JOOST – Can ErdoIan be both president and underdog?

Can ErdoIan be both president and underdog?Finally, the long-awaited announcement was made on July 1: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoIan will run for the presidency. At a well-orchestrated presentation, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) leader summed up his motives and the goals he has set himself.

ErdoIan’s acceptance speech was a carefully calculated mix of the reasons why conservative voters should support him on Aug. 10: religious quotations, references to the “national will” he alone can represent and to the new type of presidency he is planning to implement — closing the era of so-called “neutral” presidents who always sided with the state against the people.

That last argument is part of a wider set of vindications for a continuation of the AKP rule at all levels. Of course, the electoral success of the ruling party since 2002 is directly linked to concrete and visible progress: a better income for more people, improved services and infrastructure.

But the continuous popularity of the AKP leader cannot be explained just by looking at better-filled wallets and properly functioning state institutions. At the heart of the AKP’s rise to power and its ability to stick to it is a deeply rooted conviction among pious Turks.

In their perception, after decades of being marginalized by the secular establishment, at long last there is a party with a strong leader that is standing up for them It was no coincidence that in his July 1 speech ErdoIan made a clear allusion to this sentiment when he called his candidacy for the presidency the final victory over “military tutelage.” As a prime minister he stood up against the secularist and military elites and as a president he will keep on defending the rights of the long-oppressed classes and religious groups in Turkish society.

He, Recep Tayyip ErdoIan, is the “man of the people” and he alone can take Turkey to the end of the tunnel where there is light for all previously maltreated Turks and Kurds.Whatever one thinks of the electoral instrumentalizing of this feeling by the party in power, there is more than enough historical and sociological evidence that gives credibility to this reading of Turkey’s past and present.

So, based on present opinion polls, it seems presenting himself as the defender of the downtrodden will again pay off for ErdoIan. But what will happen then?We know by now that if he gets his way after being elected, ErdoIan will want to move smoothly to a de facto fully presidential system without proper checks and balances.

Key media are already under control, the judiciary will be further subjugated, and the new Parliament, if and when the AKP wins the next elections, will be an obedient enforcer of president ErdoIan’s commands.There is, however, one crucial question that ErdoIan will have to answer at some point in time: Can you be an all-powerful president and the representative of all Turkish underdogs at the same time for very long? We know from other countries and other periods in history that victimhood is very powerful and can be sustained for quite some time.

Neutralizing or silencing your opponents at home definitively helps. So does presenting international criticism as prejudiced anti-Muslim sentiment or a conspiracy to prevent Turkey’s rise to global prominence.

However, as the saying goes: You can fool some people some times, but you can’t fool all the people all the time. ErdoIan’s final victory in August and his scenario for a One-Man regime till 2024 might well be the beginning of the end of the attractiveness of the eternal victim ideology.

If ErdoIan will indeed run the country as his personal fief after 2014, how much longer can his party plausibly argue that they represent the people against the old elite? If ErdoIan’s New Turkey means a state under full AKP control and a society under constant pressure to adopt Islamist norms and standards, how much longer can the Man at the Top credibly argue that he is only there to defend the rights of those who remain neglected?Most probably, ErdoIan will be the new president. But his partisan interpretation of that job will sow the seeds for the eventual subversion of the most powerful argument that got him there.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman