The arrogance of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Prime Minister of Turkey, toward protesters in several major Turkish cities is a vivid confirmation that his aspiration to become his country’s first directly elected president, with strong executive powers, should not be fulfilled. A constitutional amendment that would enable that ambition would dangerously add to his already swollen head.
The overreaction by the police to a peaceful protest against the redevelopment of a park and square in Istanbul does not seem to have been Mr. Erdogan’s doing. But his dismissal of the protesters as “looters” and “wild extremists” walking “arm-in-arm with terrorism,” and his wild claim that “social media is the worst menace to society,” show a lack of judgment and self-control. And he has hyperbolically declared, “If this is about holding meetings, if this is a social movement, where they gather 20, I will get up and gather 200,000 people. Where they gather 100,000, I will bring together one million from my party” – although members of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) are not showing signs of doing anything of the sort.
Fortunately, Abdullah Gul, the President – his office makes him the head of state, a role that includes ceremonial functions but is not simply apolitical – has respectfully acknowledged the legitimacy of “the expression of various views and objections.” In implicit disagreement with Mr. Erdogan, he pointed out that democracy is not only about elections and their results.
Likewise, the Deputy Prime Minister, Bulent Arinc, has apologized to the protesters.
Indeed, Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish religious leader (living, oddly enough, in the Pocono hills of Pennsylvania) who arguably has as much influence in the membership of the AKP as Mr. Erdogan, has let it be known that he thinks the police used excessive force. He has recently preached against “hubris,” which is interpreted as being directed at Mr. Erdogan.
The Turkish Prime Minister is most unlikely to lose power in the near future, but there is now reason to hope that he will not attain the executive presidency that he has sought.
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