Professor of International Relations, Kadir Has University, Istanbul
Soli Ozel does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
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Why is it that with all the accumulated experience in the world and the dramatic ends of many political leaders, democratic or authoritarian, Lord Acton always turns out to be right? Yes indeed, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. And when that happens, sooner or later the power holders slip and lose it all, at times in degrading fashion. This is the most important message of the events that have taken place in Turkey over the course of the past week.
Turkey’s immensely successful Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, re-elected for the third time with half the tallied vote in 2011, is now being taught one of the lessons that follows absolute corruption of power. He faces a massive popular mobilisation. This is mainly in reaction to his arrogance, autocratic tendencies, intolerance and abrasive/condescending style.
Once his power was consolidated and the demilitarisation of Turkish politics was secured and the secularist authoritarians were on the defensive, Erdogan all but dropped any effort to build consensus for his policies. He stopped listening to the liberal democratic circles that were instrumental in helping him gain legitimacy when he was first elected both domestically and abroad. A strictly majoritarian understanding of politics, as against a pluralistic one, not just in legislative matters but in terms of lifestyles and cultural topics as well gained further ground.
Increasingly many important pieces of legislature were passed without much public debate if at all. The government’s insistence, again without public debate or any effort to explain the matter to the public, on pursuing nuclear power reactors and urban renovation projects that destroy the natural and historical environment of Turkey’s major cities accumulated resentment among disparate segments of the population. Most importantly it fed a feeling of rising injustice and unfairness. A sense of being closed in began to set in.
The mobilisation started in Turkey’s main metropolis, Istanbul and solidarity marches and movements then spread through the entire country. It flared up only after the police used excessive force and pepper gas against a couple of dozen people who were sitting in the park to obstruct the uprooting of trees. This move was part of a vast project to turn Taksim Square into a pedestrian zone that the government undertook without consulting or listening to the residents of the neighbourhood, urban planners or other concerned constituencies.