Malaysia Dateline

The strengths of President Erdogan

REVIEWS: Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not merely the president of Turkey but a model of emulation to great many in the Muslim world.

Although the reasons can be many—–ranging from the chaos in the Muslim world which in turn creates a longing for a strong leader, to the autarchy (ie sultanates) of many countries in the Gulf that triggers the need for a leader that is democratically elected—-one cannot ignore the appeal of President Erdogan himself.

Not surprisingly, he has won thirteen elections and referenda over the last sixteen years. The Economist and many Western publications may see Erdogan as a “autocrat,” not least. But which autocrat can take so many electoral risks time and again ?

Thus it is timely to understand how Erdogan won 52.6 per cent of the popular votes on June 24, which was barely two years after the coup of July 16 2016.

In the coup launched by the followers of Fethullah Gullen, many of whom were embedded in the Turkish military, judiciary, universities and civil society, their intention appears to be a total wipe out of Erdogan, AK Party and even MHP, the nationalist party that has formed an alliance with Erdogan. But what explains the popularity and longevity of Erdogan in Turkey ?

To begin with, while other leaders in the past have stayed away from a direct confrontation with the Turkish military, that sees itself as the vanguard of Kemalist secularism, Erdogan, first Prime Minister, then President, has bucked the trend since 2002. This achievement is exceptional to say the least.

To be sure, the Turkish military is the second most powerful military in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) after the United States.

Yet, President Erdogan has refused to accept the military as the be all, and end all, of Turkey. Instead President Erdogan has successfully transformed Turkey into a civilian based military structure. Such a feat has never been done since the creation of the Turkish Republic in 1923.

By 2023, however, Turkish democracy, for better or for worse, can contemplate a future without military intervention . This is more than what many countries can achieve. In fact, only 4.5 per cent of the world’s total population enjoys some semblance of democracy. Turkey is part of that unique club, regardless of the institutional imperfections; which affects all democracies anyway.

As the one where the buck stops with him, not any military generals, President Erdogan has engineered a permanent and strategic turn over. Indeed, nor can President Erdogan rule indefinitely. He has to to canvass the views of the electorate every five years in a direct presidential election.

Secondly, when Turkey sided with NATO in 1950 at the very beginning of Cold War, Turkey’s foreign policy was defined by a single creed: peace at home, peace abroad. Yet, in the contiguous regions of Turkey, Ankara was faced with the theat of Soviet Union through out the Cold War that lasted only in 1989, and in recent decade, a turbulent Middle East whose waves of refugees have refused to stop. As things are, Turkey has hosted some 2 million refugees in its southeastern border.

Finally, President Erdogan is not completely unaware of the dangers of a currency attack. By retaining Mehmet Simsek, the former deputy prime minister who has once worked in Merryl- Lynch, a top financial institution in the West, Erdogan has signalled to the international market that he is not exactly a rogue.

For the sake of Turkey’s development, which seeks to be the 6th largest economy in the world by 2023, an improvement of some ten places from where Ankara is right now, President Erdogan is willing to conform to market forces.

Politically, by aligning with MHP, President Erdogan has shown the flexibility of his AK Party too, where he is the chairman as well. Thus President Erdogan has successfully combined Islam and nationalism in Turkey, creating a stronger national appeal based on a sound economic record too.