By Thanasis Gavos – London
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s presidential election victory was met with caution in the UK, a country that ever since the Gezi Park movement repression sees the new Turkish President as a moderniser turned authoritarian.
“The new sultan” exclaimed The Independent’s editorial the day after Mr Erdogan’s first round win. A new sultan for the “new Turkey” that Mr Erdogan has been proclaiming every step of the way towards the new heights of power.
This new Turkey has been described by many -if not most- British commentators as a dangerously similar version of Putin’s Russia – “a ‘shell’ democracy, in which managed plebiscites mask the essentially autocratic character of a system containing few or no checks and balances,” warned The Independent.
Even The Times, the newspaper most often considered to be the consciousness of the British establishment, expressed concern over Mr Erdogan’s future direction, despite a long list of domestic achievements thus far. “Enhanced personal power combined with Mr Erdogan’s increasingly erratic and autocratic behaviour does not inspire confidence,” commented the paper in its editorial, also resulting to the Putin comparison: “The Middle East has enough problems without having President Erdogan garb himself as Vladimir Putin. Indeed many believe that one Vladimir Putin is already too much.” It is in this context that The Times declared “the Era of Erdogan”.
The Financial Times shares these concerns. In its editorial assessment of the result and the future of Turkey it commented that the country under Mr Erdogan has become “more affluent but less free.”
The British are looking for reassurances that the new President will use his likely new super powers to uphold democratic principles, observe the rule of law and keep up the good work on the economic front, as well as mend relations with Turkey’s neighbours.
Up until now his erratic behaviour seems to be tolerated, because for the west, above everything else, Erdogan still is the best bet for providing a sense of stability in this most volatile region, a rare and therefore precious commodity.
For the UK government his Turkey is still a valuable ally, a guarantee of NATO’s formidable presence in the eastern frontier, a country willing to offer a helping hand in alleviating the humanitarian if not the political crises in Iraq, Syria and Gaza.
But London as well as other capitals will be watching anxiously for signs which will resuscitate the hope that Mr Erdogan’s Turkey will regain its role as an example to be imitated across the Arab world, rather than drift towards autocracy.
London’s support for Turkey’ EU accession remains intact for now and under the current circumstances it would appear to be unlikely to waver in the foreseeable future. But it is not inconceivable that demands of Ankara will grow stronger if Mr Erdogan does not change course; and this includes his stance towards the Press, his critics and -especially with regard to the EU- his stance over the Cyprus issue.