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Fifth column

June 30, 2018
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Executive President Erdogan

Opinion

June 30, 2018

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If we believed the so-called liberal Western media, from the US mainstream corporate houses to their smaller European cousins, including the officially funded networks like the British government-funded BBC or the German Deutsche Welle, the main contestant in the presidential polls, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was increasingly vulnerable as his support base had significantly narrowed.

Many of the Euro-American news outlets – from BBC to CNN and Bloomberg to The Economist – passed off many a piece of unverified conjecture as news. According to a Turkish media report, they even tried to falsify news – in other words, produce fake news – to manipulate electorate reflexes.

For months, there were endless ‘experts’ flaunting their association with the posh-sounding think tanks predicting a defeat for Erdogan and how it was time for his downfall for he had lost the grassroots support of the masses. They even portrayed Muharrem Ince, the runner-up who was defeated by more than 11 million votes, as a new crowd-puller who was on a mission to redefine the will of the Turkish people.

Some of these media outlets even tried to portray Meral Aksener of the recently and hastily formed Good Party (IP), an ultranationalist political platform, as a potential candidate who could unseat Erdogan. However, Aksener was unsuccessful to produce an effective and a convincing narrative. She even failed to emerge as the main opposition candidate and lost to Muharrem Ince.

Even some European politicians openly broke from convention and diplomatic norms, and offered support to the opposition candidates with the full support of their pliable yet ‘independent’ media. According to Daily Sabah, a leading pro-Erdogan English newspaper, “the overwhelming majority of international media outlets misled their audiences into thinking that the opposition could force a second round in the presidential election and win the majority of seats in Turkish parliament”.

All these wishes from Erdogan’s mainly Euro-American adversaries were proved wrong. He became the first executive president of the Republic of Turkey and with such a large mandate that it could put any European politician to shame. Worse, The Atlantic claimed ruefully that in Erdogan’s election victory “Turks have voted away their democracy”.

The report quoted several anti-Erdogan ‘experts’ working in the government-funded or partisan think-tank. Dr Ziya Meral, a resident fellow at the British Army’s Historical Analysis and Conflict Research, was mentioned claiming that “fault lines in the country are so clear”. God knows what that meant, but in the end, he did accept that “there was 87 percent voter turnout, and the people of Turkey displayed ownership of their electoral politics”.

Erdogan has been in power for more than 16 years, and with the latest victory, he could theoretically be in for another 15 years. In his time, he has economically transformed the country; created a new and affluent middle class; and improved education, health and other services. Moving from the uncertainties of fragile coalition governments of the 1990s, his AK Party has provided a stable government, thus improving political and security situation.

Besides, religious and ethnic freedoms have shown a marked improvement. Not only has the government reinstated ownership rights of hundreds of wakf and historical properties of Jewish and Christian minorities, it has also acknowledged the rights of Alevis and Kurds. In 2012, the Kurdish language was reinstated in the schools after more than 20 years and in 2013 Turkish parliament voted to allow the use of the Kurdish language in courts. This has created a certain constituency of support for the AK Party in Kurdistan.

While the HDP, the Kurdish regional party, remains the main voice of the region, the AK Party has almost doubled its vote share in the latest elections, increasingly emerging as an alternative voice of Kurds with a say in Ankara. The AK Party has also expanded and recognised the rights of Alevis, a non-Muslim minority group that was born out of Shia Islam, but has since evolved as a separate religion, with distinct customs and rites. In 2015, the Turkish government granted legal recognition to their religious schools and houses of worship, known as cemevis.

A large number of Turks believe that ever since Erdogan showed his support for Palestinian rights, he has become a consistent target of Western propaganda and ridicule. First, in January 2009, Erdogan, as prime minister, walked off the stage at the World Economic Forum at Davos after an angry exchange with the then Israeli president Shimon Peres over the Israeli massacres in Gaza.

Later, in May-June 2010, the Turkish premier allowed the famous Gaza Freedom Flotilla to organise and garner support from the country. The flotilla ended up in tragedy as the Israeli Army attacked it, killing several Turkish civilians. This led to a big standoff that was resolved only after Israel apologised and provided a large compensation to the bereaved. In May this year, Erdogan once again slammed Israel for its lethal attacks on Gaza that killed scores of unarmed Palestinians, including medical professionals who were trying to save the victims of Israeli aggression.

Erdogan’s determination to punch above his weight and completely take his country out of the Euro-American dependency has, in the Western imagination, turned him into an undemocratic and autocratic monster who must be consistently loathed – not only to remind the Turks of their ‘poor democratic choice’ but also to use him as one more tool to provoke and even justify new strands of Islamophobia and rampant anti-Muslim violence that is now entrenched within the body politic of Western societies and their popular culture.

Despite vilification and attempts to engineer the Turkish electorate, Erdogan, as the first elected executive president, is firmly in control. It is time for him as well as his Euro-American critics to show respect for the people’s mandate and work together for the prosperity and stability of the region and beyond. Turkey also needs to address its festering problems – from the unrest in the Kurdish region to threats of terrorism – both from within and outside.

Following the election victory, Erdogan’s first meeting with his coalition partner Devlet Bahceli, the chairman of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) was very positive. Both leaders agreed that the state of emergency imposed since the failed coup of July 2016 will not be extended. This shall bode well for the new era.

Twitter: @murtaza_shibli

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