Turkish economy. The ongoing tension with other regimes in the region, in addition to the forecasted conflict of interest, offers a better explanation of the foggy picture.

I argue that Turkey represents the only remaining form of the democratic transition state in the region. In Egypt, a similar orchestrated economic crisis involved a fuel shortage story and faked inflation among other tools, which were used to remove the first freely elected President in 2013 via a military coup led by field-marshal Abdelfattah AlSisi, the current Egyptian President. Not surprisingly, UAE, Israel and Saudi Arabia (the same group in the Turkish case) were the main supporters of the Egyptian coup. Injected billions of dollars in the Egyptian economy, they attempted to support the Sisi regime after the successful coup. The two Gulf states saw the new-born democratic Egypt as a direct threat to their Monarchies. Israel considered the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as a critical threat being unable to maintain control over the elected government.

In contrast, Erdogan had close ties with Morsi, stands firmly against the coup and hosts thousands of Egyptian opposition groups and members of the former government.

Erdgoan Morsi

On June 5, 2017, the same invisible hand decided to cut ties and blockaded Qatar based on acquisitions that Qatar was supporting the free press, Egyptian opposition, and Hamas. President Erdgoan has been a major supporter of Doha on this front and all acquisitions were rejected by the international community.

In the same context, the tension between Ankara and Israel goes back to the Davos incident in 2009, when Erdogan stormed out of a World Economic Forum debate following a clash with the Israeli president over Israel’s offensive against Gaza. Bilateral relations deteriorated when Israeli naval commandos intercepted the Turkish ship Marmara en route to breach the Israeli blockade of Gaza. That incident led to the deaths of eight Turks and one Turkish-American. Recently, the picture turned black because Erdogan is the only leader in the region who clearly stood against the announcement of Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel, expelled the Israeli ambassador from Ankara and calling Israel a terrorist state over the killing of civilians in Gaza.

Erdogan Davos

In recent years, the charismatic president has become a symbolic leader across the Arabic and Islamic world; he has even been called Sultan Erdogan among people in the Arabic and Islamic streets. Turkish cinema is significant in magnifying this leadership role and has brought the legacy of the Ottoman Empire to the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of people around the world. The leaders of the invisible hand’s group lack this Erdoganian-charismatic style and consider it a real threat to their crowns and regimes. Furthermore, Erdogan’s futuristic vision of Turkey in 2023 following the end of the Lausanne treaty, controlling the channel linking between the two seas Black and Marmara and beginning oil exploration and drilling, is another nightmare for the invisible hand’s group and some countries in the west.

Voting the Future on June 24: 

In the view of the above, there are no doubts that Erdogan’s vision and philosophy represent a significant threat to the invisible hand’s group in addition to some western countries on both the political and economic fronts. It is my argument that these countries will endeavour to reinvent a new economic coup on the way to the June 24 elections, as confirmed by the Turkish Prime Minister in his recent TV interview.

However, the answer to the futuristic question about where Turkey is heading remains in the hands of the Turkish people who will vote for their next president soon. The choice is whether to continue Erdogan’s remarkable economic and power journey heading toward 2023 or to fall into the trap of manipulated politics, political instability, regional and global influence, in the best-case scenario landing on a toxic economic zone similar to the one of Egypt.