With it being the third year of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's tenure as president, many authors at home and abroad are going to write about his political portrait. In this article, I concentrate on the grave dilemma between the president's genuine democratic struggle and the construction of his political image as a totalitarian leader in the West.
Having participated in politics while in high school, Erdoğan began his political career in the youth branches of the legal National Salvation Party (MSP) at a time when participation in illegal organizations had been widespread. Representing a third way in the face of leftist and rightist politics, the MSP later became the Welfare Party (RP), which involved the core political cadre that would later form the Justice and Development Party (AK Party).
Since the very beginning of his political career, Erdoğan carried out significant duties in various political positions without abandoning the democratic course of politics.
Indeed, Erdoğan always acquired his political positions through democratic competition. He became the RP's Beyoğlu district chair in 1984 and the chair of the Istanbul city branch in 1985. Although he was elected to Parliament in 1991, he was barred from taking his seat.
In the local elections of March 27, 1994, he was elected mayor of Istanbul when the RP won important municipalities in the national elections, including the municipality of Diyarbakır. During his relatively short but successful time as mayor, his political career was targeted by the political powers of the day. In December 1997, he was imprisoned for reciting a religiously themed poem written by Ziya Gökalp.
Although a full-fledged analysis of Erdoğan's municipal career is beyond the scope of this article, I would like to emphasize the significance of his achievements during his short time as Istanbul mayor. Istanbul seemed to be an unmanageable metropolis when Nurettin Sözen from the Social Democrat Party (SHP) was the mayor of the city in 1992. In an article written by Ayşe Önüç and Çağlar Keyder, Istanbul was depicted as unmanageable and chaotic as Mumbai, India.
Yet, after Erdoğan was elected mayor of Istanbul, the city's water shortage problem was innovatively resolved, environmental pollution and traffic chaos was reduced, and municipal corruption was stalwartly eliminated. While Istanbul has become a manageable metropolis, HABITAT II, the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlement, was held in Istanbul in 1996. Note that Erdoğan resigned as mayor in 1998, with Ali Müfit Gürtuna getting the majority of the votes within the RP.
When the AK Party was founded in 2001, people from all segments of society showed sympathy with Erdoğan and his comrades. The AK Party then came to power in 2002. Making daring reforms to resolve the deeply rooted problems in Turkey, the AK Party initiated a massive democratic transformation in accordance with the European Union acquis. In the party congress of 2011, the political power of the AK Party was celebrated as the architect of an unprecedented political success in economic growth and democratization.
Yet, as a 200-year colonial culture is hidden behind the global system that called the world order, any independent political leader who conflicts with the global colonial system is declared to be a dictator. Since the foundation of the Republic of Turkey, any independent political leader, such as Prime Ministers Adnan Menderes and Turgut Özal, who appropriated the state from colonial representatives to the people, were turned into targets. The global attack against Erdoğan's political power derives from the same colonial powers.
However, the Western colonial system has weakened while Turkey has strengthened as an independent country. Thus, colonial forces blatantly conduct anti-Turkish campaigns in the international arena. While anti-democratic Gulf countries has been openly robbed and pillaged by Western powers, democratic and independent countries like Turkey have become a serious problem for the global colonial system.
Citizens of Western countries sincerely embrace democracy and rule of law while their governments treat democracy only as a means of colonialism. If dictators benefit their colonial interests, Western states declare them as democratic allies. If a political leader such as Erdoğan, whose political career solely relies on democracy, conflicts with their colonial interests, he is immediately declared to be a dictator.
Regardless, the independent and patriotic intelligentsia in Turkey, which is more powerful than the colonial intelligentsia, grasps the historical meaning of Erdoğan's political power.