Jul 02, 2014  | ERDOĞAN

Erdoğan & the Handbook of Perpetual Rule

Democracy is a swell system of government but has a couple of glitches for those astute politicias who are firm believers in the "leader-for-life" creed. Not only do they have to get voted back in office every now and then, they also have to deal with term limits. Luckily for a "novice" such as Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been ruling Turkey for a mere 11 years, there is a long tradition of fellow rulers out  there who can inspired him in his quest for perpetual rule.

 

In order to  overcome or at least mitigate the hurdle of "winning consecutive elections" there are two broad, basic steps any aspiring autocrat can follow, namely electoral rigging and opposition bashing. All this is clearly explained (with helpful diagrams & pictures) in the "Handbook of Perpetual Rule".

 

Electoral fraud is quite straightforward but attention has to be paid to the freedom-of-the-press aspect, namely that there shouldn't be any (freedom). A freewheeling Press may find the need to draw attention to "irregularities", as journalists like to call them ("stuffed ballot boxes" is a favorite journalistic trope), and then the election-riggers won't hear the end of it. Therefore, to avoid such fuss this technique requires a subdued and subservient Press.

 

Putin's Russia has a stellar scorecard in this matter, as well as in the whole "freedom-of-expression" arena, and Erdoğan has been surely taken a lesson or two from him. Although over the years Turkey has proven quite adept at jailing journalists as well as neutering the traditional media (by concentrating ownership to few conglomerates), in the quagmire of digital era it can sure use all the guidance and inspiration it can get from the Russian experience of Internet subjugation.

 

The second step (obliterating the opposition) can be accomplished through a variety of means. A "friendly" electoral commission for example can disqualify most viable challengers on various fabricated, irrelevant or technical grounds. Syria has been a model example of this methodology; in the latest presidential election there was no actual contender on the ballot to challenge Assad. Iran is also a fervent adherent of this technique, with 8 candidate qualifications out of 680 at the latest presidential elections. Again, a "domesticated" media landscape is called for to save time from having to "defend" the inscrutability of the commission's intentions. A more brute but effective approach is to incarcerate any serious challenger to the incumbent's authority. Russia has seen its fair share of rebellious oligarchs being arrested, tried and jailed.

 

Unfortunately in a parliamentary system the self-appointed ruler-ad-infinitum also has to make sure the incontestability of not only his position but of the parliamentary majority and here things get a little nuanced. This can be dealt with by a multi-pronged approach that includes: disqualifying existing parties, blocking registration of new ones, tweaking electoral law in favor of the incumbent party (and in general exploiting the incumbency privileges at hand), enacting or promising populist legislation in order to broaden its electoral base, and limit the media coverage of opposition. The latter is of course already part of the mandatory strategy of manhandling the Press, ideally turning all major media outlets into government mouthpieces.

 

The really tricky part though, for those that cling to some semblance of working democracy, is the issue of term limits. Ever since the ancients Athenians devised some rules limiting appointed officials to single terms, term limits has been all the rage in democratic systems all over the world. Apparently there are claims that long exposure to power is both addictive and corrosive.  For those perky rulers that democracy is just an euphemism for dictatorship (the ex-USSR republics come to mind), no such limits apply. But for those who like Turkey are vying to be taken seriously, the dream of recurrently holding on to the highest office is (in theory) unattainable.

 

To thus circumvent this inconvenience, Erdoğan, who is doing his third and final stint as Prime Minister (ironically barred by his own party's rules and not the constitution) is taking a page (again) from Putin's Master Class of Perpetual Rule, which brilliantly accomplished perennial dominion by switching office positions (from President to PM and back to President).  He is thus preparing himself to be triumphantly elected President of the republic. Although up to now a ceremonial position, the plan is to use already constitutionally established powers (authority to appoint the PM, convene & chair cabinet meetings, head the national security council & the state supervisory council) combind with some enhancemens through new legislation. Once he completes the two 5-year terms as President he can outmaneuver once again the system in a similar manner. He could for example position himself again as PM, he can form a new party or even suspend the constitution altogether,  declare Turkey a caliphate and himself its righteous Caliph. The choices are endless.