Erdogan’s test

March 30, 2014 - 5:32:23 am

Local elections in Turkey today will determine how the electorate sees Erdogan’s controversial steps.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan managed not to lose his voice. In the run-up to local elections today, the embattled Turkish prime minister tried to put his best foot forward by campaigning aggressively and speaking so extensively that doctors advised him to stop if didn’t want to inflict permanent damage to his vocal chords. 

The powerful Erdogan, ruling Turkey for a decade now, would have never imagined such turbulent times. The country that straddles Europe and Asia votes today in local elections, which are being seen as a key test of the AKP leader who seems to have suffered an extensive erosion in his support base after a wave of leaks in social media. 

Erdogan’s woes have been attributed to Fethullah Gulen, a US-based cleric who was earlier his mentor. Gulen is believed to have a large number of supporters in the Turkish police and judiciary. The Turkish leader has fallen foul of his former mentor who, he says, is behind orchestrating the leaks, which have maligned him. 

Turkey erupted in protests last year after authorities in Istanbul decided to develop a mall after demolishing Gezi Park, which is close to the hearts of the city’s residents. Protests had reached a fevered pitch to the extent of drawing comparisons with the Arab Spring. Erdogan took on the protesters by sending riot police and tear gas to disperse them. This only worsened the situation and protests spread across the country. Probably, it was when Erdogan’s downslide began. 

The AKP leader has been credited with bringing development to the constitutionally secular nation, which saw decades of fragile democracy precipitated by a military keen to hold the reins of power. AKP’s years of rule have seen social and economic progress in the nation that was once keen to enter the European Union. 

Because of social media leaks that purportedly showed Erdogan in a poor light, he shut down Twitter, sparking outrage among the liberal intelligentsia and drawing worldwide condemnation. Then he turned on YouTube, which showed a clipping of Turkey’s foreign minister discussing the Syria war. Leakage of this highly secret conversation has forced the government to start an espionage probe.

Shutting down Twitter and YouTube has shown a side of Erdogan that he shouldn’t have revealed ahead of the elections today. After last year’s Gezi Park protests and the resulting upheaval, he has portrayed an image of a leader who will do anything to have his way. Sometimes, his actions have smacked of desperation. After shuttering Twitter, he should have never closed YouTube. Turkey’s image of a liberal nation has taken a severe beating after Erdogan’s clampdown against social media. Turkey is no China.  The 50 million voters of the country have the responsibility today to make Erdogan feel what his actions mean to them.