Can Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rewind the film?

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Translated by Melissa Clissold

Those who have left the Justice and Development Party (AKP) are generally praising the first years of its administration, and are promising to sort of rewind the film that has been played. Will Erdoğan be able to do this? 

Hello, good day. First of all, I would like to wish everyone well after the earthquake that took place in Istanbul which bought everyone’s heart to their mouths and of course the two separate earthquakes that took place today – the first was stronger – and the crude reality that we are not ready for any sort of quake, became clear as day. Meaning, if Istanbul truly experiences that huge earthquake that has been expected for a while, a huge disaster is awaiting us –  I hope it doesn’t occur, but they say that it is certain. It is not certain when it will happen, but with the way things are now, today’s small incident – actually, it wasn’t that small, but still – even that small shake has shown us how underprepared we are and how not much has actually changed from the time that the large Marmara earthquake took place till now. 

Data has been collected etc., but currently as citizens, we truly do not know what do in such circumstances. It’s as if we have left things to God, in some respect. The breakdown of the communication lines that occurred after the earthquake also shows us how underprepared we are – I’d like to stress this fact, as an introduction.

Yes, I would like to speak about Erdoğan; I speak a lot about Erdoğan, but Erdoğan is the first name that comes to mind when thinking about politics, the state, – everything – regarding Turkey and so one must not see this as an obsession. Now for example, he has gone to the US; what he said and did there, his explanations, the fact that he couldn’t meet with Trump, this and that, all of these still concern Turkey to a certain degree. He recently intervened with smoking in cars. The most interesting of Erdoğan’s actions are these types of behaviour. He had spoken about “national gardens” – what they are we don’t really know; he spoke of them as if this was an alternative to fixing Turkey’s problems. 

Yet, there are very serious problems in Turkey. The issues of cigarettes are like that too; as someone who gave up smoking years ago, I don’t think that smoking in a car is a good thing. But that is someone’s private property. As long as it isn’t public transport or a taxi, people should be able to smoke in their own cars. But we can see intervention here too, and such a topic is currently in the agenda of Turkey. At one-point, deceased Erbakan had coined the phrase “fake agenda” – this is how it is, in some respects. 

Because Erdoğan does not really have much to say in terms of politics. He is unable to provide satisfactory, eye-opening and hopeful answers towards existing problems. What he has said about the economy – we saw this in the US once more – he is trying to explain what has happened to Turkey through various conspiracy theories. However, those who have followed what has been going on, know that the fundamental problems in the Turkish economy are due to bad management, wrong management – especially after a certain date. Indeed, the leverage that Ali Babacan holds on his path to forming a new party is due to the positive perception he created and gained during his time managing the economy.

I chose the title “Can Erdoğan rewind the film?” for this broadcast, because, when we look at it, both Davutoğlu and Ali Babacan constantly mention the activities, programmes, theses, claims of the first period of the AKP – of course Davutoğlu constantly mentions his time as prime minister too  – but especially Babacan –and  of course, Davutoğlu is included in this.  When we look at it, it is actually quite explicit that in order for Tayyip Erdoğan to come out of his own crisis, Turkey must become normalised.

Meaning, perhaps one of the sole manners in which Tayyip Erdoğan can come out of this crisis is through somehow rewinding the tape. I don’t think this is possible at all. Firstly, he doesn’t want this himself – this must be stressed. Secondly, even if he did want it, it is not possible for him to achieve this through the team that he has. Right now, when you look at the people surrounding the AKP and the palace, these people are truly distant from the performance that the AKP achieved during its first years – even if not all, most of them are. It is not possible to become a ruling administration that aims towards the West, aims for the European Union, economic growth, democratisation, peaceful solutions to the Kurdish problem with such a team. It is not possible for him to include old names either, because after all that has happened, not many people will come so easily; a large portion of those heading to form new parties won’t really recognise this. So, can new names be added?

Can it renew itself by adding people who have never been involved with politics and manage to return to the glory days of the AKP? I really don’t see this happening. Because, even if he wanted to take steps in this direction, I believe it will be very hard to convince these people. Because generally, those taking their first steps in politics tend to join movements that have momentum.  For them to join a movement that is constantly moving backwards, there needs to be a very effective convincing campaign and Erdoğan needs to do this; Erdoğan needs to say that he wants to change. I truly don’t think he will do this; on the contrary, there are new people joining him, however none of them are joining with their own strength and weight; they come accepting the existing structures. 

In an interesting manner, we actually know that the few powerful people within the AKP administration, other than Erdoğan, are people that boarded the ship later on and a large portion of them are – this must be the true definition: Opportunists. They are not people that have joined through ideology-politics; they are being recruited by Erdoğan who is struggling to find anyone, a team, to join him.

Most of them are names that have been recruited from other places. There are a few names that are also waiting, but I don’t think any of them will be able to solve Erdoğan’s crisis. I think that the actual problem is this: Erdoğan does not want to give up on his one-man management system. If he chose to give this up, perhaps a lot of things would be easier for him and Turkey too. But I honestly don’t think he will do something like this right now. From what I understand, he sees his one-man management as his fate – of course it is his own choice, but this is how he sees it.

And I don’t think he’ll want to give this up from this moment on either. Essentially, when he does experience his absolute defeat, it will be the defeat of the one-man system, and those that will defeat him will not be people or institutions or others who propose another one-man system; it will be those who offer a collective system. In this respect, the Nation Alliance put up a very successful performance during March 31 and June 23. Especially the party that Ali Babacan is forming may become a part of this alliance, and a much larger alliance and collective may be formed. 

Erdoğan’s fundamental problem – his greatest dilemma – is his unwillingness to share power. In its first years, let’s say during the AKP administration’s first scenes, there was a division of power. Of course, a large portion of this was in the hands of Erdoğan; he was the leader, but everyone had some sort of weight and strength – whether good or bad. And us journalists, for example, would look at names other than Erdoğan and would receive news and information from within the AKP. For example, during the first years, together with the March 1 Memorandum incident – Erdoğan was not a deputy then, Abdullah Gül was prime minister- a very serious stance was taken against Erdoğan within the AKP and the memorandum did not pass. This is the first great shock that Erdoğan experienced, and what sparked the need for him to move towards a one-man management system.  

When the partnership that he hoped to form with the US, by deploying American soldiers to Turkey fell, it created a huge shock for him. Other incidents took place afterwards; but during this process we saw that the AKP administration did not solely consist of Erdoğan. Everyone had power, weight; certain different voices, critical voices were being expressed about differing issues, they had conflict within themselves. But it was not enough for Erdoğan to have the final say; especially during the process that began with Gezi, together with the war against the Gülenists, when Erdoğan put his own survival, the survival of his close network ahead of everything else, he stopped being a leader/politician that shared his powers, and turned into a leader handing out power instead.

This is how it happened: he assigned people to certain roles – these people may or may not have deserved this, this didn’t really matter, Erdoğan assigned them a role; then he dismissed them, brought someone else etc.. He can do this comfortably, he can assign anyone he wants anywhere. For example, it is possible today for Egemen Bağış to become the Ambassador of Prague; but in yesterday’s AKP this would have not been possible. He would have met this with resistance and the party would take it very seriously. We all know what Egemen Bağış did and we all know that, let’s say, if I had done what he had done, Turkey would have turned into a prison for me. But he has now been assigned as representative of Turkey in Prague.

The Egemen Bağış incident alone shows us how much of a change has occurred from yesterday till today. Erdoğan can somehow remove Egemen Bağış and place someone else in his stead. The most striking example is the Ahmet Davutoğlu incident, everyone knows. Whilst Abdullah Gül was going to take his place, after he became president, he assigned Ahmet Davutoğlu to this position. He saw this as an assignment that Ahmet Davutoğlu had earned and deserved. But with a simple memo, with the Pelican Memorandum, he removed him once more. Erdoğan assigned him, Erdoğan dismissed him.

When we look at it now, we cannot attribute any power to anyone. There are certain words, certain names, ministers; they are saying certain things etc. they are doing certain things, but none of them have a guarantee for tomorrow. At any moment they can all lose their role, job etc., their authority. We not only see this in politics, but in places where the administration has extended its arms; we see this for example within the pro-government media too. Suddenly someone gets fired; after all their efforts, after completely dedicating themselves, without understand how  or with their slightest errors – errors according to the administration of course – we see that they are losing their positions. Perhaps certain things can change if Erdoğan comes out of this and once more starts assigning roles to people who deserve them as well as with Erdoğan’s blessing.

Let’s say there are alliances, there may be new alliances in addition to these ones, perhaps he could make some promises, he could promise them a position as minister, as vice-president and he could indeed do these. But when looked from within the current structure, what minister truly has any power, any power to change things? None. Certain powers are trying to be attributed to ministers, but I don’t think these have any retributions. Maybe for The Minister of Defence; but for example, the Minister of Justice was one of the most important ministries, we witnessed ourselves on one of the most important media organs of the administration, how much they have been worn out. 

Therefore, as it is, in order for Erdoğan to rewind the film, Erdoğan must be willing to share his power. One, within the party, two, with coalition or allied groups and of course those who support him in one way or another. He prefers people and institutions and focusing on those that are more liable to themselves; he does not want to bargain, he does not want conflict. When he does not want bargaining and conflict, when he does not approach the idea of sharing his power, the crisis grows. Therefore, in order for Erdoğan to rewind the film, he must be willing to share his power with those who are deserving; I truly don’t think this is possible. Some may think that this is the case; it is clear that Erdoğan’s in a difficult situation, that he is in a crisis, that he needs new supporters. For this reason, some may think that by supporting him they will be able to gain certain powers; but probably, they are in for grave disappointment. 

Before wrapping up, I would like to send my regards to Osman Kavala from here. He celebrated his birthday yesterday. He is a very important person, a civil society activist, a victim of Turkey’s one-man rule and is in prison, after having been arrested for nothing. He has truly added a lot to Turkey, he is someone who has represented Turkey across the world in a very serious and respectable manner. I wish to see him among us, and free as soon as possible. Yes, that is all I have to say. Good day. 

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