12 March 2017

Turkey's Referendum and Why Erdogan Is Tilting At "Nazi" Windmills

Turkey's once bombastic and currently embattled president is in a fight for his political life.

As you might have heard, he wants to change the constitution in a way to ensure that he will be the Dear Leader and his past and future actions will never be questioned.

The list of proposed changes is too long but in a nutshell the new constitution abolishes the separation of powers and puts the president in charge of the legislative and judiciary branches, allows him to appoint everybody, including judges or rectors and deans and makes him unaccountable for anything he does.

In case you think I am being unfair this is how Venice Commission of the Council of Europe summarized it.
The Commission notes that by removing necessary checks and balances, the amendments would not follow the model of a democratic presidential system based on the separation of powers, and instead would risk degeneration into an authoritarian presidential system. 
Conclusions of the opinion include the following:

• letting the new President exercise executive power alone, with unsupervised authority to appoint and dismiss ministers, and to appoint and dismiss all high officials on the basis of criteria determined by him or her alone;
• allowing the President to be a member and even the leader of his or her political party, that would give him or her undue influence over the legislature;
• giving the President the power to dissolve parliament on any grounds whatsoever, which is fundamentally alien to democratic presidential systems
• further weakening the already inadequate system of judicial oversight of the executive.
• further weakening the independence of the judiciary.
To put it another way, what Erdogan is proposing is Viktor Orban and Jaroslaw Kaczynski's wet dream.

Erdogan first pushed the proposal through parliament in a short period of time (and in the process bulldozed minor technicalities like secret ballot). He also got opposition parties CHP and MHP to agree to lift legislative immunity for MPs so that he could incarcerate pro-Kurdish HDP's charismatic leader Selahattin Demirtas, eliminating the only politician who could oppose him effectively.

Since then he has been campaigning very hard to get AKP and MHP voters to his side.

The Yes platform is debated everywhere but the No position is not allowed to be presented. Rallies are cancelled, TV stations are warned about allowing proponents to make their point and Erdogan has been calling the No side every name imaginable including terrorist, traitors and coup plotters.

After all this hard work, he realized that according to many opinion polls a substantial portion of MHP and AKP supporters are planning to vote No.

Now we all know from recent failures like Brexit that polls could get it wrong. But Erdogan and his lieutenants must have solid data to show that this might not be the case this time. Otherwise, he would not become more strident everyday and he would not order a publication ban on poll resuts.

So he is now doing what he does best to get his voters back.

Bully - Victim Playbook

You see, Erdogan's past popularity is based on a simple strategy, something he learned from the GOP. I call it the bully-victim playbook.

This is what you do.

You aggressively confront your adversaries. In the process, you call them outrageous names and accuse them of horrible yet fictitious crimes.

Your expectation is that they would be so shocked and scandalized by your lies and name calling that they would respond aggressively.

When they do, you pretend to be horrified by their uncivil tone, their harsh response and you lament how they victimized you and your people.

And to complete the circle, you tell your supporters that the terrible response they gave to your initial accusations showed how right you were in the first place.

Done properly, it is foolproof as it is a tautological and circular playbook. You just need to be shameless in your accusations and be able to lie with impunity, the rest is almost automatic.

Incidentally, this is a blueprint elevated to an art form by the GOP. Attack, lie, accuse and when your opponent opens their mouth express outrage while clutching your pearls and reaching for smelling salts.

And Erdogan is probably the best implementer of this playbook in the world. (so much so that an English journalist is convinced that Trump is now imitating Erdogan).

That is probably because Erdogan expanded considerably the GOP playbook. For instance, he has changed his position on many issues without ever acknowledging the aboutface. He has refused, even after 15 years in power, to admit that some decisions might be erroneous. He has always maintained that all of Turkey's problems were caused by its internal and external enemies and they would all be solved by him controlling more levers of government.

If you think this sounds like Donald Trump, a man who once claimed that the US labor statistics were the biggest hoax in history, now showing them as his own achievement, you get what Erdogan has done for the Nixonland playbook and why this British journalist might be right in her characterization.

Erdogan was so good at this that he convinced his pious base that he was the only thing between those terrifyingly powerful secular forces and their impitoyable army which are deadset to overthrow him in order to make them give up their religious beliefs and practices.

He even succeeded is presenting the pitifully weak CHP, the main opposition party, as a very powerful and scary adversary.

So far so good.

New Enemies for the Perpetual Victim

But now, for the first time in Erdogan's political life this victimized finger pointing is not working.

This is primarily because since the ridiculous coup attempt he became so powerful that even his followers do not believe that he could be victimized by any institution or group in the country.

He bombed Kurds into submission killing 2000 of them and turning their cities into "empty moonscapes", according to UN.

He singlehandedly destroyed the mighty Turkish army in two successive purges, leaving it a shadow of its former self.

He got rid of hundreds of thousands of civil servants, police officers, judges, teachers, professors. He confiscated hundreds of large companies and threw their owners to jail. He closed many media outlets, schools and universities.

And all of this was done with a stroke of pen with absolutely no judicial recourse.

In short, he is just too powerful to play the victim card even for his usually uneducated and gullible followers.

This was fine while polls showed him ahead. But with No passing ahead he had to do something.

Hence the decision to start a fight with EU countries. With them the pearl clutching at home would work.

Erdogan is fully aware that European governments are worried about their populist movements and if he provoked them they would not be able to take it lying down, even if this was their preference. They are more or less obliged to respond aggressively.

Erdogan targeted two EU countries with conservative governments under attack from their right and facing imminent elections.

He first had a German journalist (of Turkish descent) who had been working in Turkey charged with terrorism and placed in custody. This earned him, as to be expected, loud condemnations from German media and political parties.

He then announced that he would travel to Germany and Holland, which have sizeable Turkish minorities, to campaign for a Yes vote.

He knew that both the Dutch PM Mark Rutte and German Chancellor Angela Merkel could not afford to have the image of Islamist crowds in Holland or Germany chanting for a foreign leader splashed on TV screens.

This would be the kind of thing that would push more people to vote for the peculiarly coiffed  Geert Wilders, aka the Dutch Donald Trump or Frauke Petry the leader of AfD.

Consequently, both governments arranged for local municipalities to withdraw previously given rally permits on the basis of security concerns.

Erdogan's response was this:
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan accused Germany on Sunday of "fascist actions" reminiscent of Nazi times in a growing row over the cancellation of political rallies aimed at drumming up support for him among 1.5 million Turkish citizens in Germany.
Now, obviously Erdogan's goal was not to convince Merkel to re-issue rally permission. He knew that his name calling would make the German government and all others much more intransigent and get them to respond in kind.

When Germany's sharp rebuke came it became big news in Turkey with blanket coverage about those infidels dissing Turkey and its Islamist government. Any observer would tell you that this is a very acceptable narrative among Turks in general and AKP and MHP voters in particular.

He then asked his minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu to address a rally in Rotterdam. Understandably, the Rutte government facing general elections this Wednesday (15 March) asked him to postpone his rally until after elections.

Cavusoglu simply refused, again with the goal to get Rutte to react aggressively.

On that note, Rotterdam's Muslim mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb cancelled the rally permit on security grounds.

Yes a Dutch of Moroccan descent by the name of Ahmed Aboutaleb banned an Islamist rally in his city.

Erdogan reacted to this decision by calling Dutch people "Nazi remnants."

Then Cavusoglu announced that he would travel to the Netherlands anyway and if the government were to stop him he said "Turkey would retaliate with harsh economic and political sanctions."

And he hopped on a plane to go to Rotterdam.

The Dutch government responded by revoking Cavusoglu's landing rights and returning his plane.

While this was taking place in the air, Erdogan had his Minister of Family Fatma Betul Kaya Sayan try to enter Holland by car.

Border authorities wanted to get her to turn her around, she refused and proceeded to go to the rally arena. She was then detained and deported to Germany.

As you can guess, Erdogan and his entire cabinet are now howling bloody murder 24/7 and these incidents are given wall-to-wall coverage in the Turkish media, all with the same bully-victim meme.

Besides nationalism, the latter incident is being portrayed as a disrespectful and rough treatment of a defenseless woman to stroke the patriarchal macho sentiment prevalent in Turkey.

Germany and Holland are now called fascist, racist Nazi governments and Erdogan is threatening them with serious sanctions.

If you ask my opinion, this wholly fabricated row will give Erdogan what he was looking for: a surge in Yes votes.

And this was why he is tilting at "Nazi" windmills.

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