Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, or rather his shadow, has made the cover of this week’s issue of the Economist in a decidedly unflattering way, as a leader that has taken his country “to the brink of disaster.”
As the introduction to the financial paper’s report on the state of the country ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections states, “Mr Erdogan’s behavior as the election approaches could push what is today a deeply flawed democracy over the edge into a full-blown dictatorship.”
The Economist says Erdogan’s now 20-year-old reign was initially beneficial to Turkey: he mended the economy, neutralized the country’s meddling generals and secured, in 2005, the formal opening of accession talks to the EU, while putting his islamist agenda, which had alarmed the long-dominant secularist heirs to Kemal Ataturk, the Turkish Republic’s founder, mostly to the side.
But, as the paper points out, “the longer Mr Erdogan has been in power, the more autocratic he has grown.” Moving on from Prime Minister to President, he turned that mostly ceremonial post into a really powerful one in the service of an autocracy. “Approaching his third decade in power, he sits in a vast palace snapping orders at courtiers too frightened to tell him when he is wrong. His increasingly eccentric beliefs swiftly become public policy,” the article says.
Erdogan once likened democracy to a tram journey: when you reach your destination, you get off. His treatment of mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, whom the Economist calls the “most plausible rival” for the presidency is indicative. A 2-year prison term and a ban from politics for calling election officials who had annulled his first election “idiots” have taken Imamoglu out of the presidential race if the conviction is not annulled or overturned and have cast doubt that the election will be fair or free, the Economist says.
Internationally, Erdogan could cause trouble for Greece and Cyprus by “foment[ing] fiercer territorial quarrels; he could “create further confusion and strife in Syria”; he could “allow the 5m migrants and refugees in Turkey to set sail for southern Europe.” And he could continue to block the accession of Finaland and Sweden into NATO.
Yet, the Economist contends, Erdogan cannot afford to make a total break with the West, because he needs investments and he needs armaments. But, the article argues, it is time for a firmer stance by western powers, beginning with the US. “Mr Erdogan is a bully who sees timidity as a reason to press his advantage and toughness as an incentive to mend fences,” the Economist says.