TURKISH POLITICS: PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN NEEDS A MIRACLE THIS TIME TO WIN THE NEXT ELECTION

upa-admin 05 Ağustos 2021 638 Okunma 0
TURKISH POLITICS: PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN NEEDS A MIRACLE THIS TIME TO WIN THE NEXT ELECTION

Introduction

Turkish people are passing through a rather difficult time these days due to disasters, economic problems, and unending political problems and disputes. The hottest problematic issue on the agenda is wildfires taking place in touristic villages. Starting from the late July, almost 163 different wildfires occurred in the Mediterranean and Aegean regions of the country. Among these, 154 were brought under control, but 9 other wildfires are still posing danger to people’s lives as well as to the nature.[1] A total of three Turkish people died during the wildfires[2] and an enormous damage was done to the nature. These wildfires demoralized the whole nation and empoisoned people’s short holidays during the hottest days of the summer.

Tragic scenes photographed during the recent wildfires

The first and most notable wildfire started on July 28, 2021 in Manavgat, Antalya and burned down a great majority of the forests of this touristic location during ten days. Other important blazes took place in Muğla, Adana, Osmaniye, Mersin, Kayseri, and Denizli. During the crisis, it was found that Turkey has only three fire-fighting aircrafts or tanker planes that are rented from Russia. Other three planes belonging to European countries (two from Spain and one from Croatia[3]) are also used with the permission of these countries.[4] It is hard to grasp for Turkish people to see that their state is not well prepared for wildfires although during each summer we have to face this reality. What it is more depressing that in fact Turkish Aeronautical Association (Türk Hava Kurumu) still possess six tanker planes, but the maintenance of these planes are neglected after Turkish government appointed a trustee (kayyum in Turkish) to the institution in 2019.[5]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s crisis management was severely criticized by the opponents. Opposition voices underlined that while Turkish Presidency has eight different jet planes[6], it is scandalous for the country to have only three tanker planes rented from Russia (Beriev BE-200s). President Erdoğan on the other hand blamed local municipalities of the regions where the wildfires took place and asserted that it was their responsibility to protect the nature against such dangers.[7] Since Turkey has a unitary system and the security issues are handled solely by the central authority, Erdoğan’s defense seems groundless.

Conspiracy Theories

Turkish people and authorities in the country have begun to discuss many conspiracy theories about the wildfires recently. For instance, retired rear admiral and one of the leading theoreticians of Turkey’s Blue Homeland (Mavi Vatan) doctrine, Cihat Yaycı claimed that these wildfires are terrorist acts organized by PKK and Greece.[8] A Turkish expert on terrorism, Abdullah Ağar also pointed out that many different wildfires taking place simultaneously create serious doubts for an organized terrorist attack.[9] However, after the police investigation, it was found out that Manavgat wildfire was initiated by a 12 year old kid who has psychological (family-based) problems.[10] On the other hand, Demirören News Agency (DHA) published fake news blaming PKK for the wildfires that is later controverted by the Manisa Governorship.[11] Of course, PKK, as a dangerous terrorist organization could be one of the reasons of these wildfires. However, we have to wait for the police investigation and evidence before making such bold claims. It should not be forgotten that recently a Kurdish family was massacred in Konya in a hate crime.[12] This kind of news could agitate Turkish nationalists and lead to other provocative events in the country. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that Greece also suffers a lot from wildfires each year[13] and instead of blaming each other, Turkey and Greece could cooperate on such matters.

Another popular conspiracy theory in the country was about Turkish government’s decision to allow these wildfires taking place for establishing new hotels and resorts to touristic locations. In fact, a new law entered into force these days giving the right to decide on the new settlements in forestland regions to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.[14] Journalist Murat Yetkin was the first person to point out this coincidence.[15] However, I do not think that Turkish government would do such a thing because the poor crisis management terribly affected the government and President Erdoğan in terms of popular support. President Erdoğan also denied this accusation.[16]

What is the reason of these wildfires?

Then, what could be the real reason of these wildfires? I think, although we should not speak confidently until the police provides concrete evidence, the probability of a terrorist attack towards Turkey is a reality. In each year we witness a few major wildfires in Turkey during the months of summer. But this year we have noticed an enormous rise as eight big wildfires took place by the early August. It is known that Turkey’s successful military operations in Syria and Iraq and Azerbaijan’s recent victory in the Nagorno Karabakh War disturbed anti-Turkey groups. However, we should be patient enough to find evidence before pointing out some groups as the responsible. That is because Turkey is fighting with a lot of different terrorist organizations (ISIS, al Qaeda, PKK, PYD/YPG, FETO) at the same time and many countries that are hostile to Turkey also support these groups.

Another reason could be the undeniable climate crisis that not only Turkey, but the whole world has begun to face with. For instance, climatologist Professor Levent Kurnaz from Boğaziçi University claimed that these wildfires are the natural consequence of global warming and climate crisis.[17] Kurnaz also underlines that there would be more difficult days in the future and Turkey should be ready for the climate crisis.

Foreign help not wanted

Some Turkish people initiated a social media-based campaign during the crisis with the hashtag of “#Help Turkey”. Approximately 2.7 million different tweets were shared on Twitter to create a global appeal and awareness. However, the head of Media and Communications of the Turkish Presidency, Fahrettin Altun showed a harsh reaction to this campaign by claiming that the real aim of social media activists is to present Turkey as a weak country to the world.[18] Moreover, the Office of the Chief Public Prosecutor in Ankara started an investigation for such Twitter posts.[19]

“Help Turkey” posts were considered as dangerous for the image of the country by some Turkish authorities

Turkey’s struggle with the Covid-19 and other problems

Other than wildfires as well, Turkey has many problems during the summer of 2021. For instance, although the country has successfully launched a rapid vaccination campaign this year, by early August, the daily death toll reached 122 in addition to 26,822 new cases.[20] With these numbers, it will not be a surprise if the government takes another curfew decision in the near future. According to official statistics provided by Turkish Ministry of Health, more than 41.3 million Turkish citizens have received their first doses of Covid-19 vaccine, whereas over 27.8 million have been fully vaccinated.[21] Turkish State provides Sinovac (three doses required) and Biontech (two doses required) vaccines to its citizens. I should also add that thanks to the efforts of Turkish Minister of Health Fahrettin Koca, Turkish people consider the government’s struggle with the Covid-19 pandemic as its most successful policy compared to its educational and economic policy during the crisis. Accordingly, by June 2021, 77.9 % of Turkish people consider the government’s economic policy terrible, whereas 76.7 % of them also think the government’s educational policy is also terrible.[22] However, the number of people who strongly condemn the government’s health policy is only around 51.3 %.[23]

Another major problem is of course the economy. The inflation in the country surpassed 17 %, which obviously reduces people’s purchasing power.[24] In the meantime, the rapid depreciation of Turkish Lira (TL) continues as U.S. Dollar is now around 8.5 TL and Euro is around 10.1 TL.[25] The rapid fall of Turkish Lira is caused by political problems between Turkey and the United States after the Pastor Brunson crisis and Turkish President Erdoğan’s insistence on low interest rates. This is another problem which makes Turkish people disadvantageous in the international market. Moreover, the unemployment rate reached 13.9 %[26], which shows that the problems in the Turkish economy are structural. By the way, the unemployment rate among the youth is much higher.

Another major problem is the presence of millions of immigrants which could be easily pointed out as the scapegoat during the economic crisis. In addition to 3.6 million Syrian immigrants[27], recently immigrants from Afghanistan, where Taliban will soon seize the control following the U.S. withdrawal, began to attract Turkish people’s attention and anger. While these people seem rightful in their fear of Taliban, of course, Turkey, with a stagnating economy, could not offer much to Afghan immigrants. Moreover, due to some irresponsible political statements, these people are open to racist attacks. U.S. and the EU’s lack of help to Turkey in humanitarian matters also force Turkish government to take harsh measures.

Latest polls about political parties

A recent poll conducted by the Istanbul Ekonomi in July 2021 shows that the support for AK Parti is now around 35.5 % and MHP votes are around 7.5 %. This makes the combined vote for the Cumhur İttifakı (People’s Alliance) maximum 43 %, which would not be enough for an electoral victory in the Presidential election normally scheduled for June 18, 2023.[28] According to new electoral law, % 50 + 1 votes is needed for being elected either in the first or the second round. On the other hand, CHP’s (23.2 %), IYI Parti’s (16.8 %), and Saadet’s (0.9 %) votes reached 41 % as part of the opposition bloc, the Millet İttifakı (Nation Alliance). Considering the fact that the other oppositional parties (DEVA, Future Party, pro-Kurdish HDP) will probably support the candidate of the Nation Alliance against the Erdoğan regime, it seems like President Erdoğan needs a miracle to secure another five years as the Turkish President. But since President Erdoğan is a genius of political strategy, we can say that it is not impossible, yet very difficult for him to win the next presidential election.

Current votes of the parties[29]

Moreover, President Erdoğan now might have to compete with a stronger competitor as the joint candidate of the opposition. According to actual polls, if the Nation Alliance would choose Ankara mayor Mansur Yavaş or Istanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, it will be almost certain for the opposition to win the election. Both Yavaş and İmamoğlu outscores Erdoğan more than 10 % difference in a potential second round election while nationalist Yavaş does slightly (1.1 %) better than social democrat İmamoğlu.[30] On the other hand, IYI Parti leader Meral Akşener also seems more advantageous against Erdoğan, while CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu still stays behind Erdoğan in a potential second round.

Potential presidential second round votings[31]

What’s next?

According to recent polls, almost 60 % of Turkish people (57.9 %) now support an early election.[32] However, if will not be a wise decision for Erdoğan and his partner and MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli to call for an early election during an economic crisis. It seems like the governing duo needs a new success story to increase their popular support. For several years, President Erdoğan has been working on the Istanbul Canal (Kanal İstanbul) project to establish an artificial sea-level waterway to Bosphorus in order to accelerate the maritime trade. It is written in the Turkish press that Chinese and Qatari firms are interested in the financing of this project. Although the project does not seem risky for the continuation of Montreux Treaty or against the international law, it is known that the project also includes the establishment of new buildings and residences around Bosphorus at the expense of destroying forests. Moreover, the population density in Istanbul (Istanbul has officially 15.5 million residents and it is one of the biggest metropolis cities in the world) will further increase if this project will be realized. According to a poll organized by Istanbul Ekonomi in June 2021, the support for this project is around 40 %, whereas 60 % of Turkish people are against the Istanbul Canal.[33] Another poll shows that, the biggest problem of Turkish people is now -by far- the economy. 33.9 % of Turkish people think the economy is their primary problem in addition to another 19.5 % who thinks the unemployment is the major issue in the country, which makes the economy -with 53-54 %- the only decisive political factor.[34] That is why; it seems like the only chance for Erdoğan is to create an economic boom in the next two years to win the election.

Bahçeli and Erdoğan

However, partnership with MHP is not an easy task. MHP is a small and very ideological (Turkish nationalist) party that has never garnered even 19 % in an election during the whole republican history. MHP has rigid stances on many issues including the Kurdish Question, the Cyprus Problem, Turkey-EU relations etc. Thus, Erdoğan now faces a dilemma as he wants to make new political openings, but could not do it for not losing MHP support. Erdoğan and Bahçeli could force new hawkish policies in Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean by making bolder steps than the current Varosha (Kapalı Maraş) opening. A potential annexation of North Cyprus could be such a move; but possible diplomatic/political, economic, and even military reactions from other countries perturb Erdoğan before making this decision. Since the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) is a member of United Nations and the EU, such a move would transform Turkey into a bandit or rough state and will destroy its relations with the international system and especially with the Western world. In case there is support coming from Russia and China, this policy could be legitimized as Turkey could leave NATO and the Western bloc in return to the recognition of TRNC and the formation of a new security alliance with Russia, China, and Iran. However, both Moscow and Beijing do not afford to support Ankara in its Cyprus policy until now. Although it has special links with Turkish Cypriots, it is also highly questionable whether Iran could support such a policy and recognize TRNC as well. It should not be forgotten that, so far, even Turkey’s closest allies such as Azerbaijan, Qatar, Pakistan etc. did not recognize TRNC. That is why; it seems like Turkish government should find other projects to improve the economy and increase its popular support rather than the very risky Cyprus annexation move.

Among the alternatives, President Erdoğan and his team now work on Afghanistan option to improve relations with the U.S. After President Joe Biden announced his decision to withdraw American and NATO forces completely from Afghanistan by paving a way for Taliban to seize control of the country, Erdoğan and Biden agreed on a plan to make Turkey active for the management of Hamid Karzai International Airport at Kabul. It is a fact that Turkish soldiers have more legitimacy compared to American or European soldiers for Afghan people and Taliban since they are Muslims and they do not try to invade Afghan territories. However, so far Taliban did not accept Turkey’s plan to operate the airport safely without interfering into Afghan domestic politics. In case Erdoğan, Biden, and Taliban could agree on such a plan, Turkey could assume important responsibilities in Afghanistan and begin to improve relations with Washington, which will certainly have positive effects over the Turkish economy. Afghanistan is an important country for certain industries; most notably the opium production, which is used extensively in the drug (pharmaceutical) business.

Conclusion

Finally, if we analyze recent political conjuncture and public polls, we can conclude that Turkey has been passing through a very difficult period similar to 1999-2001 period. In 1999, Turkey had a terrible earthquake which devastated the economy and demoralized the whole nation. In 2001, a terrible economic crisis hit the country and Turkish economy was collapsed. In 2002, AK Parti and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan were elected as saviors after these traumatic experiences. With wildfires around the country and severe economic problems, the conjuncture resembles to that period; however, we should not forget that Turkey now has a hyper-Presidential system and President Erdoğan is a strong leader who never surrenders. Thus, it will be interesting to watch Turkish Politics from now on in order to observe President Erdoğan’s new moves and policies. Moreover, there will certainly be new efforts to design the opposition bloc since now it seems like they are running for a victory in the next election.

Assoc. Prof. Ozan ÖRMECİ

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

[1] HaberTürk (2021), “Türkiye yanıyor! Yangınlarda 8’inci gün”, 03.08.2021, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://www.haberturk.com/turkiye-yaniyor-son-dakika-yanginlarda-7-nci-gun-iste-son-gelismeler-3151324.

[2] Haberler.com (2021), “Yangında ölen var mı? Yangında can kaybı kaç oldu?”, 30.07.2021, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://www.haberler.com/yanginda-olen-var-mi-14298184-haberi/.

[3] Hüseyin Hayatsever (2021), “Türkiye, ‘yangın’ konusunda AB’den yardım istedi, ‘uçak’ tartışmaları sürüyor “, Cumhuriyet, 03.08.2021, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/turkiye-yangin-konusunda-abden-yardim-istedi-ucak-tartismalari-suruyor-1857425.

[4] Karar (2021), “Türkiye’deki yangınlar neden söndürülemiyor? Türkiye’nin kaç yangın söndürme uçağı var?”, 02.08.2021, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://www.karar.com/guncel-haberler/turkiyedeki-yanginlar-neden-sondurulemiyorkac-yangin-sondurme-ucagi-var-1627078.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Sputnik Türkiye (2021), “Fuat Oktay açıkladı: Cumhurbaşkanlığına kayıtlı 8 uçak var”, 05.01.2021, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://tr.sputniknews.com/turkiye/202101051043511472-fuat-oktay-acikladi-cumhurbaskanligina-kayitli-8-ucak-var/.

[7] Cumhuriyet (2021), “Erdoğan: Yerleşim bölgelerindeki yangın, büyükşehir belediyelerinin sorumluluğundadır”, 04.08.2021, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/erdogandan-yangin-aciklamasi-sorumluluk-buyuksehirlerin-1858027.

[8] Ulusal Kanal (2021), “Cihat Yaycı’dan flaş açıklama: ‘İhmal falan yok devlet Yunan-PKK terörüyle karşı karşıya’”, 30.07.2021, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwzWf1oIsDQ.

[9] Haberler.com (2021), “Yangınlar neden çıkıyor? Türkiye’de yangınların sebebi ne?”, 03.08.2021, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://www.haberler.com/yanginlar-neden-cikiyor-turkiye-de-yanginlarin-14305123-haberi/.

[10] DW Türkçe (2021), “Manavgat’taki yangını 12 yaşındaki çocuğun çıkardığı belirlendi”, 04.08.2021, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://www.dw.com/tr/manavgattaki-yang%C4%B1n%C4%B1-12-ya%C5%9F%C4%B1ndaki-%C3%A7ocu%C4%9Fun-%C3%A7%C4%B1kard%C4%B1%C4%9F%C4%B1-belirlendi/a-58758463.

[11] BBC Türkçe (2021), “Orman yangınları: Hangi iddialar ortaya atıldı, yetkililer ne yanıt verdi?”, 03.08.2021, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler-turkiye-58075222.

[12] Hatice Kamer (2021), “Konya’da aynı aileden 7 kişinin öldürülmesiyle ilgili 13 kişi gözaltına alındı”, BBC Türkçe, 30.07.2021, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler-turkiye-58029461.

[13] HaberTürk (2021), “Atina’daki yangın kontrol altına alındı: 12 bin 500 dönüm alan küle döndü”, 04.08.2021, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://www.haberturk.com/yunanistan-da-dehseti-yasiyor-haberler-3152667.

[14] Resmi Gazete (2021), “TURİZMİ TEŞVİK KANUNU İLE BAZI KANUNLARDA DEĞİŞİKLİK YAPILMASINA DAİR KANUN”, 28.07.2021,  No: 31551, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://www.resmigazete.gov.tr/eskiler/2021/07/20210728-2.htm.

[15] Cumhuriyet (2021), “Ormanlar yanarken yürürlüğe giren kanun tartışma çıkardı”, 31.07.2021, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/ormanlar-yanarken-yururluge-giren-kanun-tartisma-cikardi-1856846.

[16] Hürriyet (2021), “Son dakika haberi: Erdoğan’dan ‘Yanan alanlar turizme açılacak’ iddiasına net yanıt: Söz konusu değil”, 04.08.2021, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/son-dakika-haberi-cumhurbaskani-erdogandan-gundeme-dair-onemli-aciklamalar-41866342.

[17] Şükran Şençekiçer (2021), “SosyoPolitik (77) – Prof. Dr. Levent Kurnaz: “İklim krizinde daha zor günler bizi bekliyor, hazırlıklı olmak durumundayız””, Medyascope, 01.08.2021, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://medyascope.tv/2021/08/01/sosyopolitik-77-prof-dr-levent-kurnaz-iklim-krizinde-daha-zor-gunler-bizi-bekliyor-hazirlikli-olmak-durumundayiz/.

[18] SonDakika.com (2021), “Fahrettin Altun’dan sosyal medyada başlatılan “Help Turkey” kampanyasına ilginç tepki”, 02.08.2021, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://www.sondakika.com/haber/haber-fahrettin-altun-dan-sosyal-medyada-baslatilan-14303123/.

[19] Haberler.com (2021), “Son Dakika: Ankara Cumhuriyet Başsavcılığı, “Help Turkey” başlığı altında yapılan paylaşımlar hakkında resen soruşturma başlattı”, 05.08.2021, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://www.haberler.com/son-dakika-ankara-cumhuriyet-bassavciligi-help-14310197-haberi/.

[20] Hürriyet Daily News (2021), “Turkey reports 26,822 new coronavirus cases, 122 more deaths”, 03.08.2021, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-reports-26-822-new-coronavirus-cases-122-more-deaths-153559.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Türkiye Raporu (2021), “Salgın Yönetimi Memnuniyeti”, 30.06.2021, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from http://www.turkiyeraporu.com/arastirma/salgin-yonetimi-memnuniyeti-2-5144/.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Selva Demiralp (2021), “Enflasyon: Türkiye’de yıllık enflasyon yüzde 17’yi aştı, ‘vahim tablonun’ nedenleri neler?”, BBC Türkçe, 03.05.2021, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler-turkiye-56972702.

[25] Bloomberg (2021), “Döviz Euro”, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://www.bloomberght.com/doviz/euro.

[26] Hilmi Hacaloğlu (2021), “Türkiye’de İşsizlik Tarihi Rekora Yaklaştı”, Amerika’nın Sesi, 10.06.2021, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://www.amerikaninsesi.com/a/resmi-issiz-sayisi-4-5-milyonu-asti-issizlik-tarihi-zirveye-yaklasti/5923524.html.

[27] Doğruluk Payı (2019), “Türkiye’de Suriyeli Sığınmacılar”, 24.06.2019, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://www.dogrulukpayi.com/bulten/turkiye-de-suriyeli-siginmacilar.

[28] Türkiye Raporu (2021), “Sürekli Takip: Oy Oranları”, July 2021, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://www.turkiyeraporu.com/surekli-takip/.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Türkiye Raporu (2021), “Cumhurbaşkanlığı Seçimlerinde Hangi İsimler Öne Çıkıyor?”, 15.05.2021, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://www.turkiyeraporu.com/arastirma/cumhurbaskanligi-secimlerinde-hangi-isimler-one-cikiyor-4477/.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Türkiye Raporu (2021), “Erken Seçim Olmalı Mı?”, 16.06.2021, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from http://www.turkiyeraporu.com/arastirma/erken-secim-olmali-mi-3-5088/.

[33] Türkiye Raporu (2021), “Kanal İstanbul Projesi’ni Destekliyor Musunuz?”, June 2021, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://www.turkiyeraporu.com/arastirma/kanal-istanbul-projesini-destekliyor-musunuz-2-5128/.

[34] Türkiye Raporu (2020), “Türkiye’nin En Önemli Sorunu Nedir?”, 26.10.2020, Date of Accession: 05.08.2021 from https://www.turkiyeraporu.com/arastirma/turkiyenin-en-onemli-sorunu-nedir-1-1918/.

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