the Blog Papers of Dr. Michael Sakbani; Economics, Finance and Politics

Dr. Michael Sakbani is a professor of economics and Finance at the Geneva campus of Webster-Europe. He is a senior international consultant to the UN system, European Union and Swiss banks. His career began at the State university of NY at Stoney Brook,then the Federal Reserve Bank of New York followed by UNCTAD where he was Director of the divisions of Economic Cooperation, Poverty Alleviation, and UNCTAD`s Special Programs. Published over 100 professional papers.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Erdogan: the seduction of authority and the corruption of power

Erdogan: the seduction of authority and the corruption of power

            Dr. Michael Sakbani

The Kemalist State

Erdogan is the most important politician in Turkey since Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk).Mustafa Kemal believed that the only way for Turkey to progress was to cutoff itself from its Ottoman past and becomes a European country on the French secularist model. He was not a practicing Muslim but came from an average middle-class Muslim family in Salonika, which is now in Greece.

Mustafa Kemal was a militant secularist who believed that religion is a question of personal belief and has no role to play in public life. He also had a firm belief that the Muslim clergy at his time are basically ignorant and reactionaries and are hundreds of years behind their time.
The man who created modern Turkey in 1923, governed for only 12 years. After that, he left power to his trusted lieutenant Ismet Inunu Pasha. Inunu was a 100 % follower of Ataturk and he ruled Turkey for 14 years after Ataturk without deviating from the basic features of the Kemalist state. He was the general who led the liberation war of Turkey after it was occupied piece by piece by Greece, England, France, and Italy. But he was not a man of new ideas. The state that Ataturk and Inunu established was not friendly with its neighbors, especially Arabs ( allegedly, they knifed the Turks in the back with the English inspired and financed Arab revolution) and was also against any Islamic manifestation in public. It was a state with foreign policy allied to Europe and the USA and an economic system along the lines of Mussolini’s Italy where the state had great deal of control and commanding economic role. 
Turkey under this state was sociologically divided into two: the coastal areas including Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, and all European Trakia, and the Anatolian heartland. These European -coastal parts were strict followers of Ataturk and in time forgot their history and liberated themselves from the old traditions. The Turkish economy was run and owned by the people inhabiting these areas. For those people, the Anatolians were peasants with a backward mentality.
Erdogan and people like him came from Anatolia. They felt like 2nd class citizens in Ataturk`s Turkey. Their women could not enter universities or public buildings with hijab and even al Azan was in Turkish. Most of this militancy came to an end when the Democratic Party of Adnan Menderes won the elections in 1950, 27 years after the founding of the Republic. Menderes was conservative and not militantly secularist, even though he believed that religion is a personal matter, he allowed Azan in Arabic and wearing hijab in the street but not in public buildings. His foreign policy was strictly pro-Western and rather nationalist and he preserved the all-dominating state model of Ataturk. However, in sociological orientation, he was a middle way between the new and old Turkey.
 Menderes was very attentively watched by the military who considered themselves the guardians of the Ataturk republic and its secularism. Menderes started developing some areas of Anatolia and reducing the anti-religious manifestation of the state. In 1960 the army launched a coup d’état against him accusing him of violating the constitution and eventually hanged him on a dubious basis. The army banned the Menderes party and only in 1963, it allowed the re-establishment of political parties.
Turkey was governed in the 1960s by either Innu’s Republicans or Suleiman Demirel’s Justice party, which had the old remnants of Menderes party. In the1970`s Turkey was polarised between the leftists- Marxists and the right-wing nationalist politicians such as Alparslen Turkish who was a retired army colonel who established the MHP early in the 1980s. Both extremes took to the streets in the early eighties and hundreds of people were assassinated. At the same time, the Kurds started their agitations for independence. In 1983, the army interfered again and abolished the existing parties except for Ataturk`s Republican party. Then after two years, they allowed again civilian political activities but under a new constitution in which the State Security Council dominated by the Army was made the ultimate authority in the land.

The Rise of a New Middle Class

At that time, the 1980s, Anatolia started to develop economically. Some new industrial centers grew such as Konia, Kayseri, Adana, and Gaziantep. These centers started to produce a new middle class whose members were no longer poor or peasant and looking for a role in Turkey. New political parties started to cater to these new middle-class people. Among them, the Islamist party, Mili Salamat Party, led by Nejmouldin Erbakan, an engineer educated in Germany, and the Ana-Vaptan party of Turgut Ozel.
Erbakan wanted to establish Islam as the cultural backbone of Turkey although he supported separating the state from religion. He also wanted a changed foreign policy where Turkey would consider the Islamic and third wold and not only Europe and the USA. Under his leadership, the party grew and in 1986 it won one-fifth of the Parliament.
Turgut Ozel became Prime Minister in the late 1980s and under his mandate, he began to roll back state control and free the economy of state strictures.  A period of the coalition- governments s started to govern Turkey when no party had a majority.
Erbakan had many youthful followers, among whom was Raceb Tayeb Erdogan. In 1996, Erbakan became prime minister in a coalition with other parties. The Army this time had him dismissed one year later by the State Security Council which it dominated.
Between 1998 and 2002, inflation and bad economic and finance system performance dominated the Turkish scene. The financial system almost collapsed and corruption became rampant. The Islamists won many of the municipal elections and produced much cleaner local governance than the corrupt politicians on the national level.
Erdogan, Abdullah Gul and the mayor of Istanbul established a new political party out of what was left of Erbakan`s party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Of the previous experience, they realized three things:
1.     1. The necessity to bring the economy into good performance, 2. The necessity not to challenge the Army and finally 3. the necessity to accept the concept of a secular state where Islamist traditions are not forced on anybody.
In 2002 under this platform, the Justice and Development Party won 41 % of the vote and became a majority party because all the votes of parties that did not reach 10% were divided among the parties that went over 10%. The AKP, this new party, got 41 % of these votes and became a majority party.
Erdogan over 4 years brought inflation down from 40% to single digits and brought the economy to grow at 7 percent a year following the IMF program championed by the ex-finance Minister Kemal Darvish. Over these four years, he helped the Anatolian new centers expand their export capacities by finding new markets for them. Anatolians flocked to the big cities like Istanbul at a staggering rate. For the first time, there was a new bourgeoisie from Anatolia which can affect national affairs.

Erdogan: the Path to Power

 Erdogan did not in these years challenge the army or force any Islamist agenda. He let everything be as before. In 2006, he won another election and now he got 48 % of the vote. Between 2006 and 2010, the economy grew at about 7  % a year and Turkey’s exports were quadrupled. Foreign investment poured into Turkey and Erdogan started a series of reforms to bring Turkey into compliance with the European political norms known as the Copenhagen norms. He also spent huge sums on Turkey`s infrastructure, education, and public health and financed that by foreign investment inflows and foreign exchange earnings from tourism. In 2010, he won for the third time and got this time 51 % of the vote. With this comfortable majority, he forced the election of his friend Abdullah Gul for President, one of only three non- military men to become president in all Turkey`s history.
Erdogan brought Turkey into international attention. Its economy, its cultural progress, and its new foreign policy transformed Turkey`s image. The country, for the first time, became a member of the G.20, the group of the largest economies in the world.
The army was not comfortable with Gul and it boycotted the ceremonies of his inauguration. Its leading Generals made some public statements expressing their independent views. Erdogan now moved against the army. His plan was to accuse several very senior officers of conspiracy against the Government and an attempted coup. The evidence was manufactured by the followers of Erdogan’s ally Fethullah Gulen who has over many years infiltrated, the army, the police, and the courts.
Next to that came the corruption charges against his family and friends leveled by Gulen followers. The charges were based on evidence and they signaled to Erdogan that his old ally, Gulen, has become too powerful. The accusers were the police and courts persons loyal to Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan tried to muzzle criticism but he faced parliamentary and public opposition. His friends who now have become rich Anatolians started to buy newspapers and TV stations. As a result, the pluralism of the Turkish media started to decline. In 2013, in a dispute over a small park in Istanbul (Gezi Park) where one of Erdogan friends wanted to establish a business mall, demonstrations to protect the Park took place. The demonstrators who were infiltrated by the opposition soon became a protest against the government. The authorities unleashed the police against the demonstrators and the police were brutal. 
Suddenly there were demonstrations against the Government and its business corruption in 80 Turkish towns and cities. Erdogan faced the demonstrators and challenged their claims and justified police brutalities. The news media that voiced out criticism against him were soon closed or their editors put in jail. Erdogan became obsessed with “complots” against him and his authoritarian bend started to take over him.
 In July 15, 2016, the attempted coup took place. Erdogan used the failed coup ruthlessly to settle his accounts with all his potential opposition and cement his grip on power. He accused Fethullah Gulen, his old ally, and implicitly the US,, of the attempted coup. In a very short period of time, lists of opponents, current and potentially seem to be prepared, a situation that gives the impression, they were prepared well in advance. The lists were long-reaching into every corner. Surely, Gulen could not have such a massive following. He dismissed thousands of officers and thousands of civil servants under the pretext of supporting the coup. The Turkish army lost a third of its most senior officers and 120,000 persons accused of being Fethullah followers lost their jobs. An emergency state was declared and Erdogan put in jail some six hundred media persons and banned or restricted social networks.
This authoritarian stance did not spare his own party. Both President Gul and his Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoglu was sided off along with other potential dissidents. Thus, Erdogan became now the sole power within and without the party.
 All these changes created a great deal of dissatisfaction in the interior and exterior of Turkey. The Zionists in the international media were the first to attack Erdogan, no doubt because of his support of the Palestinians. The liberal media in the West became full of stories about Erdogan authoritarianism. His Islamist foreign adventures in Syria and Libya in alliance with Qatar turned many countries against him. More importantly, the economy took a nose dive to levels of growth unknown for a decade. Foreign investment declined drastically and inflation began to reappear; it now running close to 17% per year. The Lira lost 40% of its value in one and a half years. The Central Bank has been effectively stopped from raising the interest rates in its defense because Erdogan is opposed to that. The vulnerability of  Turkey`s foreign account and its dependence on foreign inflows is coming into sharp focus. Up to July 2019, Turkey has to pay close to $ 350.0 billion in cumulative debt service and other foreign obligations..That in turn discourages potential investors. Under this uncertainty, investment declined and the Turkish economy settled on a plateau of uncertainty.

Erdogan got himself elected President in 2016  to face in his new post many constitutional limitations by the military written constitution of 1984. He now wanted to change the system to a presidential one under a new Constitution. Sensing all the dangers and corruption accusations against his family, he moved into more authoritarianism and got his new constitution sneaked in by the tiniest majority. The new Constitution basic shortcoming is its weak checks and balances and the vast powers of the President. Under it, the President is the commander- in- chief, the decider of foreign and domestic policies, the supervisor of the Judiciary and the chief of the majority party in the Parliament.
The rest of the events came as no surprise.
In 2018, sensing that the opposition has gathered against him under more effective leadership, he called for a snap Presidential and Parliamentary elections on 24 of June. In this elections, he got elected by 52.3 percent of the vote but his party lost its majority and trailed him by some 10 percentage points. 

Where is the Alternative

Turkey `s problem is that there is no viable alternative to Erdogan in the opposition. The MHP, composed of nationalist and conservative right-wingers, has split in two and the Bahcali wing is basically an ally of the AKP on some issues. The CHP, the main opposition party, has been mired for more than twenty years in a score between 24 and 26 percent of the votes. Its base is mostly old people and disaffected Alevi’s. The new party, DHP is basically a Kurdish party very much beholden to the terrorist PKK. After 16 years in power, half of Turkey is now for Erdogan, but the other half cannot pull together and produce a viable alternative. When it came to elect a President in 2018, the opposition ran five candidates.

Erdogan should have finished his career after his term expired in 2014. Had he done so, he would have gone down in history as the second founder-reformer of the Republic. He is a victim of his own success and the corruption of power when a leader gathers power to himself and refuses to quit and go away

Geneva, June 2018.