Erdogan’s paradoxes

Politics is the art of combining interests and goals that might actually appear to be opposed to one another. And while President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may claim to be good at this, the fact is, the June 7 elections present three crushing paradoxes from which escape appears impossible. The first paradox is the election campaign itself we see him jostled between being a supposedly neutral president and being the Justice and Development Party (AKP) leader. But in the end, the way he is overseeing the AKP has become a clear and unconstitutional violation of the oath of impartiality he took before assuming the office of president. He embraces divisive polemic like any normal party leader, offering free criticism of their campaign promises. Not only this but he foists this very one-sided campaign on the country using all the privileges granted to him by the office of the president. While Erdogan makes his heavy presence felt over the campaign in the name of trying to promote the presidential system, his openly one-sided manner is giving people in Turkey the distinct feeling they are watching a rigged match. And all this means lost votes for the AKP. In the end, the president’s role in the AKP’s election campaign is also lowering his party’s institutional profile and performance. And with the pro-government media placing all its focus and attention on Erdogan, campaign messages from Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoilu really aren’t even reaching the public. Of course, the paradox herein is that because he is making the AKP lose, Erdogan will not be able to win himself. At this point, there are no paths that appear likely to transcend this paradox.

The second paradox is rooted in campaign strategies that target the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) or the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Keeping the HDP under the 10 percent parliamentary threshold is critical for the government’s post-electoral plans. And the main factor determining what level of votes come into the ballot boxes for the AKP will depend on preventing votes — especially in Central Anatolia — from sliding over to the MHP. Unfortunately for the AKP, these two priorities are in complete contradiction with one another. In order to keep the HDP under the threshold, the AKP needs to deliver pleasing messages to the Kurds. And in order to staunch the flow of votes to the MHP, it needs to increase nationalist rhetoric. It is in essence these two conflicting strategies that compose the most fundamental paradox that faces Erdogan in this election, especially when it comes to dealing with the voting public. The third paradox concerns the ruling party’s relationship with the bureaucracy. The government, sorely damaged by allegations of corruption, has been trying get the bureaucracy under its own control. The recent arrest of the two judges was for no other reason than to scare the bureaucracy, with the idea being that after these arrests, the justice system would be convinced not to render any more decisions that went awry of the ruling party. And so the pressure being placed on the justice system has essentially been to extract full obedience from the bureaucracy. A justice system fully connected to the ruling party is vital for the obedience of the bureaucracy. And herein lies the paradox: An oppressed, dependent justice system is in fact quite frightening for the people of the nation, who are of course interested in preserving their own rights and access to justice. Turkish society is well aware that a justice system under heavy political pressure is never going to be able to help solve people’s legal problems. It’s not difficult to foresee times when even a small dispute with a neighbor could lead to a court appearance where the political leanings of the judge — or of those involved in the dispute — would have an immediate effect on the outcome of the case.

In short, then, this conflict between wanting to take the bureaucracy under control and the negative perceptions in the public of what the outcomes from this could be also present one of the biggest paradoxes facing Erdogan where June 7 is concerned. Yes, these three paradoxes make up the most difficult dimensions of the election campaign facing Erdogan and the AKP, with just one month left until the elections. What’s more, there appears no way around these paradoxes. Even if there was only one of these paradoxes facing the ruling party and the president, it would be tough but there’s not just one — there are three. And there is one more factor making things even more difficult herein, which is that the pro-government media is only making these solution-less problems appear bigger and bigger. Not only are the powerful media tools are not making these paradoxes disappear, but they are actually making them more visible and more damaging. It looks like a long, tough road toward June 7 for Erdogan and the AKP.