by Ahmed Motiar (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 45, No. 6, Shawwal, 1437)
Part of the reason why people came out in such large numbers to support the elected government of President Recep Tayip Erdogan is that it has provided tangible benefits to the people since the AKP came to power in 2002.
Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was first elected to office in 2002. It has retained its grip on power in successive elections although last year, it lost its parliamentary majority in the June elections only to regain a strong majority in the November elections. The AKP has also empowered its Anatolian support base of small- and medium-sized businessmen. The vast majority of Turks, hitherto excluded from the political and economic process by the overbearing Kemalists — a tiny group of secularists ensconced in important state institutions — have been given a stake in the affairs of the country.
Given below are some statistics that shed light on what the AKP has achieved in its 14 years in power and why the vast majority of people support it.
1. Between 2002 and 2012, the Turkish economy registered a growth of 64% in real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 43% increase in GDP per capita.
2. When the AKP assumed power in 2002, Turkey had a debt of $23.5 billion to the IMF. By 2012, this was reduced to $0.9 billion. President Erdogan decided not to sign a new deal for loans with the IMF. Turkey’s debt to the IMF was thus declared to be completely paid off and he announced that the IMF could now borrow from Turkey!
3. In 2010, five-year credit default swaps for Turkey’s sovereign debt were trading at a record low of 1.17%, below those of nine EU member countries and Russia.
4. In 2002, the Turkish Central Bank had $26.5 billion in reserves. This amount reached $92.2 billion in 2011. During Erdoğan’s leadership, inflation fell from 32% to 9.0% in 2004.
5. Under Erdogan’s government, the number of airports in Turkey increased from 26 to 50.
6. From 2002–2011, 13,500km of expressway were built.
7. For the first time in Turkish history, high speed railway lines were constructed, and the country’s high-speed train service began in 2009. In 8 years, 1,076km of railway tracks were built and 5,449km of railway renewed.
8. Erdogan put greater investments into the healthcare system than any of his predecessors. As part of the reforms, the “Green Card” program, which provides free health benefits to the poor, was introduced.
9. Erdogan increased Education spending from 7.5 billion lira in 2002 to 34 billion lira in 2011, the highest share of the national budget given to one ministry and the number of universities in Turkey nearly doubled from 98 in 2002 to 186 in October 2012.
10. In 1996 US$1=222 Liras and in 2016, $1=2.94 Liras (even after recent turmoil).
The failed coup has had a traumatic impact on Turkey. A large number of people have been affected. There have been large-scale arrests and dismissals. While it is important that Turkish authorities adhere to the rule of law and not indulge in vengeance against opponents, real or imagined, statements from Western officials clearly betray disappointment at the failure of the coup. As the coup attempt was underway, Western officials maintained a deadly silence against an elected government that is also a member of NATO.
Now they are issuing dire warnings to Turkey. Among them was one from the EU Foreign Policy chief, Frederica Mogherini on July 18 saying Ankara must not act in a manner that would damage the constitutional order. “We were the first… during that tragic night to say that the legitimate institutions needed to be protected,” she was quoted by Reuters (July 18) as saying upon arrival at an EU foreign ministers meeting, which was also to be attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry. Mogherini was not being completely honest; the Europeans and Americans were initially silent hoping the coup would succeed. Once it became clear, the coup had failed, these same rulers came out swinging in support of the rule of law.
“We are the ones saying today rule of law has to be protected in the country [Turkey],” she said in Brussels. “There is no excuse for any steps that take the country away from that.” Fair enough but a military regime would hardly have taken the country toward a constitutional order. She also said, “The democratic and legitimate institutions needed to be protected. Today, we will say together with the ministers that this obviously doesn’t mean that the rule of law and the system of checks and balances does not count.”
Mogherini added, “On the contrary, it needs to be protected for the sake of the country itself. So we will send a strong message.” And what was that strong message? Unless Turkey acceded to European demands, its application for membership in the EU would be jeopardized. Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders was more direct. He said he was concerned about the arrests of judges and also about Erdogan’s suggestion of reintroducing the death penalty for plotters. That, Reynders said, “would pose a problem with Turkey’s ties with the European Union.” He went on, “We cannot imagine that from a country that seeks to join the European Union. We must be very firm today, to condemn the coup d’etat but the response must respect the rule of law.”
Belgium is a tiny country in Europe but it still suffers from an imperial hangover. Abolishing capital punishment, as Turkey did in 2004 before it could open the formal process of accession negotiations with the EU, is a prerequisite for holding talks on membership.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault intoned, “We cannot accept a military dictatorship but we also have to be careful that the Turkish authorities do not put in place a political system which turns away from democracy… The rule of law must prevail… We need authority but we also need democracy.”
Erdogan, however, was not concerned about such threats. He said EU membership, that is dangled as a carrot, is not important for Turkey anymore. If the EU did not start serious negotiations in 11 years, why should it suddenly change its stance? They do not consider Turkey to be sufficiently Europeanized; it is a Muslim country and, therefore, not suitable for membership in the EU.
To get a glimpse into how widespread the Gulenist network was in Turkey, here are some numbers that indicate people linked with it in various departments and ministries, who have since been dismissed. They had even penetrated the prime minister’s office.
• 21,000 private teachers have had their licences revoked;
• 15,000 have been suspended from the Education Ministry;
• 8,000 police officers have been detained or suspended;
• 6,000 soldiers have been detained;
• 1,500 staff at the Ministry of Finance have been dismissed;
• 2,745 judges have been dismissed;
• Education board has demanded the resignation of 1,577 deans;
• 492 have been sacked from the Religious Affairs Directorate;
• 399 have been stripped of responsibilities from the Ministry of Family and Social Policies;
• 257 have been fired from the prime minister’s office;
• 100 intelligence officials have been sacked;
• 47 district governors have been dismissed;
• 30 provincial governors have been dismissed; and
• 20 “news” websites have been blocked.