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Erdogan overrated himself

Baha Güngör / sms,re
January 9, 2014

The position of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not as secure as it once was. Political rivals have undermined his status, but now, he has taken the bull by the horns, says DW's Baha Güngör.

DW's Bahaeddin Güngör (Foto: DW/Per Henriksen)
Image: DW

As late as last summer no one could have imagined an international discussion over the political future of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan - not to mention the domestic trials and tribulations currently tearing at his country.

Back then, the country's economic development was looking good and Erdogan's conservative-Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) governed with an absolute majority. Turkey was largely regarded as a stabilizing geopolitical factor in fragile region.

But Erdogan, seeing himself in a position unassailable superiority, overrated himself. The lack of a political opposition worthy of its name increased his belief in his own infallibility. His crisis management during the Gezi Park protests was unworthy of a democratic country. The police sometimes turned brutal when dealing with demonstrators and anyone who disagreed with the official government line. On top of that, journalists, and especially former military leaders, were given long prison terms for allegedly planning a coup - this by judges who could not really contradict Erdogan.

A search for allies

But now, the tide has turned for Erdogan. Economic data haven't looked good for some time, corruption has spread to the families of government ministers. Not even Erdogan has been spared the scrutiny by state prosecutors and the police; and even one of his sons is under investigation.

Erdogan has been forced into a corner and, apparently in panic, has made mistakes. First, he allowed many state prosecutors to be reassigned to the provinces or suspended from their positions. Then hundreds of police officers and even police chiefs in several provinces were called back for central duty or reassigned to unattractive posts.

The judiciary, which without complaint supported Erdogan's work to reach his goals until a few months ago, was accused of planning a coup by the head of the government during an investigation into allegations of corruption. Desperately, he looked for new allies and, in an effort to get the military back on his side, no longer ruled out new trials for convicted former military leaders who he said may have been "victims of conspiracies."

Erdogan wants to become president

That Erdogan's position is not as safe as it was a while ago is partly due to Fethullah Gülen, a preacher who has been living in the United States since 1999. The movement named after him has allegedly infiltrated parts of the police and the judiciary to further weaken Erdogan. Gülen has become a key power in Turkey and his main premise that Islam can coexist with democracy is becoming more and more popular in the Muslim world.

It is not yet clear what will happen next in Turkey, a country that is geopolitically important for European interests. Nationwide local elections scheduled for the end of March could indicate whether Erdogan's AKP can repeat or even increase its success from three years ago, when it gained 50 percent of the vote. That's important because President Abdullah Gül's term ends in August and Erdogan wants to move into that post. Unfortunately for Erdogan his failed crisis management last summer and most recent political missteps have lowered his chances of becoming Turkish president.