Sunday’s Zaman: Erdoğan shot himself in the foot in Taksim

Riot police use tear gas to disperse the crowd during an anti-government protests at Taksim Square in central İstanbul on May 31, 2013. (Photo: Reuters, Osman Orsal)

Riot police use tear gas to disperse the crowd during an anti-government protests at Taksim Square in central İstanbul on May 31, 2013. (Photo: Reuters, Osman Orsal)

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) emerged as a source of hope in 2001 amidst an atmosphere of chaos and instability in Turkey. The Turkish public was so fed up with long years of coalition governments, deteriorating economy and anti-democratic interventions in politics by non-civilian forces that within a short period of time, the AK Party garnered the support of many circles from conservatives to liberals and took power in 2002.

The party’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, played a major role in this success. His achievements during his term as mayor of İstanbul were enough for millions of people to trust him. It would be unfair to say he let down those who gave them power. His party’s first two terms were the times when Turkey took giant steps in many areas that were unimaginable few years ago. With the absence of effective political opposition, the AK Party gained much power.  And whenever Erdoğan faced pressure from the status quo, he had one shelter: the nation. He always felt the support of the majority and in self-confidence he took no back step in his bold steps to democratize the country.

Yet as Erdoğan’s government began to move away from its pro-democracy credentials in its third term, which began in June of 2011, the broad support it was granted also began to fade and even turn into opposition. The last and most apparent sign of this fading support manifested itself in Taksim this week. Erdoğan’s government did what his staunch opponents could not in the past 10 years itself, and shot itself in the foot with violent and unprecedented police crackdown on protesters who oppose the government’s project to build the replica of an old military barracks in what is now Gezi Park.

The protesters this time were not just “marginal groups.” Yes, there were apparently some such groups who tried to provoke clashes and tried to turn these protests into a “revolt” against the AK Party, yet they were not in majority. Hundreds in Taksim and tens and thousands through social media raised their voice against Erdoğan’s turning a blind eye to their calls to protect a park. Erdoğan probably did not know thousands of people who voted for him were among those raising their voices as well and that those who were unable to find a common ground on many other issues got united against his government’s Taksim plan.

I do not think Erdoğan guessed the Gezi Park protests would grow that much either. He was so confident on Wednesday that he defied the protesters and said the project will go on no matter what they do. And he chose to remain silent on the issue on Friday – when the police crackdown turned most violent — while speaking at an international event. I still cannot understand how the prime minister, who is known for not leaving any issue without comment, did not utter a single word on an incident that topped the agenda.

Yes, Erdoğan did what opposition parties could not do for years. He created his own opposition, which consists of various circles from the society including those who once lent full support to him. And if he does not return to his pro-democracy stance, this would prepare his fall in Turkish politics. İstanbul, his place of birth in politics, can bring him his political death.

Şule Kulu
01 June 2013