Is it true that “Erdoğan is good but his inner circle is bad”?

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It seems that President Erdoğan himself isn’t the target, but his “inner circle” is shouldering the blame in the process of scrutiny and criticism that has erupted inside the AKP following the June 23 election defeat. But to what extent is this a realistic approach?

Click CC in the bottom right corner for English subtitles. (Broadcast date: 25 June 2019)

Translation: Melissa Clissold / Subtitles: Egemen Gök

Hello, good day. It looks like the elections that took place on the June 23 will be a topic of discussion for a long time within the Turkish political agenda. Because the greatest loss that the leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has experienced until the founding of the AKP till now, took place in Istanbul. There was a defeat on March 31 as well, but what happened on the June 23, is more than a loss, it is a stinging defeat. And together with this shock, people within the circles of the AKP have started to question, debate and come to different, messy conclusions regarding the questions of “what happened to us?”, “why did it happen?”

Yet, there is a point in which almost all of this come together. No one is criticising Erdoğan, there is no blame placed on him. People want to debate without getting Erdoğan involved. And we can see that more and more the idea that “Erdoğan’s inner circle is bad” is gaining popularity within the AKP and the AKP’s environment. This is a desperate approach, it is an approach that is a product of desperation. I am not of this opinion. I would like to discuss this within a historical perspective. When I say historical, I mean looking at Erdoğan’s political career, seeing his development, step by step.

I witnessed a lot of this as a journalist from the days he was a provincial head, a provincial head in the Welfare Party (RP). And Erdoğan has been in this movement since those days and has generally been a politician that has placed the most amount of importance on team-work and bringing together different people. And he truly owes a lot of his success in politics to this team-work. He always had leadership qualities and authority, but he always brought together people who would be by his side from environments that he could reach, people he could convince and benefit from.

When he was provincial head, he tried to do this with more people within the RP. But later, after he became mayor and prime minister with the AKP and finally President, he started adding people from outside of his usual environment into his inner circle to act almost as advisors. Sometimes they became advisors, sometimes members of parliament and group deputy chairmen or ministers or high-level bureaucrats. But Erdoğan always knew, in one way or another, how to work with a team.

When the AKP was first founded, it was being managed with a common wisdom, especially with people such as Abdullah Gül, Bülent Arınç and Abdüllatif Şener and also others. In addition to that common wisdom, in addition to party management, Erdoğan’s advisors were always people who he could trust. Sometimes there were problems between these people and the management of the party. Especially, in the period during which Abdullah Gül was prime minister, and Erdoğan was banned, issues arose during memorandum discussions during Iraq’s occupation. I remember very well. Serious problems came up between Erdoğan’s advisors and Abdullah Gül’s government etc. Within this entire process, from the times of him being provincial head, especially from when he was mayor and AKP chairman, prime minister and President, Erdoğan always had an inner circle.

There are names such as Yalçın Akdoğan for example, Mücahit Arslan, and Nabi Avcı, who was a lot more functional during the period before he became a minister. When I look today, I see that almost none of those names are there anymore, I can see that within this entire process, to a large extent, those people who were beside Erdoğan are no longer next to him. Some of them are still members of parliament within the AKP and may be taking on the role as president of the commission within the parliament. But the only person who catches my attention is AKP spokesman Ömer Çelik. Besides him, everyone has left Erdoğan’s close sphere in one way or another. Therefore, Erdoğan determines his own circle.

In different periods, he brings certain people closer and removes others. There is no surrounding being formed without Erdoğan. If the environment is bad, the one responsible for forming this environment is Erdoğan himself. Another factor is, these people can only act within the area that he has drawn for them. Nevertheless, some of them may have made mistakes, they may have had certain outbursts despite Erdoğan but I don’t think that there is anyone who can sustain this line in a systematic, stable manner. It didn’t happen yesterday, it won’t happen today.

In this respect, we can give the example of Süleyman Soylu. Within the latest period, Süleyman Soylu, from the government in power, has turned out to be the character who speaks the most, after Erdoğan. Some are claiming that his outbursts are taking place without Erdoğan’s consent, but I don’t think anything like this could happen. He said himself joining a television programme, if I am not mistaken, “I am acting within the lines of the party.”

It’s a waste of time to think that Erdoğan, someone who has monopolised the entire government, would allow a minister or a party official to say things he doesn’t want them to say. Therefore, he does have an inner circle, but it is bad. But just because the circle is bad, does not mean that Erdoğan is good. If his inner circle is bad, if his circle is doing wrong, then Erdoğan is also in a bad place with regards to politics. He has left his bright period in the past and is managing wrongly, doing wrong. And there are wrong people within his entourage as a result of his own wrongdoings too. And those people are doing wrong.

Let’s think about June 23. Mistake after another mistake. The first mistake was the politically negative ‘survival mode’ discourse that occurred before March 31. Afterwards, this was changed. A completely different positive campaign started to be carried out, was wanted to be carried out with Binali Yıldırım coming to the forefront and Erdoğan stepping back. It can be debated how smart a move it was to change this campaign half way through. Just because the political approaches adopted before were wrong, does not mean that the political approaches that will come afterwards are better or more right. Timing is important. Because I believe that is not really within reason to carry out a long campaign with a theme of survival, criminalising everyone, calling everyone terrorists and then suddenly changing this approach within a short period of time as if nothing has happened, as if none of this happened yesterday and come up with a completely opposite political approach.

The voter in Turkey, including the AKP base, or the targeted Kurdish voters, will not find this realistic. And as a matter of fact, they didn’t. Subsequently, Erdoğan took the reins once more, and tried to cut Ekrem İmamoğlu way with certain cheap shots. It went all the way to Pontus. Then, the issue with the Ordu governor was blown up as much as possible. Words that İmamoğlu hadn’t actually said were claimed to have been said by him. Black propaganda was directed at İmamoğlu himself, especially through certain third person individuals on the internet. And finally, the Öcalan letter appeared.

Let’s think about this: Who’s idea was the Öcalan letter? It could be anyone’s. Someone in his close entourage might have suggested this. But in order for this idea to have been brought to life, to actually have taken place, even if the idea was not Erdoğan’s, someone like this, let’s say his advisor suggested this, a minister, or another bureaucrat, a security bureaucrat. It is necessary that Erdoğan adopts this idea and gives permission for it to take place. It is not possible for this to happen without Erdoğan’s consent. Therefore, even if someone else came up with this terrible mistake, idea, it is essentially Erdoğan’s mistake. So, all that has happened until now, and will happen after this, all comes down to Erdoğan because there is no collective mind left in the party or anyone left that that Erdoğan shares his power with. This “He’s good, his inner circle is bad” suggestion, I believe is actually a step towards disintegration that is being experienced within the AKP and will only continue to increase after June 23. In the past, nobody could say “his inner circle” was bad, nobody could dare it, or it’s because nobody wanted to criticize him publicly. After a certain phase, some people will get away from Erdoğan by saying “He does not change his inner circle or he makes some superficial arrangements in his inner circle”.   

Now, the change in cabinet was asked to Erdoğan today. He said it might happen, he said “We’ll decide.” Who will he change? How will it last? For example, let’s say he makes Metin Feyzioğlu the justice minister? How can this satisfy anyone? The greatest expectation, the biggest expectation from the AKP base, the biggest expectation before the 23rd of June was for Berat Albayrak to be removed as head of economy. Because, one, the economy is going badly; two, Berat Albayrak was not painting a picture that showed that this could be stopped; three, there was a huge acceptance amongst the AKP base that the reason he came there in the first place was because he was Erdoğan’s son-in-law. And those people who I know, and who I spoke to within this base were saying “At least Tayyip Bey”, or “Chief” (Reis), “At least he can change his son-in-law.” There was such an expectation.

It didn’t happen, he insisted. Him being there, was seen as favouritism. This is already a base that sees this favouritism within municipalities, party organisations, here and there with their naked eyes. Everything is happening right in front of their very eyes. It’s interesting. In the past, aspects such as favouritism, infractions, corruption were carried out in a more hidden, secretive way. Now it’s common place. They are being done as if it’s all normal. And this creates a real disturbance within the base supporters. And there used to be approaches such as: “If the Chief knew this, he would intervene, he wouldn’t allow this, they’re occurring despite him.” But, the feeling that favouritism is taking place within the centre of these circumstances, has brought about a fraction. Let’s see how the cabinet will be revised, will it and what will happen. Yet if this is going to occur, it won’t satisfy anyone after a while. Because the election has gone, finished and a huge defeat was experienced.

I want to tell you an anti-communist joke. As a communist, liking anti-communist jokes is almost a sort of sickness of mine, but I love this joke. Stalin, the Stalin that ruled over the Soviet Union for years on his own, dies. And afterwards a Soviet Union Central Committee takes place. And no one utters a single a word for a very long time, for minutes. Finally, someone says: “Who’s going to tell him?” Even if it is not the exact same situation here, there is a leader that is collecting everything in his hands. And things are going badly, they are going a lot worst.

A very serious defeat has taken place. And everyone here, in this phase are trying to find ways to struggle against these issues without getting Erdoğan involved, without disturbing him. There is no way, it is impossible. When we look at what Erdoğan said right after the election and today in the group meeting, he is always saying the same thing. “We have received the message, we will evaluate these, we will do what is necessary”. But he has been saying this for a long time. He said it after the 31st of March too. They did nothing. Because after a certain point, it has gone beyond the message of the bases saying “Listen to me, meet my expectations.”

A break away has begun. A serious disintegration has started. This has gone beyond satisfying the needs of people through making it up to them or ‘cutting off heads’ of those in close surroundings, the inner circle. What was said after the 31st March? All registered voters were taken. It was determined, determined who had not gone to the ballot box. Mayors from all across Turkey were called to Istanbul. They were told to “Walk door to door, talk to people, convince them.” And it was claimed this was how the election would be won. Certain opponents of the AKP also believed this. Did they do it? They did or they tried to.

But the fact that they tried to do this, did not ensure their success. Because that train had already long gone. In the case of Erdoğan facing his mistakes, by changing those close to him or for example, by bringing back certain people he has alienated such as, I’m not saying I know anything, Ahmet Davutoğlu or Ali Babacan or someone else, maybe he can still postpone certain things.

But an important thing has gone. The spirit of this movement, the essence of it has disappeared. Therefore, this is not a situation that Erdoğan can fix through changing, reshaping his inner circle. He needs to develop an exit strategy. Because the AKP and Erdoğan are no longer a party and politician that can rule over Turkey alone. Power needs to be shared. And the person to share this power is not Bahçeli – this is another topic of debate; how much power is truly shared with Bahçeli. Or not with his past friends who he has offended. If the search for a much wider coalition does not occur, I believe that the AKP will collapse politically in a very fast way. I’m ending this broadcast. Before I do, let me finish with my cup of coffee. It’s a friend’s gift. Yes, this is all I have to say. Have a good day.

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