Criticism against Turkey has become personal in recent years, with most Western analysts, and even politicians, directing their barbs at President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Whether Turkey will change if the strongman leaves the stage is the big question that inevitably arises. The signs so far are not encouraging.
Turkey has lost what few democratic reflexes it possessed. Inside the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party, everyone is in Erdogan’s shadow and it’s hard to imagine anyone having the courage to break away from the “supreme leader” and his ideological legacy, which now also encompasses the ideas, aims and visions of the far-right Gray Wolves. Instead, they will likely stay the same course.
Even prominent figures like former president Abdullah Gul, ex-prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu and the former minister of finance, Ali Babacan, have failed in their efforts to create a serious alternative trend from within the AKP.
The main opposition party – Kemalist CHP – meanwhile, has stayed put over the last 20 years with a popularity rating of 25% and with respect to foreign policy is trying to outdo Erdogan in nationalist grandstanding.
With the exception of the pro-Kurdish HDP, every party across the political spectrum in Turkey is engaged in an escalating nationalist agenda and even when this does not contain Erdogan’s expansionist vision, it entails friction with the West.
It has become clear that after completely dominating Turkey’s political scene for two whole decades, Erdogan’s vision is gradually elbowing out Kemal Ataturk’s.
Given the absence of an influential political figure with the vision and popular appeal to steer Turkey back onto a different path, there is little to be optimistic about.
This is starting to become apparent in Western capitals and at most institutions and think tanks, which are no longer focusing as much on how to bring Turkey back into the Euro-Atlantic fold as they are on strategies for managing this confrontational new Turkey – strategies which must also include ways of stemming its expansionist ambitions.