Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A tale of golden toilets

Turkey's parliamentary elections are around the corner, elections that could be considered the most important in history. Not only is the parliament in the balance, but the parliamentary system is as well. Ex-prime minister and current president Erdogan announced plans to turn Turkey into a presidential system (what a coincidence! Now that he's president, he wants to put all the power in that office).

An upstart political party called the HDP that was once considered aligned with Kurds and therefore terrorists/separatists but now gaining popularity across the board is in a position to potentially block this--if they reach the 10 percent threshold, Erdogan and his followers won't have enough support for the presidential shift. The HDP is going for inclusivity, fielding a roster of not only Kurdish activists, but socialists, religious Muslims, minority candidates including Roma and Armenians, and a transgender candidate. If they lose, however, the seats they gained will be divided between the winning parties, making the AKP even stronger.

Erdogan surrounded by his Ottoman-style guards

I am not convinced Erdogan will lose this election, even if he loses the vote. Funny business tends to happen during Turkish elections (like a stray cat who got into a transformer and cut the electricity right as vote-counting began in an anti-Erodgan area). He's made it clear he is in charge of Turkey and that he has no intention of compromise, let alone ever leaving. 

A man who was once considered a modernizer now surrounds himself with Ottoman-styled guards in a bizarre and controversial $615 million palace he built on what was meant to be conserved land. His rants about golden toilets are grabbing headlines here, rants that followed him daring those who opposed the construction of his palace to come down and take it from him. He has engaged in verbal warfare with both foreign and local journalists. He singled out the NYT for its coverage, calling it and its former Turkey head and "enemy" of himself and the state. He has sued a local journalist for coverage on shipments of arms from the Turkish equivalent of the CIA to Syrian fighters. That journalist has been threatened by the prosecutor general with a life sentence due to his "espionage." In rhetoric that echos Egypt, he accuses the NYT, CNN, and the BBC of trying to weaken and divide Turkey. While these accusations and actions border on farcical, the stifling effect can be felt. Whenever he speaks, the stock market crashes. 

Erdogan is everywhere despite the fact he's not actually running for office. His face, never a smile, looks down on us in the metro, on buildings, in tea shops. Election propaganda is technically banned from public transport, yet Erdogan's face beams down from buses and inside the metro. Erdogan, as president, technically is nonpartisan, although he admits to having the AKP in his heart. 

Some may pass this off as election season blovating, but I think he actually believes the stuff coming out of his mouth. He sees an enemy around every corner. He believes the opposition parties are conspiring against him (which, to be fair, is true as that is the entire point of being in the opposition). This is an election about him, not about Turkey, not about the Parliament. That his words aren't just rhetoric is what makes the situation so difficult. 

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