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Erdoğan Reelected to 5 More Years in Turkey as His Government Grows More Authoritarian & Nationalist

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We look at the impact of the reelection of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Sunday in a tight runoff vote, extending his 20-year rule for a further five years. Erdoğan received just over 52% of the vote, beating challenger Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, an economist and former civil servant who unified a broad coalition but failed to unseat Erdoğan despite growing dissatisfaction with his governance and deep economic pain within the country. We speak with Cihan Tuğal, UC Berkeley sociologist and author of The Fall of the Turkish Model: How the Arab Uprisings Brought Down Islamic Liberalism.

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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

We end today’s show in Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won Sunday’s presidential runoff. With this victory, he extends his 20-year rule for a further five years, by far the longest rule of any leader since the founding of the Republic of Turkey a century ago. Erdoğan received just over half of the vote.

The election comes as Turkey continues to oppose Sweden’s efforts to join NATO. On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken urged Erdoğan to drop his opposition to Sweden’s NATO bid, while also saying that Turkey should be provided with upgraded F-16 fighters as soon as possible.

We’re joined by Cihan Tuğal. He is a professor of sociology at University of California, Berkeley, author of The Fall of the Turkish Model: How the Arab Uprisings Brought Down Islamic Liberalism. He wrote a piece for The New York Times earlier this month headlined “Whatever Happens Next, Turkey Is in Trouble.” He’s working on a book on right-wing populist regimes, including Erdoğan’s. He has written extensively in Turkish and English about Erdoğan’s rule.

Professor Tuğal, thanks so much for being with us. Can you start off by talking about the significance of this victory? And characterize, if you will, Erdoğan’s rule over the past 20 years.

CIHAN TUĞAL: It is a significant victory. So, the far-right forces have held onto the parliament, which they were predicted to lose, and which was — what was predicted to be a tight race, the presidential race, was easily won by Erdoğan. And this was, of course, made possible by the monopolization of the media and the judiciary and manipulation of the electoral system; however, it was also made possible by the incompetence of the mainstream opposition.

So, Erdoğan’s rule has been getting more and more authoritarian. It was quite conservative from the get-go, and it had many authoritarian elements, but these were ignored by the Western world. And Erdoğan was supported by liberals at home, too, due to his neoliberal reforms, free market reforms, mostly. But in the 2010s, he changed track. While deepening some free market reforms, such as privatization, he also started to use many state capitalist tools to bolster a big defense sector. So, the Turkish economy itself is now becoming a prop for a more and more nationalist regime. So, the regime today is more conservative, more authoritarian and more nationalist, as well as being quite anti-organized labor. And in all of these senses, it’s really destroying any prospects for democracy in Turkey.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Professor, could you talk about how the economic situation in Turkey? Because, clearly, there appears to be a deep divide between the vote in the countryside and the major cities. But also, how has wealth inequality developed under Erdoğan in terms of the masses of the people? And why does he still have so much support, especially in the rural areas?

CIHAN TUĞAL: Yes, not only in rural areas, but also in the working-class districts of the big cities. That is very important and usually ignored. So, what’s happening is, inequality is deepening. So, if you look at the numbers, that’s very clear.

So, why are the people who are losing, the laboring classes, still supporting Erdoğan? Well, we have to make the picture a little bit more complicated, actually. So, even though labor as a whole is losing, the labor in the defense sector and also small to medium-sized businesses, who benefit from low interest rates, are actually seeing a sustainable path in all of this for themselves — so, sustainable in the sense that they keep their jobs, but with low wages and under horrific conditions. So, you know, work accidents, deaths caused by work, quote-unquote, “accidents,” are rampant in Turkey. So this is not just cheap labor, but really widely exploited labor.

But the alternative to this presented by the mainstream opposition is not an alternative at all. Their vision is a return to the 2000s, where Erdoğan was still the leader, but he was applying free market policies. So, that’s what the opposition is promising. And people well know that that will mean unemployment. It will mean more debt, and not necessarily a better life. So, the people are forced to choose between an economic route that has already failed — free market, you know, pro-globalization, pro-neoliberal globalization, a route that has already failed — and a route that may be unsustainable in the very long term but at least is providing them with jobs now. I mean, that’s what the people have voted for in these working-class districts of the cities.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Tuğal, if you can talk about Erdoğan’s opposition to Sweden becoming a part of NATO? It’s not an anti-militarist opposition, but it’s because of Kurds and Kurdish political asylum seekers coming from Turkey to Sweden, the people he wants extradited. Can you explain what this is all about?

CIHAN TUĞAL: Yes, this is not an anti-NATO opposition. It’s not only not anti-militarist, it’s not anti-NATO. So, Erdoğan is solidly pro-NATO, but he wants to make sure that Sweden makes concessions before it is accepted into NATO. It wants a lot of Kurdish activists — he wants a lot of Kurdish activists extradited to Turkey before Sweden is accepted.

So, this is actually a very complex picture, because even though Erdoğan is pro-NATO, he also has very good relations with Putin, and these relations are going to get better. So, Erdoğan plays the anti-Putin card when he talks to NATO, and he plays the anti-NATO card when he talks to Putin. And at home to his own audiences, he presents himself as independent from both, and, you know, as a part of his imperial self-presentation, he sees himself and many of his supporters see him as building a national Islamic empire in the very long run, that is going to be an alternative to the NATO and to Russia.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Professor, we only have a couple of minutes left, but I wanted to ask you why repeated U.S. governments always tread so lightly when it comes to criticizing Turkey, because of its role in the Middle East and the role it plays often to assist the United States in the Middle East. Could you talk about that, as well?

CIHAN TUĞAL: Yeah, it’s not only the U.S., it’s also the EU. So, they criticize authoritarianism in Turkey. They criticize conservatism in Turkey. And then they support Erdoğan, because they’re getting something out of this. I mean, the global economy is getting cheap labor out of this, so this is in the interest of national capital. And for the U.S., Erdoğan is not a very reliable partner. They would prefer somebody else. But he is better than a true anti-imperialist. And for the EU, the calculation is much dirtier, actually. They pay Erdoğan to keep refugees out of Europe. So, the dirtiest deal is actually with the EU.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Professor Tuğal, if you can comment on the fact that in October the Republic of Turkey will celebrate its centennial? Talk about the significance of these elections in that context, Erdoğan continuing through past 20 years.

CIHAN TUĞAL: Yeah, again, there was a false hope that this will be the end — these elections will be the end of Erdoğanism, so this Islamic surge within the secular republic would just be a parenthetical note, but this was just wishful thinking. The organizational basis of Islamism and far-right nationalism in Turkey are very strong. And the mistake was always counting on the bureaucracy and the secular middle classes to present an alternative to that, completely ignoring the laboring classes and marginalizing and excluding the Kurds. So, that’s what the mainstream opposition did. So, the only way to keep republican ideals alive in Turkey is through integrating Kurds and through mobilizing labor.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Cihan Tuğal, we want to thank you so much for being with us, professor of sociology at University of California, Berkeley, author of —

CIHAN TUĞAL: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN:The Fall of the Turkish Model: How the Arab Uprisings Brought Down Islamic Liberalism.

That does it for our show. A very happy birthday to Angie Karran! Democracy Now! produced with Mike Burke, Renée Feltz, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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