Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was to the point when he said that “Turkey is the talk of the world.” Erdogan’s point of reference was his country’s impressive growth (he tripled the size of the economy since taking power in 2003) and its lofty place within the OECD countries. The manner by which he reduced the mainstream political opposition to a bunch of bungling , whimpering secularists was another feat.
He was frequently on the cover of the most influential newsmagazines that touted how well his mild Islamist politics has blended with his growth policies to the eternal consternation and bafflement of the secular elite. These were fawning pieces, mostly. And with reason.
In the context of a troubled Egypt and the bloody uprisings in many parts of the Middle East and North Africa, Erdogan’s Turkey was hailed as some sort of a oasis in a desert of chaos. Compared with the other violence-bent Islamist parties, Erdogan’s AK Party was a model on how to govern well, at least based on the Western standards of effective governance.
Until the recent events.
Specifically, until his police used brutal means to disperse a small group of protesters protecting a public space and sycamore groves from the bulldozers of developers at the iconic Gezi Park, within the public space called Taksim Square .
The minor issue of protecting a public space and sycamore groves from bulldozers to build a mall drawn from Ottoman architecture was not supposed to trigger what it triggered, violent demonstrations that spread out from Istanbul’s Gezi Park to Ankara and across the country. After all, the political opposition had lost its ability to fight, the armed forces was too cautious to summon the ghost of Kemal Ataturk, the great soldier-secularist. Was it not only recently that Erdogan was named as the one and only figure with enough gravitas to broker peace in the chaotic parts of the Muslim world?
Overnight, the peaceful protests have has ignited a national outrage that shook the foundation of Turkey’s much vaunted stability. It was supposed to flame out early. The expectation was the protests tents would fold out after the initial government action. After all, it was without leaders, without a well-defined cause, and without organized groups raising the bar of protests and coordinating all the actions. But the protests have not only spread out across Turkey. Blood has been shed, lives have been lost and bodies have been maimed.
A trade union group of about 250,000 militants has joined the strike, and civil servants committed to the ideals of Ataturk have preceded the unionists.
Erdogan, in his early public statements after the crackdown, called the protesters“ extremists, looters” and many other negative names. Be calm, he said, these will all pass.” It did not.
It all became too clear that Erdogan was Turkey’s savior and dear leader in his own mind—a sentiment that widely shared.
One tactical miscalculation—the dispersal of green demonstrators brutally—sent almost 10 years of accumulated acclaim and three major electoral victories of Erdogan and his AK Party into flames. Just hours after the news of the brutal demonstration spread over the social media networks (the state-controlled media have been downplaying the epochal event), there were calls for Erdogan’s resignation.
If anything , the Turkey protests dramatize , in very stark terms, what we all know—the fickleness of acclaim. That power can slip overnight from the grip of someone who has tripled the size of a national economy and has placed his country at the lead of the OECD achievers. And the very subject of fawning articles that portrayed him in almost superhuman terms.
We don’t know how all the tumult in Turkey will end up. Erdogan, with ample support from the Anatolian Region, can survive this one, and tame the unrest in the major cities. Or, the protests would lose fervor for a while, then make a grand comeback, this time with more fervor and intensity. The worst-case scenario for Erdogan and his AK Party is a sustained protest that would cripple the major cities—which would force the more sterner, brutal face of the AK leadership.
It is either a protest that would end in a bang or in a whimper .
But whatever the outcome, the lessons from Istanbul are clear. The only thing permanent in leadership is the transitory nature of leadership. And the fickleness of acclaim .
President Aquino is popular now. The 7.8 percent growth rate , despite the criticism and its reliance of construction , is for real. He has not been dragged into a money scandal, the best thing about the presidency.
Poll after poll, the president is found to be the first or second most admired political leader in the country. The 9-3 results of the May 13 senatorial elections showed the massive popularity of the president
But drawing from the Turkey experience and some universal verities, there is no way we can claim that President Aquino will remain popular until 2016. Things can change and acclaim can evaporate overnight
Just a tactical miscalculation, the emperor is laid bare and naked.