The End of the Turkish Model
Erdogan’s moderate Islamist AKP party promised reform and growth but has turned instead to consolidating powerBy Joe Parkinson, WSJ
Updated Oct. 31, 2015 6:53 a.m. ET
Five years ago, Turkey was a beacon of hope for the troubled Middle East—not only one of the world’s fastest-growing economies but also the biggest success story in the Muslim world. Edging toward membership in the European Union and attracting waves of foreign investment, Turkey had a newfound swagger. Western and Arab leaders were hailing its ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for fusing Islamism and democracy inside a secular constitution.
Now, as Turks prepare to vote on Sunday in their fourth election in 18 months, the Turkish model has unraveled, giving way to increasingly violent polarization in this strategically vital country. Social tensions once muted by robust economic growth and more inclusive governance have flared anew.
With a migrant crisis engulfing Europe, civil war in Syria and a proliferation of terror groups in the region, Turkey finds itself as a geopolitical hotspot. WSJ's Niki Blasina explains the key flashpoints, including Russia, the U.S. and the European Union. Photo: AP.
“The old elite are trying to reclaim power, and we won’t allow it,” said Ali Bodur, a 38-year-old hardware store owner in Istanbul’s conservative dockside neighborhood of Kasimpasa, where Mr. Erdogan grew up. Less than a mile up the hill, in the liberal Galata district, a 24-year-old student named Ozge Ulusoy also struck an uncompromising stance: “The reality is the Erdogan era needs to end before the country goes further off the rails…He is a dictator.”
First elected prime minister in 2003, Mr. Erdogan spent most of his first two terms focused on modernizing the economy, bringing stability to Turkey’s erratic politics, taming a military that had launched four coups in as many decades and empowering the long-subjugated pious majority. As his power has grown, however—he became president in 2014, after more than a decade as prime minister—so did his ambition to create a “New Turkey” in the image of the Ottomans. He sidelined reformers and technocrats and tried to centralize authority in his own hands. When he met resistance, he used the levers of state power and loyalist media outlets to brand his critics as enemies and traitors.