Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the March 30 local elections making many forecasts fail. It means Erdogan will not resign in the heat of corruption rows that shake the country, the hopes for a «Turkish Spring» have been baffled. The ruling party got around 45% of votes in comparison with the approximately 28% support received by the leading opponents – the Republican People's Party.
Of course, the main political battles are still ahead. The next presidential election is slated for August to be followed by parliamentary election in 2015. At that, the events show that the opposition has slim chances to turn the tide and the Turkish Republic may eventually become a one-party state. Erdogan will have each and every reason to repeat the words said by Louis XIV, King of France (the Sun King (le Roi-Soleil), «L'État, c'est moi» («I am the state»).
With all its trump cards at its disposal, the opposition has failed to change the course of events. Is the Turkish leader «unsinkable»? Or is it the Turkish society being mobilized to grapple with challenging foreign policy issues?
Leaving aside the details of tapped phone conversations, the Erdogan’s stance on the corruption scandals was immaculate. It was not so much the internal opposition he blamed for unleashing the campaign against him, but rather Fethullah Gülen, US-based Islamic preacher. Erdogan sent a clear signal to the society saying that an emigrant residing in the United States, the country which conducts Middle East policy contrary to the interests of Muslims, cannot be trusted.
There was a second factor in favor of Erdogan – the awkward policy of the West trying to make Turkey stay within the orbit of its influence and simultaneously stage a «soft» version of «Arab Spring».
Western media and human rights organizations used the fact that the public protests were quelled in the summer of 2013 as a pretext to lambaste Erdogan. The American Interest used the Freedom House report to accuse the Prime Minister of installing sultanate in the country, «Are we talking 'return of the Sultanate'?» It’s worth to note that the campaign against Erdogan got a new impetus after the Prime Minister let know Turkey may get a higher status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
The frontal attack against Erdogan provides a chance to those around him to present themselves as the fighters against Western hegemony (something that does not exactly match the reality). The Justice and Development Party rhetoric started to acquire the corresponding taint, especially bolstered by the EU’s decision taken at the end of 2013 to suspend the talks on Turkey’s entry into the European Union. As a result, Erdogan and his party managed to paint the local elections as kind of a referendum on Turkey’s state independence.
Since then, the result was predetermined. Turkish Yeni Safak wrote the result is interconnected with the fickle foreign policy of «late» Obama. The newspaper cited the Obama’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly session in 2013 when he simultaneously recognized and negated the fact there are divisions over the influence in the Middle East. He said there was an incredible geopolitical struggle going on in the region, but there were no winners or losers and no Great Game to be won. According to Yeni Safak, «No matter how hard the United States tries to negate it, there is a struggle going in the world for energy and hegemony as it was in the XVIII century. It takes place in the same regions with the participation of the same players. The process encompasses vast territory from Morocco to Indonesia, from Afghanistan to Somalia, Kenia and Tanzania, from the Pacific and Indian oceans to Central Asia, the Caspian and the eastern part of the Mediterranean…Actually whatever is happening in the world – from terrorist acts to establishing regional alliances, from the coup in Egypt to the agreement on chemical weapons in Syria, from economic crises to popular unrests like the ones on Taksim square in Istanbul or in Brazil – everything is closely intertwined with the very «big game» that does not exist according to Obama… Turkey, as any other player, does not want to fall prey to geographical determinism».
The main driving force behind the Erdogan’s political longevity, which has entered into the second dozen of years, is the concept of Neo-Ottomanism, which gets the Turkish society together mobilizing miscellaneous forces and sentiments over the divisions along the political convictions and parties’ allegiance lines. Some experts compare Neo-Ottomanism with the pattern of the clash of civilizations offered by Samuel Huntington. They highly appreciate it, saying it’s a separate, multi-layer, ideological and political concept of geopolitical stand-off relevant in the long term.
One way or another, Neo-Ottomanism allows Ankara be flexible while adopting the policy of protecting Islam and being secular while promoting the policy of expansion in the Balkans, the Black Sea, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East. The policy requires constant correction. But the local election on March 30 gave testimony to the fact that that the «Erdogan’s pattern» has great clout, its potential is far from being exhausted.