Washington, DC ~ Turkey’s most talked about Prime Minister, Recep T. Erdogan, is now their new president– a switch to election by citizens from selection by parliament. But does Erdogan still get the right to say he represents the masses? With increasing public scrutiny on freedom of expression, Turkey’s state of economy will not be the only area that the new Turkish President will be graded on by Turkish citizens. For example, a week into Erdogan’s presidency, media blackout continues to paint a controlled picture inside Turkey: ISIS has 49 Turkish hostages, including consul general, in Mosul, Iraq.
On September 4th, Kemal Kirisci, Brookings Institute’s Turkey Project Director, asked Senior Fellow, Omer Taspinar, SETA Foundation’s Research Director, Kadir Ustun, and S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace’s, Robert Wexler: How will Turkey’s move forward with former Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erodgan as Turkey’s new president? Erodgan served for 12 years before winning 52 percent of the votes. Erdogan ran against a two-party coalition ,who chose Ekmeleddin Ihasano, and a Kurdish political party candidate, Selahattin Demirtas. As Wexler argued, “Whether you are a fan or opponent of Pres. Erdogan, he is the most successful electoral candidate in the world, winning 9 elections.” At the same time, criticizing the status of #Turkey ‘s democracy and freedom of expression “doesn’t translate as nostalgia for the military-led era”, said Taspinar. (We would chime in that the same applies to the Ataturk era.) Taspinar noted Turkey’s downgraded scores for freedom of expression and press, which should be treated separately as a mark of success or failure that is distinct from Turkey’s economic success under Erdogan.
Here are the highlights from the panelists’ debate:
- Ustun: the opposition in #turkey must figure out a way to appeal to citizens. #PresErdogan has appeal to middle class, oppo has failed.
- Wexler argues that #PresErdogan should not accept second tier #EU membership.
Kirisci followed up on U.S. perceptions of Turkey: Will the US take interest in #Turkey’s democratic performance?
- Wexler: Yes, however interests will be dwarfed by national security concerns. Erdogan doesn’t get credit in DC for good actions he has taken, like putting civilians in charge of military.
- When President Erdogan does things right, we tend to mark it as tactical. But PM Erdogan has done right things more than once. For example, two years ago, Erdogan warned the U.S. about the Syria crisis and the downside of inaction, such as the refugee and humanitarian crisis…and now the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq & Levant. (More importantly, if the U.S. can accept and “I told you so!” from President Erdogan, there is a way for the U.S. and Turkey to build a coalition to address Syria and not as a default problem of ISIS.)
- Wexler: Erdogan got a second chance to show if he can focus on successful leadership, economic management; mitigate his own internal battles.
- Taspinar: The AKP, Erdogan’s party, squandered an opportunity. “Yes it’s an electoral democracy, but it’s an illiberal one where press freedom declined.”
- Taspinar concludes: “Turkey’s institutions (legislative powers, media, courts) aren’t working; you don’t see checks and balances.”
How can an autocrat provide hope for the Kurdish question?
- Taspinar: “It’s a huge paradox. Either Pres. Erdogan Is Machiavelli, who has coalition of Kurds. Or is genuine BUT an Ottoman Sultan granting rights. (We give high marks for his truthiness observation — truth from the gut.)