The Gezi protests of last June led to hasty predictions of inevitable doom for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. A similar story is in circulation since corruption allegations started last December. Both events put Erdoğan's strength to the test.
Despite the doomsday scenarios, however, the fundamentals of Turkish politics and its economy remain strong. Erdoğan's [party] is expected to win the local elections on March 30. The barrage of vicious attacks, slander, leaked tapes and smears seem to have little impact on the voters.
How to explain this?
Erdoğan's base sees him as the only leader who can protect their political and economic interests against state elites, military tutelage and corporate and foreign interests. Under Erdoğan's government, his base enjoyed political stability and economic development at a time of global financial crises, civil wars and regional conflicts. As the newly emerging middle class, his base supported democratic reforms and benefited from the new social spaces that became available to them.
They see no prospects with any of the opposition parties on the right or left. While some take Erdoğan's charisma and personality as polarizing, it strengthened his bond with the people and solidified the AK Party base.
But politics is not just about personality.
The politics of services was implemented with striking efficiency and benefited all regardless of region, gender or class. The Turkish economy remains strong. The first month of 2014 saw the largest foreign trade volume on a monthly basis in the country's modern history. Unemployment and inflation are at reasonable levels. Turkey already paid its IMF debt last year. Even though lira lost value against the U.S. dollar, this has not caused major damage. Istanbul's stock market is recovering.
No panic in foreign direct investment (FDI) has been reported. Multi-billion dollar mega projects such as the two nuclear power plants, the third airport and the third bridge in Istanbul are underway despite attempts to subvert them.
The political field is stormy, a constant of Turkish politics but especially so in election times. Despite this, there is no governmental crisis. The Erdoğan government commands a strong 50 percent approval rating overall, a surprisingly high level of support for any government that has been in power for 11 years.
The election campaign is underway with dozens of political parties vying for votes in a transparent and democratic manner. The March 30 elections turned into a vote of confidence for Erdoğan thanks to the selfdefeating work of the opposition parties. It seems that Erdoğan himself will be the main benefactor.
Despite occasional but negligible provocations, Turkey is enjoying a peaceful period in regard to the Kurdish issue. A number of steps were taken to address the legitimate demands of Kurdish citizens, including the use of Kurdish in private schools, broadcasting, prison visits, court hearings and political campaigning. Even though terrorism by the PKK remains a threat, there has been no significant terrorist incident over the last 18 months. Abdullah Öcalan's letter, read in Diyarbakır on the Nevruz last Friday, reiterated the success of the reconciliation process.
Even the Turkish nationalists accept the wisdom of resolving the Kurdish issue through negotiations rather than war.
The recent fallout between the AK Party and the Gülen Movement created new rifts in Turkish politics. The Gülenists, now allied with the viciously anti-Erdoğan camp of ultra- nationalists, are running a relentless campaign to discredit Erdoğan. But they seem to have little success so far. The leaking of illegal wiretappings became a leitmotif of the recent political battle but lost its effectiveness after several weeks. The leaks intensified political chatter in Turkey but fell short of causing major damage to the government.
This smear campaign exposed what many now call the parallel structure within the state, a shadow organization that used state powers for its own political and ideological agenda. It has its arms everywhere, from intelligence and security to judiciary to finance. This is a new form of tutelage under the guise of innocuous civil society service. While seeking to overthrow Erdoğan, the Gülenists ended up exposing and discrediting themselves.
No doubt Erdoğan's strength has been tested.
But his resilience allowed him a comeback with a greater support base. The local elections on Sunday are likely to be a confirmation of this.
About the author
Presidential spokesperson for the Republic of Turkey