Recep Tayyip Erdogan seeks limitless power

The Turkish president has wilfully cut himself off from any free flow of critical information

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week pushed out Ahmet Davutoglu, the prime minister he himself had handpicked, seemingly to clear his way towards the untrammelled one-man rule he has sought since he moved from the premiership to Turkey’s presidency two years ago. Conventional wisdom says Mr Erdogan is surrounding himself with loyalists. But the man he has just defenestrated is a loyalist. He joins a long list of those jettisoned from the president’s inner circle over the past two years, in a processional purge that is starting to look like standard political procedure.

The ruling Justice and Development party (AKP), a conservative coalition with roots in political Islam, came to power in 2002 as cautious and wary outsiders. They scarcely had a toehold in a secular state built by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk from the rubble of the Ottoman Empire. Initially, they relied on the shadowy Islamist movement headed by Fethullah Gulen, a US-based imam, which over three decades had inserted its cadres into the judiciary, the police and then the intelligence services.

This paranoia grew exponentially after the mid-2013 demonstrations nationwide against Mr Erdogan’s intrusive and increasingly authoritarian rule. After the Gulen network launched corruption probes into the Erdogan inner circle later that year, the then prime minister treated the crisis as existential, shutting down the investigation and launching a purge of Gulenists that continues today.

Mr Erdogan evidently feels more comfortable surrounded by ciphers. At the time of the 2013 turmoil, Abdullah Gul, then president, a co-founder of the AKP and a more emollient foil to Mr Erdogan’s abrasive personality, assured Turks that “the messages with good intentions [from the protests] were received”. Mr Erdogan growled: “What message?”

The popular Mr Gul was an immediate casualty. After Mr Erdogan was elected president, he scheduled the AKP congress to elect his successor as party leader and premier just before Mr Gul left office — disqualifying him constitutionally as a runner because he was still in the presidency, a non-partisan, largely ceremonial post before Mr Erdogan took it. Other loyalists followed Mr Gul into political limbo: Bulent Arinc, the third co-founder of the AKP; Huseyin Celik, Mr Erdogan’s party deputy and propagandist; as well as economic tsar Ali Babacan. And now Mr Davutoglu.

But one reason counts above all, signalled for weeks by the “Erdoganist” faction that is replacing the old guard loyalists: as Mr Erdogan moves towards an all-powerful executive presidency, there is no room for a rival centre of power, however flimsy.

What is remarkable, though, is the manner in which Mr Erdogan’s former comrades have all gone with scarcely a murmur, indeed singing the praises of the leader. Sealed off in his neo-Ottoman palace in Ankara, four times the size of Versailles, and wilfully cut off from any free flow of critical information or pushback, it is hardly surprising he feels no limits to his power.

Full article: Recep Tayyip Erdogan seeks limitless power (Financial Times)

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