Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the most powerful man in Turkey today, the most insecure too. He is eyeing another presidential term, through an election on 14 May. In the run up, bitterness is building up against his attempts at perpetuating his presidency and autocracy. The Istanbul protests on 15 December was a revelation. As economic crisis too hits Turkey, Mr Erdogan is terribly insecure now, despite his two-decade affair with power.

Tinkering with Electoral Rules

Insecurity has been egging Mr Erdogan on to make biased rule changes to ensure his continuity as Turkey’s president. He got the electoral rules changed in April 2022. Three of them are irksome. One, he approved reduction in the threshold for a political party to enter parliament, from 10 per cent to 7. This makes it hard for minor parties to win seats on their own. They will have to run now on tickets dominated by major players.

Two, Mr Erdogan has plugged the loophole which allows the third-largest main pro-Kurdish party get around bans. Three, the new rules exempt president Erdogan from the ban on ministers using state resources to organise their political campaigns and rallies. Clear, president Erdogan has been never so desperate.

Detractors’ Prime Grouse

The 68-year-old Erdogan’s desperate actions are fuelling his detractors to level many charges against him. They lambast Mr Erdogan for attempting to influence the courts to render his competitors disqualified. The detractors are now up against Mr Erdogan’s audacity to breach Turkey’s constitution with impunity. An unabashed Mr Erdogan running again for presidency is viewed by many as a constitutional breach.

The detractors’ prime grouse however is his 2018 move. This singular despotic act transformed prime minister Erdogan to a mighty executive president. To this day, this remains Mr Erdogan’s most despicable act. Fired by the desire to end his unitary rule, six parties are coming together now to forge an electoral alliance. The alliance includes ex-allies of Mr Erdogan too, which means no one is happy with Mr Erdogan.

Wonky Economic Policies

The unhappiness is evident in the erosion in his party’s support base. Despite being Turkey’s most popular politician, Mr Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been forfeiting support of the poor and the marginalised sections of the society. Mr Erdogan appears to have no time to introspect, despite the fact these sections of the society were once his ardent supporters. Sure, the opposition is enthused.

Heightening their enthusiasm is the insipid performance of Turkey’s economy. At a dizzying 64.3 per cent, inflation in Turkey is the second highest among emerging economies. Mr Erdogan’s wonky economic policies are twisting the economy out of shape. Covid and the Ukraine war have widened its fissures. The Turkish lira is collapsing. Despite inflation, Mr Erdogan wants a dovish central bank. This is boomeranging.

The Table-of-Six Trouble

Mr Erdogan can blame the war in Ukraine for high inflation. His real headache now is blunting the fast-approaching challenge from the six-party alliance, cobbled together with the specific purpose of defeating him. The polls will be in May, a mere three months from now. The alliance is fielding Kemal Kilicdaroglu as its presidential candidate. Mr Kilicdaroglu is the head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the alliance’s major partner.

Bad luck for Mr Erdogan, Mr Kilickdaroglu may create his Waterloo. In the 2019 local elections, a gutsy Kilicdaroglu steered CHP to victory. CHP is the largest party in the opposition bloc, the Table of Six. CHP’s victory was remarkable as it felled Mr Erdogan’s party, that too in major cities. Plus, Mr Kilicdaroglu’s fellow partyman and Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu is a popular politician.

Vindictive Streak is Bad News

A sly Erdogan may attempt to corrupt the judiciary to bar Mr Imamoglu from running. Possible, as Mr Erdogan got Mr Imamoglu convicted in December on the charge he cast a slur on ‘public figures’. Mr Imamoglu was sentenced for two years and seven months in prison. Mr Erdogan may ensure Mr Imamoglu’s appeal is rejected and he is barred from seeking office. The growing fear is Mr Imamoglu will not be the last in Mr Erdogan’s vindictive list.

Mr Erdogan’s vindictive streak is bad news for the outside world as well. With obvious reasons. Turkey is a major NATO ally. With the second largest armed forces within NATO, Turkey can flip turbulent times to its advantage. Not in its region alone, in the global geopolitical space as well. Include the Balkans, Africa and the Mediterranean in this space. Turkey’s power to prime and influence the Baltic states and its heads are unmatched.

A Global Geopolitical Storm

This power and strategic status makes Turkey too important to leave in the hands of a quirky autocrat. Considering it could enter the European Union sooner or later, Turkey is too sensitive to meddle with. Erdogan the Autocrat is sure to force tomorrow imagined territorial disputes on Greece and Cyprus, besides trying to fracture Syria with intense unrest. Why, he may tinker with NATO to block memberships and promote lobbies.

These possibilities portend a global geopolitical storm. Global scenario apart, at home too, the long-persecuted Kurds ending their internal war with the State is nowhere in sight. Turkey’s ethnic minorities and secularists are troubled and feel unsafe under Mr Erdogan. The new president-elect has the challenging task of ushering in peace on these fronts. Whether Mr Erdogan is suited for such a peace job is a question.

Turkey’s Coming Catastrophe

The answers are there on the wall. On re-election, Mr Erdogan is sure to confirm his despotic credentials. He will be more high-handed than ever. Expect further legal amendments to favour him. Courts will be suborned. Checks and balances will not remain in the constitution. Media will be enslaved. Internet will be broken. Mr Erdogan will throttle the little democracy left within his party and Turkey. Worse, civil liberties will vanish and activists put behind bars.

The story of philanthropist and activist Osman Kavala offers a foretaste of the future. Mr Kavala was sentenced for life on dubious charges. As a crusader, Mr Kavala supports George Soros’s democracy-backing Open Society Foundations. An irked Erdogan got Mr Kavala arrested on trumped up charges of aiding and abetting a coup against his government. ‘Mere suspicion’ was enough to make Mr Kavala spend time in prison.

In Conclusion

The cases of Mr Imamoglu and Mr Kavala prove Turkey will be deprived of democracy, if Mr Erdogan is re-elected. Sure, Mr Erdogan realises a democracy-deprived Turkey will get neither military hardware nor financial aid from the West, and no foreign direct investments. Clinging on to autocracy at home and projecting Turkey as a democratic nation abroad, doing both at the same time, will be an unmanageable challenge for Mr Erdogan.

This unmanageability is sure to give America greater hopes to push for democracy and civil rights in Turkey. If this push can be turned into a shove, Mr Erdogan may fall in line. The time to do this is now, before Mr Erdogan runs amok, ruins the institutions and erases the last few traces of democracy in embattled Turkey. For those who cherish democratic values in Republic of Turkiye, this may be their now-or-never moment.