Analysis: Battered Erdogan seen weathering storm as scandal deepens

Analysis: Battered Erdogan seen weathering storm as scandal deepens
# 28 December 2013 01:28 (UTC +04:00)

Baku-APA. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan still enjoys the fierce loyalty of pious voters and wealthy elites, which should be enough to keep him in power in the face of a corruption scandal that has rocked his government and reached his family, APA reports quoting Reuters.

But the suggestion by members of his AK party that a general election could be brought forward to next year shows that he is more worried than ever about his grip on a country he has transformed during a decade in office.

A less feisty leader might already have been sunk by the corruption scandal involving accusations of wrongdoing at a state-run bank.

Two members of the cabinet have resigned after their sons were arrested. Another minister who quit said the prime minister knew what was going on and should resign as well.

The affair turned more personal this week when Turkish media published what appeared to be a preliminary summons for Bilal Erdogan, one of the premier's two sons, to testify. The authenticity of the document could not be verified.

Investors are nervous and the lira currency has swooned.

But the scandal has only brought out the fight in Erdogan, who has consistently said that the entire affair is a foreign-backed plot against him. He has sacked police officers including the Istanbul police chief, exchanged diatribes with a powerful cleric and steadfastly insisted he has done nothing wrong.

The document naming his son was just another example of the conspiracy, he said: "If they try to hit Tayyip Erdogan through this, they will go away empty-handed. Because they know this, they're attacking the people around me."

So far, opinion pollsters predict that support for Erdogan's AK party, which enjoys wide support in Istanbul and the conservative countryside, has probably fallen by a few percentage points but still remains over 40 percent.

That is hardly enough of a slide to force it out of power. The last election saw it win more than two thirds of the seats in parliament with 50 percent of the vote, an unprecedented success.

Still, one senior official in Erdogan's AK party predicted the next general election, due in 2015, could be brought forward to early next year "if events take a dramatic turn", a sign that the party is revising its calculations to contain the fallout.

PUGNACIOUS

Much depends on the resolve of the famously pugnacious three-term premier, 59, who has already transformed Turkey by curbing the powers of the secularist military establishment and presiding over a spectacular economic boom.

Defiance worked for Erdogan six months ago, when he was beset by unprecedented anti-government street protests. Accused of being authoritarian, he ordered a police crackdown in which eight people died. Polls found his popularity almost unchanged.

To his conservative followers, corruption allegations could prove more damaging than accusations of authoritarianism.

"The (summer) protests were viewed as having been taken over by several disparate interest groups, which could explain why it has not had a major impact on his supporters," said Nazli Ilicak, a well-known Turkish columnist who worked for the pro-government daily Sabah until last week.

"But within the conservative electorate, the sense of justice - that what rightfully belongs to the people has been usurped - these are not seen as issues to be taken lightly."

She said Erdogan, who has hunkered down with a reshuffled cabinet of loyalists, would need to "come clean" and address the corruption allegations head on if he wanted to keep votes.

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