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Erdogan stands firm and looks toward elections

Corruption allegations, Internet censorship, attacks on protestors: One year after the Gezi Park protests began, Erdogan and his party face massive criticism. But remains in firm control of Turkey.

The images blur together: Turkish police officers firing water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets charge into an angry crowd of protestors. The current protests are the result of the tragic mining accident in Soma in western Turkey. A year ago, it was the construction plans for Gezi Park in Istanbul that set off the demonstrations.

One year after the Gezi Park protests, there are several issues fueling many Turks' deep-seated dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the policies of his conservative Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The government, however, seems to have strengthened its position despite taking up positions that earned it domestic as well as international criticism. In spring, voters awarded Erdogan's party 45 percent of their ballots during municipal elections - gaining ground in some instances on a similar vote in 2009.

Internet under lock and key

Protesters and barricades in Istanbul
Photo: Gaia Anderson

Protesters in Istanbul in June 2013

Recent debates over freedom of expression restrictions after the temporary closure of social network Twitter and an ongoing block of the video site YouTube have done little domestic damage to Erdogan.

"This is only an issue in the big cities and for students," said Murat Erdogan [no relation to the prime minister- the ed.], a political scientist from the Hacettepe University in Ankara. "This is not an issue for society at large. Many have no idea what the problem is, and what was banned."

Yet at the same time, Murat Erdogan told DW, the beginning of the protests one year ago has created a kind of "Geziphobia" within the government: a fear of the uncontrollable nature of large-scale protests. For Erdogan, it's far easier to confront weak opponents in parliament than it is to fight mass demonstrations on the streets.

Weak opposition

Turkish parliament in Ankara

The ten-percent threshold means large swaths of Turkish society are not represented in parliament

It's the weak opposition which, in the political scientist's view, is one of the primary reasons for Erdogan's continued success. As to the reasons behind the opposition's floundering, there are many. Turkey's parliamentary system has a 10-percent electoral threshold to enter parliament, allowing the AKP, when it first entered parliament with 34 percent of the votes in 2002, to hold nearly two-thirds of the seats.

Another fact is that the opposition gets entangled in its own ideological debates rather than issues confronting the public, said Murat Erdogan. "The left party has shown little interest in the problems facing normal people so far," he added.

Off the street and into parliament

Members of the Gezi Park protest movement have thus far failed to bundle their political demands into the product of a single party, according to Ekrem Eddy Güzeldere, a political analyst and journalist from Istanbul. On the one hand, that's due to the fact that "founding a party in Turkey is very complicated, expensive and administratively difficult, and on the other hand, that it wasn't an organized group that came together there, but a non-hierarchical community with various centers," he told DW.

That said, the protest movement should at the very least set in motion a change a sustainable change in civil society. "Whether that takes on a political form or becomes more influential in the existing political structures - that could take up to a decade," he said.

Police fire a water cannon at protesters in Istanbul

In the last year, a group of perpetual 'militant protestors' has taken root - in spite of severe police crackdowns

Upcoming elections

Turkey will hold presidential elections in August. For the first time, the Turkish president will be directly elected be the people. Parties have until early June to nominate their candidates. It is likely that Prime Minister Erdogan will represent the AKP, given that he has reached his term limit as prime minister.

Officially, Erdogan has yet to declare his campaign. Observers consider his polarizing appearances of late to be a clear sign that the campaign has already begun. Recent headlines about Opinion: Erdogan is beyond the palehis less-than-empathetic words following the mining accident in Soma and a photograph showing his advisor kicking a protestor will hardly influence his chances of success, Güzeldere said.

"The image of the kicking advisor hasn't been printed in any of the AKP-affiliated newspapers," he said. "That is why normal #link:17641894:AKP voters hear nothing of it."

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