The ruling Justice and Development Party’s strong win in local elections secured Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s power and political clout. However, with his recent Twitter ban, the premier risks fueling greater polarization, which could have negative long-term economic repercussions.
Riled in recent months by allegations of political and financial corruption against the premier and his inner circle, Turkey is making headlines once again. This time, however, protests against the twelve-year rule of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been overshadowed by a statewide ban on social media outlets.
The government placed a ban on Twitter late last week, branding the platform as a threat to Turkish values and society. Western governments and organizations strongly condemned the ban, with the United States describing it as “21st century book burning” and “a threat to freedom of speech everywhere.”But even with a ban in place, Turkey’s eleven million Twitter users accessed networks in stronger numbers than ever, bypassing firewalls and tweeting through standard text messaging.
An ineffective blockade, however, should not be interpreted as naïveté on the part of the Turkish government. In the wake of local elections, Erdogan used the ban to his advantage, drumming up support for his Justice and Development Party (AKP) from his conservative and loyal base.
Supporters of the premier, many of whom live in Turkey’s rural Anatolia heartlands, view Erdogan as Turkey’s greatest modern leader. While his predecessors favored more secular approaches to governance, Erdogan has used his long rule to advance laws and rhetoric that favor an Islamic approach to democracy.
Erdogan himself acknowledged that there are still ways to access banned social media platforms. The Prime Minister is not trying to block social media as much as taint it, convincing his supporters that online corruption allegations are nothing more than a ruthless plot to unseat him. And with a decisive victory in local elections this past March, the premier’s strategy proved effective.
The AKP solidified its dominance over the Turkish political scene, securing 46 percent of the vote. While the party’s margin of victory was down slightly from national elections in 2011, they still scored a decisive victory over the opposition Republican People’s Party, which only secured 28 percent of the vote.
A solid win for the AKP, widely seen as a referendum over the premier’s long rule, puts Erdogan on track for a successful presidential bid this summer. And while opposition and political risk remain, another victory for the premier and his party will likely lead to a temporary strengthening of Turkey’s $800 billion economy.
Turkish markets rallied in wake of the election results, with the Turkish lira rising to 2.15 against the dollar, its highest level since late 2013. Investors view a secure AKP victory positively. A marginal win would likely have been perceived as a shock to the ruling party’s support, accentuating investor concern over rising political tensions.
Although investors remain bullish in the short-term, a turbulent and ever-changing Turkish political scene should give those looking to stake long-term positions in Turkish assets pause. The AKP’s victory does little to appease the growing polarization of Turkish society, and will likely fuel more protests and public unrest. With another round of elections looming this summer, only time will tell if Erdogan’s strategy of fueling polarization across Turkish society will truly secure his reign.
Rami is an analyst with a US Defense and Space firm, where he works in strategic planning and finance for Civil and Defense programs. He holds Bachelor degrees in Finance and Classical Music from the University of Maryland, College Park.