President Tayyip Erdoğan broke ended his silence about the video broadcasts of the fugitive mob leader Sedat Peker on May 26 and gave full support to Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu against Peker’s accusations. Peker has been releasing YouTube videos since the beginning of May accusing Soylu of turning a blind eye on several international drug smuggling cases and murders in which “deep state” figures were allegedly and he was the clean one. Addressing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies in the Parliament, Erdoğan used the same expression as Soylu did two days earlier and said that the actual target of the mob leader was not Soylu, but the effort to “build of the great and powerful Turkey” under his leadership.
However, in the same speech, Erdoğan targeted opposition parties in a dangerous way. The President praised the attack on the center-right Good (IYI) Party leader Meral Akşener in Erdoğan’s East Black Sea hometown Rize, where she was visiting environmentalist protesters, as a measured and necessary objection. “These are your good days. Look what will happen in future” Erdoğan warned Akşener. With these words, the question of whether the opposition leaders will also support the blocking and attacks they may encounter during their country trips entered the political agenda.
Erdoğan also slammed the center-left Republican people’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who has been pressing for investigations regarding allegations about Soylu and for an early election. President claimed that the CHP headquarters was currently “under the occupation of rapists, thieves and terrorist supporters” and denounced everyone, including IYI Party in cooperation with the CHP as being accomplices. This statement may encourage, not only the CHP’s but also other opposition party offices the target of attacks by the agitated or manipulated groups.
Kılıçdaroğlu does not seem to back down. He accuses Erdoğan of “speaking with the mouth of the mafia” and continues to call him to the “private square”, that is, early elections. Akşener did not paddle back and said Erdoğan’s words were exactly the reason why they have been asking for a rehabilitated parliamentary system.
However, it is doubtful that this message that Erdoğan gave on a day when he will attend a video conference with twenty US-based investor company representatives for more investments in Turkey as the country has been criticized due to retraction in democratization and human rights. Especially when prominent economist Daron Acemoglu said in a recent interview that he was “afraid” of the deepening of the economic crisis in Turkey, partly due to the burden on banks.
The AKP deputies’ “applause barometer”
We can refer to the “applause barometer” of the AKP group during Erdoğan’s speech to evaluate the internal political dimension of the matter.
Erdoğan received the most intense applause from the AKP lawmakers when he gave his full support to Soylu and when he said there was no early election.
The applause was not as strong when Erdoğan said that the allegations against former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım via his son Erkam Yıldırım, who was alleged by Peker of being involved in drug trafficking, was also an attack on Turkey.
His praise of the physical obstruction of Akşener in Rize by trying to condescend by naming her “Mrs. Bride” and said there was more to come, got very weak applause.
And when Erdoğan said that the opposition CHP’s headquarters was under the occupation of rapists, thieves, and terrorist supporters, he barely got a few weak applause from the hall.
The response of the AKP deputies shows that they were not enthusiastic about Erdoğan’s putting the opposition parties on the target with such metaphors. Indeed, Erdoğan’s words may mean playing with fire in an environment of increased polarization; a dangerous move that may easily backfire.
Based on this speech, it is possible to say that Erdoğan is likely to harden his political stance by putting more pressure on the opposition parties and the media outside of his control to prevent public criticism.
It would be naive to expect that putting pressure on the opposition and the media will ensure more and credible investment in Turkey for Erdoğan to close the gap in the current account deficit.
Perhaps these developments show that Erdoğan is now losing hope of the influx of tourists from Germany and Russia, and will try to sort things out with the US, hidden under anti-American rhetoric, before he meets with the US President Joe Biden on June 14. But isn’t it too ambitious to do this by taking more opposition and the media under it and relying on the hypocrisy of US politics that put military interests first?
A delicate and dangerous game.