Turks harbour mixed feelings about Erdogan in wake of Gezi protests
The big rallies may be over but unease at the PM’s growing power still lingers
Later, on Umraniye’s main square, Bagis rejects the suggestion that the Gezi Park protests indicate a deeper malaise in Turkey. “There are unhappy people within the society but they are not representing the whole society,” he says.
“We have been analysing the demonstrators, some were there because they are sincerely interested in the environment; some were there because they want to lobby for the cause of a political organisation they support, including some terrorist groups; some were there because they are not happy with the recent legislation regulating the sale of alcohol or the naming of the third bridge over the Bosphorus [after an Ottoman sultan who massacred Alevis, now the country’s biggest religious minority]; and some were there because it was fun to be there. But there are millions of others who were not there and that shows this government still enjoys very good public support.”
Bagis notes a recent poll which showed AKP ratings at 52 per cent in Turkey as a whole, and 54 per cent in Istanbul. “The others are given the right to speak, their freedom of speech is protected, even if we don’t enjoy what they are saying,” he argues. “We welcome demonstrations but when the protesters resort to violence, the police have to act and protect the lives and property of the people. I am not saying Turkey is perfect but it is doing much better than before . . .”
Bagis says the AKP is confident it will sweep Turkey’s forthcoming municipal, presidential and general elections. Mustafa Akyol believes while the core AKP vote is solid, there are others having misgivings. “People outside the party who voted for Erdogan before now think he is going too far.”
Many of the protesters who massed on Turkey’s streets in June accuse Erdogan of increasingly authoritarian ways, citing the alcohol restrictions, a stifling of the media, and his demand that women have at least three children.
Bagis rejects such criticisms. “Erdogan is not dictating people’s lives. He sees this country as a big family, he sees himself as the leader of the family and he makes recommendations to them,” he says. “I have known him for 12 years, this is Erdogan 101. He has not changed. This is the interpretation of some circles who are trying to create a negative image of him because they are not happy that he is making Turkey powerful with such popular support.”
Before the Gezi Park protests there was unease – including among AKP supporters – over Erdogan’s bid to accumulate even more power by changing Turkey’s constitution to expand the role of president, which he plans to run for in the next election. Bagis believes it would be a shoo-in. “If he runs, I have no doubt he would be elected in the first round with a huge margin.”