Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Challenges faced by Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish democracy has gone through various phases, some good, some really bad. It has been characterized by military coups, political infighting, instability, weak coalition governments, corruption, mismanagement and economic crises. Strong unity governments have generally worked better for democratic reforms, political stability and economic development in Turkey as in elsewhere. The AK Party governments under Erdoğan over the last decade have made Turkey a better and stronger country.

But no democracy is viable through party politics only. Society at large needs to take ownership. Erdoğan’s strong leadership has built new confidence among political elites as well as ordinary citizens about the nature of the political system in Turkey: no more military coups, no more corrupt politicians, no more unlawful state practices, and no more mismanagement. A democratic, stable and prosperous Turkey is a good thing also for regional peace and stability.

The AK Party’s challenges over the next few years will come not from the top down, but from the bottom up. Opposition parties are too weak to challenge the AK Party. Even the main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) new-found activism under Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is not enough to shake up Erdoğan and his government. The CHP, while struggling hard, is yet to overcome decades of statism, politics of tutelage and ideological elitism.

The challenge will come from two fronts. The first is from within the party. With Erdoğan no longer the chairman of the party, the AK Party will have to make important adjustments to maintain intra-party peace and stability. This is not impossible as there are many experienced figures in the party, all of whom are loyal to the party’s mission. It is clear that Erdoğan himself will manage the next 2-3 years carefully to leave behind a strong party that will stand on its own.

The second challenge will come from within the support base of AK Party. With no real competitor on the horizon, the AK Party has only itself to compete with. This means performing better in politics in the widest sense of the term: providing better services, expanding the economy, completing multi-billion dollar projects such as fast train and nuclear energy, managing the trade deficit, writing a new constitution, solving the Kurdish issue, overhauling the education system, investing more in research and development, etc.

Will the presidential system make these goals easier to reach? This is what Erdoğan has in mind. It would be simplistic to treat this as Erdoğan’s personal ambition. He has enjoyed so much political success and status and has already left his mark on history that he does not need another title for himself.

The key here is the growing maturity of society as a whole in regards to the basic principles of political governance, participation and sharing. Erdoğan may have the courage and the means to solve the Kurdish issue, but he cannot do it alone without the support of the major political actors and society at large. A new constitution can be written when all segments of the Turkish public embrace it as a sine qua non for a new and better Turkey. The Turkish economy will continue to grow when everyone from the boss to the worker internalizes a strong work ethic.
Ibrahim Kalin in Today's Zaman. Here

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