The house that Recep built

Turkeyand’s general election on June 7 was the last democratic opportunity for the country to avert disaster and Turkey has, for the time being, avoided going over the edge. The election results are also, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, a notable example of not being able to fool all the people all the time.
Despite an oath to safeguard Turkeyand’s indivisible integrity and to abide by the Constitution, the rule of law, democracy and the principles of the secular republic, Turkeyand’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has, since being elected last August, ridden roughshod over these principles, as indeed he did when prime minister.
The Turkish Constitution, both in the preamble and Article 24, stipulates that no one shall be allowed to exploit religion for the purpose of personal or political influence. Nevertheless, this is exactly what Erdogan has done.
Modesty is an important precept in Islam, and President Erdoganand’s ostentatious lifestyle is no doubt an element in his fall from grace with 52 percent of the presidential vote last year and the Justice and Development Partyand’s (AKP) 41 percent this time round. One year after becoming prime minister in 2003 Erdogan complained that his income was not enough to survive, but by all accounts he has since made up for the shortfall.
His most grandiose gesture has been to build a new presidential palace on land bequeathed by the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatandurk, to the state for the benefit and use of the Turkish people. The construction was declared illegal in a recent decision by the Council of State. The Ankara branch of the Turkish Union of Engineers and Architectsand’ Chambers (TMMOB), which has spearheaded the criticism of the building, has now called for the eviction of the palaceand’s residents.
The Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKi) has refused to reveal the cost of the new palace, as this information could and”negatively affect the countryand’s economy,and” but last November Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek announced that it cost TL 1.37 billion ($615 million). However, subsequent calculations show that this figure is a gross underestimate. The real cost is believed to exceed TL 5 billion, but a recent estimate by the TMMOB comes up to a staggering TL 20 billion.
The cost of regular landscaping alone for the 300,000-square-meter property is estimated at TL 2.5 billion. Eighty percent of the plants are imported, which includes 60 truckloads of trees and flowers from Holland and 280 truckloads of lime, sycamore and hornbeam trees from Germany. There is also the cost of imported plants that have died and need to be replaced.
President Erdogan has stated that the palace has more than 1,150 rooms but research indicates there are at least 2,000. Glass imported from the US, estimated at half the total official cost of the palace, has been used for the windows. There are 150 imported double-leaf doors, 200 chandeliers with Swarovski crystal and 24-carat gilded marble has been imported from Italy to decorate pools, bathhouses, saunas and spas. There are also decorative wooden panels made from golden teak on the doors of VIP salons and corridors.
The cost of upkeep is prodigious, including not only the salaries of 2,700 staff but also the cost of heating, lighting, cleaning and maintaining the grounds. In March the pro-government daily Yeni iafak ran a feature about the presidential coupleand’s and”simple life,and” which included drinking lots of white tea, a Turkish specialty that costs TL 4,000 ($1,500) a kilo. The minimum wage in Turkey — where almost a quarter of the population lives in poverty — is TL 949 a month.
A good example of the hubris that has overtaken this and”man of the peopleand” is Erdoganand’s defense of the delivery of a Mercedes S500 to the head of the Religious Affairs Directorate, Mehmet GandOrmez. and”Nowadays, anyone can drive such cars,and” he retorted.
There are, of course, other factors which have determined the outcome of the elections. The Peoplesand’ Democratic Partyand’s (HDP) 13 percent can in no small measure be attributed to Erdoganand’s pronouncement that and”Kobani is about to falland” and his reluctance to come to the aid of the besieged Kurds. The more than 127 attacks on the HDP, not least the two bombs at the HDP rally in Diyarbakir, have also contributed to their electoral success as well as the broadening of the HDPand’s electoral base to include non-Kurdish liberal and leftist supporters.
There is considerable disquiet among the founding members of the AKP over the way the party has become distant from its original principles — as a party of the people to see to the needs of the oppressed and the victimized — and has become a mechanism to secure personal interests.
Former President Abdullah Gandul, who is no longer a member, has ruled out a return to politics and”under the current circumstances,and” but now the circumstances have changed and it will be interesting to see whether he will consider a return to resurrect the party he once played an active role in leading.
hr *Robert Ellis is a regular commentator on Turkish affairs in the Danish and international press.