Two electoral events at opposite ends of the globe — Malaysia to the far east and Venezuela in the South American west — have significant ramifications for Turkey which is set for snap elections 24 June.
The forthcoming elections will determine whether Turkey is dragged back to an imperial-style dictatorship such as that which existed under the Ottoman sultans or resumes its progress towards genuine pluralistic democracy which the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has relentlessly chipped away at during the past 16 years.
To the east, the victory of the opposition candidate, 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamed, was welcomed with relief and joy around the world, except for in Ankara.
There, the reaction was muted, suggesting that the palace was not at all pleased. Observers were all the more struck by this reticence because of how it contrasted with Ankara’s enthusiastic welcome of the results of the controversial “snap” Venezuelan elections.
“We are very pleased that the presidential, provincial and municipal elections held in Venezuela on Sunday, 20 May, are completed in a peaceful and quiet atmosphere,” stated a Turkish Foreign Ministry press release.
The stance jarred with opinion in Europe, the US and elsewhere in South America where the Venezuelan polls were condemned as “fatally flawed” and “failing to comply with international standards for a free, fair and transparent process”.
But whereas the US, the EU, the Lima Group, the G7 and many countries individually refused to recognise the results of the Venezuelan elections, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reached for the phone to congratulate his counterpart, Nicolás Maduro, on his victory.
Opposition Twitter accounts wryly commented on the “meeting of dictators” who drove their economies to ruin.
Others drew comparisons between the occupant of the presidential palace in Ankara and the defeated Malaysian incumbent Najib Razak who is mired in corruption allegations.
What particularly drew the attention of Anatolians was the Malaysian police raid of Razak’s home in which they found more than 400 luxury handbags and a stash of cash worth almost $30 million.
This naturally brought to mind the 17 December 2013 graft and money laundering scandal in Turkey that reached into the highest echelons of government, headed by Erdogan who was prime minister at the time.
The televised images of shoe boxes stuffed with millions of dollars unearthed by police in the home of Suleiman Aslan, then director of the state-owned Halkbank and a close associate of Erdogan, remain vivid in the Turkish collective memory.
As Turkey approaches the decisive polling day, opposition candidates in the presidential and legislative campaigns took the opportunity of the fall of the “one-man-rule Islamist model in the Pacific” to caution people against voting for Erdogan who, like Razak, is “driven solely by the desire to remain in power”.
They also reminded public opinion that international reports and the world press have branded Turkey as “the worst dictatorship in the emerging markets” and warned of “the erosion of the secularist republic” founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
As for the ruling AKP, it has become, according to opposition voices, an organisation that thrives on systematic “theft and plunder” and that has to go in order to clear the way for a new era.
The Erdogan regime, for its part, is fighting an all-out war to cling to power. In what European parliamentary organisations have already described as another “unlevel playing field”, he is using millions of dollars of state and municipal resources for his campaign and all the resources of the national media, which are no longer subject to penalties for failing to ensure fair media coverage for opposition candidates.
This pro-government media machine, as of late, has been railing against the “conspiracy” between “evil foreign powers”, international credit rating organisations and “hired elements” at home to undermine the Turkish lira with the sole and obvious purpose of swaying voters against Erdogan.
Why would all those parties gang up against the beloved Reis, or chief? Again, the answer is obvious to one pro-Erdogan columnist: firstly, thanks to the courage of his heroic people he survived the failed “US and Europe-backed” coup attempt in the summer of 2016.
Secondly, he is the “only Islamist leader who has taken a firm stance against the neo-colonialists and Israeli belligerency and who adamantly opposes the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the Hebrew state”.
Thirdly, “he stood up against NATO pressures, courageously continued to maintain excellent relations with Moscow and refused to back out of the Russian S-400 missile deal.” For all the foregoing reasons, “they” are “determined to punish him and to prevent him from completing the process of Turkey’s Islamic revival which he set into motion 16 years ago.” Then, in a curious exercise of logic, the columnist concluded: “What is the point of a strong lira when the country has no control over it and is deprived of its will and independence. So, let the dollar climb to TL 20. What matters is that the Zaim (prince) continues to lead Anatolia.”
It appears that those “conspirators” are determined to work in mysterious ways to keep Erdogan from winning another term in office.
For example, US President Trump announced that his government had slashed funding for the fight against extremism and terrorism in northwest Syria, essentially relinquishing responsibility for that task to Turkey.
So why should this decision, which helps Turkey and its militia allies consolidate their control over that part of Syria, be seen as a conspiracy? Because, rather than “throwing good money after bad” there, Washington decided to redirect it to northeast Syria to support civil society and educational organisations in the areas controlled by the predominantly Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The mere mention of that predominantly Kurdish body makes Ankara see red.
Yet, in spite of all the anti-American conspiracy theorising, the Turkish-US tensions over US support for the Kurds in northern Syria, and the general anti-“US imperialism” rhetoric coming out of Ankara, the Turks are readying to “repair” the frayed Turkish-US bond.
Eyes will be on Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu who is scheduled to meet with his US counterpart Mike Pompeo in Washington 4 June.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 31 May 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly with headline: Plots and plans