By Bill Maher
Turkish President Recep Erdoğan claimed victory in Turkey’s presidential election last Sunday, but reading about it prior gave me the creeps. The Yahoo News headline was “In Turkish election, democracy itself is at stake.”
The article describes favorite, Erdoğan, as being “adored by supporters and loathed by dissenters. He bristles at criticism, rails constantly against ‘fake news’ and the ‘deep state,’ and commands a disgruntled army of Twitter trolls… [He] fashions himself as populist representative of the common man facing down an array of corrupt elites. He prefers alternative facts, and portrays himself as a political outsider who will preserve Turkey in the face of opponents he says have been in power too long.” You half expect the next sentence to read, “And he’s pledged to build a wall and make Syria pay for it.”
So he’s Turkish Trump, but, because he’s been in power 15 years, he’s been able to achieve some of the things Trump is only beginning to do. In a razor–close win on a referendum vote last year (that many say was fixed) Erdoğan was granted much more power as president and the sway of their parliament was greatly diminished. He controls most of the media and gets way more airtime than his challengers, he’s got more money to spend on campaigning, he benefits from legalized voter suppression and many of his detractors have been locked up, including journalists, judges, prosecutors and opposition candidates.
This can happen in a democracy. A charismatic populist can be voted in, brazenly start dismantling the system in the name of the people and create himself a dictatorship.
Gönül Tol, director of the Washington-based Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies, said of the election, “Many people think this is the last opportunity – that after these elections, Erdoğan will consolidate his power to an extent that we won’t be able to talk about Turkey as a democratic country anymore.”
Let’s not become Turkey. I’d say November was critical to nipping this in the bud, but it’s way past bud. It’s fully flowering.