Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s overreaction to anti-government protests in June confirmed the Turkish prime minister’s allergy to dissent. More sinister, and more momentous for Turkey’s political and economic prospects, is the authoritarian creep with which government institutions in the intervening weeks have continued to snuff out alternative voices.
Mr Erdogan has previously displayed a desire to punish those who have the temerity to oppose him. But his actions undermine Turkey’s veneer of rule of law and institutional independence. Since the height of the Gezi Park protests and his outbursts against an “interest rate lobby” set on halting Turkey’s progress, institutions that should be run at arm’s length from the ruling party have lost any pretence of neutrality.
Journalists whose coverage of Gezi did not square with the government’s view have been sacked or silenced. Financial regulators have launched an intrusive probe against currency traders. The Koc group, which owns a hotel in which Gezi Park protesters were given shelter and medical attention, has been targeted by a tax investigation: an echo of the Dogan media group’s heavy fines for alleged tax fraud in 2009. Mourners at the funeral of a protester shot dead by police face prison charges similar to those sought against the police officer who killed him.
Monday’s denouement of the Ergenekon affair rounds out Mr Erdogan’s and his allies’ battle with opponents. A court convicted Turkey’s former military chief and hundreds more suspects – including journalists and opposition legislators – of plotting to overthrow the government in a case widely viewed as political interference.
The perception that Turkey was steadily advancing toward a mature system of checks and balances was always ahead of reality. The reality is Turkey is now going backwards. A new law aims to clip the autonomy of the architects’ and engineers’ professional association, which was involved in the protests. This is a reversal of the early Erdogan years, in which a still-promising rapprochement with the EU led to the adoption of European governing standards.
The creeping authoritarianism is encouraged by Mr Erdogan, still by far Turkey’s most popular politician. Perhaps out of political calculation – the prime minister has his eye on the presidency – he is stoking conspiracy theories that play well in parts of the electorate.
This is a mistake. Turkey’s economic success – which underpins its political prospects in the region – depends on the global economy. Turkey’s current account gap is almost wholly filled by hot money that could evaporate overnight. Mr Erdogan jeopardises not just his compatriots’ livelihoods but the basis of his own political strength.