On March 29, Turkey will vote for municipal elections. The electoral campaign has become fierce and the ruling AKP party seems rising on the polls thanks as well to its anti-Israel rhetoric. The so-called “secular” opposition is trying now to find new ways to counter PM Erdogan, but with no success.
Turkey seems to have already forgotten the AKP’s files on corruption and Erdogan’s strict control over freedom of the press and of speech. In a way, the Turkish PM managed to erase the controversial past of his party, by giving to Turkey the illusion of a return of the Ottoman Empire’s glory. “Turkey is no longer a country unable to gain prestige in line with its power in the international arena or one suffering from a lack of self-confidence,” said Erdogan during a rally, adding that Turkey should take a stance proper to its power and gravity. US President Barack Obama seems to agree with him. Despite Erdogan’s statements against Israel and his relations with Iran, on February 16 Obama called the Turkish PM telling him: “I would like to say that your leadership is vital in the Middle East peace process and America always understands Turkey’s sensitivities.”
Hence, Turkish opposition is losing hope to win the local election, and in a desperate move to get votes, is trying to emulate the AKP, slowly losing its secular identity. The daily Turkish newspaper Vatan reported that while the photos of AKP executives drinking alcoholic beverages at various party functions are being published, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) started to support the veil and Koran classes and the opening of new courses on the Koran throughout Turkey.
After Davos, Erdogan became a “hero” not only in his country, but as well in the Arab world. Just few days ago, a group of young Lebanese gathered in Beirut to give its support to Erdogan, and Iran has declared the Turkish PM the “honorary freeman” of the capital Tehran.
Furthermore, to boost the pride and the success of the AKP, Israel President Shimon Peres was quoted as apologizing to Erdogan over the phone right after Davos. Peres denies this, but cannot deny that he took the initiative to call the Turkish PM. Of course, Peres’ phone call was immediately portrayed in the Turkish media as a confirmation of Erdogan’s superiority over the Israeli political establishment.
Deniz Baykal, leader of Turkey’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), has tried to say that Erdogan should stop using the incident for political gain, adding: “The premier’s problem is the local elections. He wants to use the incident as election fodder.” However, his words did not convince public opinion, and, fearing that Erdogan could win handily in the next election, decided to use the same anti-Israel rhetoric.
A few days later, Baykal said in his party’s parliamentary meeting: “We would have reacted the same way in the face of such a situation in Davos, regardless of being in opposition to the government”. Not satisfied, Baykal also criticized the government for its past relations with Israel and for not doing more to oppose the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Speaking at his party’s parliamentary group meeting, the leader of the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahceli, stressed as well that Erdogan’s protest of mistreatment at a seminar in Davos had been justified, and Democratic Leftist Party (DSP) leader Zeki Sezer defined it as “appropriate.” Grand Unity Party (BBP) leader Muhsin Yazicioglu also praised Erdogan’s reaction in Davos, but sounded a similar note on the need for more action, saying, “When they [AKP] stop training Israeli pilots in Konya, I will applaud them.” He added, “Turkey should have halted diplomatic contacts with Israel after it launched its ground operation in Gaza.”
The new Turkish political environment won’t make easy the diplomatic relations with Israel, especially with the Turkish public opinion. Recently the Israeli Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrahi was paraphrased in Haaretz as saying that Erdogan, who has been vicious in his criticism of Israel should first look in the mirror. The report said that Mizrahi “did not leave it at a clear allusion to the massacre of the Armenians and the suppression of the Kurds, but mentioned the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus as well.” Mizrahi’s statement was not at all welcomed by the Turkish population, worsening the feelings against Israel. The media angrily answered that calling “Turkey an ‘invader country’ [in Cyprus] is not a problem with reason, but a display of enmity against Turkey. Turkey cannot tolerate such a hostile stance. We do not care whether or not Turkish-Israeli relations suffer.”