Can Recep Tayyip Erdogˇan win Turkey’s upcoming parliamentary elections this June? Just months before the election, Erdogˇan , the leader of the ruling Justice and Development (AK) party, a moderate Islamist faction, is campaigning hard. And though it’s his eighth year in power, it’s likely the incumbent prime minister will be victorious yet again.
In Erdogˇan’s favour, the Turkish economy—dubbed the “Anatolian Tiger”—remains strong. The IMF predicts that it will grow between four and five per cent in the next year. But there are trouble signs, A March 7 report by Moody’s said that the Turkish economy has “substantial external vulnerabilities, including a large current account deficit.” Earlier this February, the IMF said Turkey has become dangerously vulnerable to “excessive domestic demand and volatile short-term capital flows.” Still, given the turmoil in Arab states, Turkey and its thriving free-market economy have emerged as a poster child in the tumultuous Muslim world.
But while Erdogˇan may be popular at home, he’s been angering others abroad. Last month, in a bid to stir up nationalist sentiment among voting Turks in Germany, he soured his relationship with Berlin when he told a 10,000-strong crowd in Düsseldorf, “Nobody will be able to tear us away from our culture. Our children must learn German, but they must learn Turkish first.” (Germany is effectively the fourth largest Turkish electoral district, behind Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir; between 1.1 million and 1.3 million Turks live there but are eligible to vote in the elections.) It was not the first time Erdogˇan has ruffled foreign feathers: three years ago, in Cologne, he declared that assimilation was a “crime against humanity”—irking Germans who say that his words work against integration efforts in Germany and are counter-productive.
But Erdogˇan has had some domestic missteps as well. Since early March, thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets in Ankara and Istanbul to protest Turkey’s detention of a group of journalists. Those arrests were part of the Turkish prosecutor’s investigation into an alleged conspiracy, called Ergenekon, to overthrow Erdogˇan and his AK government. Indeed, since 2007, over 400 people have been detained or put on trial in the Ergenkon investigation; of them, 58 have been journalists, according to Turkey’s journalists’ association.
That has resulted in an outcry from the United States, Britain, and international media rights groups. And in light of the recent protests against the journalists’ detention, even the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, is wary, saying to the media, “The impression I get is that there are certain developments that the public conscience cannot accept. This is casting a shadow over the level that Turkey has reached and the image that is lauded by everyone.”
Erdogˇan has since dismissed a European Parliament report about restricted press freedom in Turkey, saying it is unbalanced. And so far, his challengers remain far behind in the polls. He can only hope that dissatisfaction remains limited to a few street demonstrations, and does not manifest itself at the ballot box in June.