Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s almighty president, was forced last week to make a turn that reveals bad judgment and political vulnerability.
He fired Melih Bulu, a party heel he imposed in January as rector of Istanbul’s prestigious Bogazici (Bosphorus) University. Erdogan’s back pedal followed six months of protests at the university campus, has reverberated nationwide in the most sustained mass movement since the civil uprising that swept urban and coastal Turkey in mid-2013.
Since then, Erdogan has moved decisive against one-man rule, which replaces Turkey’s parliamentary system replaced by a Russian presidency and institutions such as the judiciary, academia and the media. Since the coup attempt five years agoOn top of that, he used emergency forces to fire more than 100,000 people and keep going almost at will.
Yet he still failed to destroy half of the Turkish population opposed to his intrusion into their personal and political space and the national-populist merger of his neo-Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) and his far-right Nationalist Movement. Party (MHP) allies.
The appointment of Bulu is considered a special insult by academics and alumni of Bogazici, Turkey’s leading and determined secular university, founded in the 19th century by American Protestant missionaries.
Erdogan has broadened access to higher education, tripling the number of universities in two decades, but the quality and not the quality. Bogazici, who usually chose his own principals, simply refused to accept an academic mediocrity, accused of plagiarism and could not even win the election for an AKP seat in 2015.
The movement against Bulu and for academic freedom refused to give up, even though its supporters were scolded “Terrorists” and “LGBT dissidents” by Suleiman Soylu, Erdogan’s powerful Home Secretary.
It’s too soon to declare this full face to a victory. There was a lot of opposition crowding, for example when Erdogan Berat Albayrak dumped, his popular son-in-law, as finance minister last November. But he has since tested more orthodox and capable managers of Turkey’s wilting economy.
The overthrow of Bulu, which even Erdogan saw as inadequate, is perhaps not just a tactical retreat, which is likely to make the president vengeful on other fronts. When a political street fighter like Erdogan has to duck and weave, it’s just as good to pay attention to the other party.
Yet this public case of poor judgment is part of a broader vulnerability. The AKP, one of the most successful ruling parties of modern times, which has won more than a dozen election campaigns, has been hollowed out. Erdogan het his former comrades purified and co-founders, preferring a court of sycophants to tell a neo-sultan’s court what he wants to hear.
In local elections in 2019, he Istanbul lost – where he started as mayor and which has always been the core of his mysticism – as well as the capital Ankara and most of Turkey’s major cities. These implications of political deaths have recently been reinforced by the AKP dropped in the polls. The party has been let down by nuclear districts that are more attracted to increasing prosperity than narrowing ideology. Erdogan’s growth model, based on cheap credit, consumption and construction, was unraveled before the pandemic – or indeed the failure of Albayrak to defend the lira despite burning more than $ 100 billion in reserves.
The big waste has turned into a useful jingle for a fragmented opposition that has not yet decided on its order of political struggle for elections that would take place in 2023 allegations and revelations a former AKP fellow traveler who was fatally hacked away from forced gangster Sedat Peker, who was dropped to the country from the idea that Erdogan stands for anything but transactionality. In addition, many Turkish women across ideological and cultural boundaries are furious about Erdogan’s withdrawal from the 2011 Istanbul Conference to prevent violence against women, making Turkey the first country to sign.
His autocratic whims gathered the forces against him. Not just the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the republic, which he easily dismissed. He has scattered his way to power with discarded allies such as former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, former President Abdullah Gul and former Vice President and Tsar Ali Babacan. They have formed rival parties to the AKP that can not win, but can draw votes and add to any coalition against Erdogan.
The victorious mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, of the CHP, but with a profile like Erdogan’s, has successfully built a broad coalition against the AKP, proving that the juggernaut can be stopped.
Erdogan opposes legal action against excludes the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish left-wing coalition that is Turkey’s third largest party. He has already sent many of his leaders, MPs, mayors and activists to prison and called it a front for the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has been waging war against Ankara for more than three decades. By treating the HDP as terrorist wolves in sheep’s clothing, the AKP hopes to peel off conservative Kurdish voters who have supported it in the past.
Erdogan’s opportunism was often opportunism. But many in Turkey believe that his undoubted talent is waning and that his happiness may run out.