How Erdoğan torpedoes his rule

Abdullah Ayasun
5 min readDec 17, 2021
Then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks after the outbreak of a graft investigation that incriminated his four ministers and close associates. (Photo Credit: AFP, Getty Images)

The fast-moving corruption investigation that has encircled Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government has left people wondering whether the prime minister can weather the biggest challenge to his decade-old rule. The bleak picture defies optimism and bodes ill for economic and political stability, with Erdoğan now preoccupied with political survival and seemingly as determined as ever to fight to the end.

Erdoğan seems to be torpedoing his decade-long spell over Turkish politics as his self-defeating policies could edge him closer to an unanticipated end. This became stunningly clear when he attempted to curb the ongoing investigation by purging thousands of police officers in the largest overhaul since the foundation of the republic, allegedly intimidating prosecutors, scrambling to introduce a new bill restructuring the top legal body and granting power over the judiciary to the justice minister.

However, his counter-moves lack a genuine strategy at best, and include risks of imperiling the very basic components of the rule of law by eroding the separation of powers at worst. What Erdoğan is doing is nothing but saving his own political career at the expense of democracy and the rule of law, the elements for which his ruling party waged an epic battle against the once-powerful military and secular establishment in the past decade.

His unexpected turnaround regarding the historic coup trials that curbed the military’s power and handed down life sentences to generals convicted of plotting to topple the civilian government, by floating the issue of a retrial for army officers, however, is bound to create deep controversy even among his own support base, and will likely backfire given the adamant objection from some senior names in his inner circle. Such a move will also further alienate his political allies in the conservative fold whose backing was crucial in defeating military tutelage.

Erdoğan’s grave mistake lies at the center of his interpretation of the unfolding investigation, whose ramifications and implications are explosive in political terms. While Erdoğan seems smart enough to grasp the devastating nature of the corruption probe, which has had strong political reverberations, his handling of the case is abysmally self-defeating and spells further trouble for him if he locks himself into an…

Abdullah Ayasun

New York-based journalist and writer. Columbia School of Journalism. 2023 White House Correspondents' Association Scholar. Twitter: @abyasun