President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s promises of reform have come up dry as he gave the cold shoulder to an advisor who criticized the state of the judiciary in the country and signaled that his Justice and Development Party (AKP) would continue to work with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
Erdoğan last week said his administration would carry out reforms in the country’s economy and judiciary and indicated a change in foreign relations, saying that “Turkey is part of Europe.”
These promises entail living up to international standards concerning human rights and the rule of law, market-friendly moves in economy and improved relations with the European Union and the United States.
Opposition parties chalked up the sudden change in Erdoğan’s discourse to the US election win of Joe Biden. Bülent Arınç, a heavyweight from the founding members of the AKP and a current member of the Presidential High Advisory Board, took Erdoğan’s rhetoric a step further, saying that long-imprisoned Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtaş and philanthropist Osman Kavala should be freed.
The initial comments emphasized a rift in the AKP-MHP alliance. However, these comments, claiming that Erdoğan was preparing to jettison his far-right ally, the MHP, in a bid to heal the ailing economy and to brace for the Biden administration, were put to rest rather early.
Erdoğan killed the speculation during a video conference with party members, responding to Arınç’s remarks without mentioning any names.
“Lately, we see some trying to cause trouble while piggy-packing on our reform agenda. No one’s personal remarks can be associated with the president, our government or our party, even if they are people with whom we previously worked.”
No release for Demirtaş or Kavala
Erdoğan’s harsher remarks were reserved for Arınç’s take on the imprisonment of Demirtaş and Kavala. Underlining that his stance hasn’t changed, Erdoğan accused Demirtaş of terrorist links and once again blamed him for deaths during 2014 protests in the predominantly Kurdish Southeast. He also shut the door to the prospects of a release for Kavala.
The arrest of the two had drawn the ire of the European Union and prompted harsh criticism in the bloc’s regular reports on Turkey.
Before the latest statement by Erdoğan on Arınç’s remarks, his aide İbrahim Kalın went on a short trip to Europe last week.
Kalin visited Brussels on Friday. During the visit, he met separately with Maryem Van den Heuvel, the chief foreign policy advisor to EU Council President Charles Michel; President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen; and Helga Schmid, the secretary-general of the EU’s external action service.
The strategic importance of Turkey-EU relations is increasing, and there is a need for “new and concrete” steps to bring a new dynamism, to boost cooperation and to strengthen the bonds of mutual trust, Kalin said.
Erdoğan’s new discourse on the EU and his insistence on the imprisonment of Kavala and Demirtaş look irreconcilable; however, the discrepancy was not limited to that alone. As Kalın met with EU officials, Turkey’s crackdown on the Gülen movement, a faith-based group known for its education-related activities worldwide which Ankara has outlawed, accusing them of instigating a coup in 2016, and the Kurds continued.
The day Kalın met with EU officials, 38 businessmen were arrested for funding Gülen-linked schools in Africa. The same week saw the detention of 24 Kurdish lawyers.
Turkey rounded thousands affiliated with the Gülen movement after a coup launched by rogue soldiers failed in July 2016, on the pretext of an anti-coup fight.
Support for the ruling parties dwindles
Some observers speculate that Erdoğan’s reform bid was prompted by his loss of voters. The AKP-MHP alliance lost metropolitan municipalities such as İstanbul, Ankara, Adana and Antalya to the opposition in the 2019 local elections. According to recent polls, they would lose another six in local elections were they to be held today.
According to a recent poll, the AKP would lose the Bursa, Balıkesir, Denizli and Samsun municipalities, while the MHP would lose the Manisa Municipality to either the CHP or the İYİ (Good) Party.
Despite all this, Erdoğan declared that his coalition with the MHP was running smoothly, with the MHP responding in kind. These developments have led the hopeful to set aside any expectations for reform.