Erdogan can win by engaging Turkey’s park protesters | Bloomberg
By Hugh Pope
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been in tighter spots: He was thrown in jail for alleged Islamism, saw his last political party closed down and survived a showdown with the once all-powerful Turkish military.
Yet the street protests that erupted first in Istanbul and then across the country at the end of last month present a challenge he has never faced before. So far, he has mishandled the situation, and on June 6 showed no sign of backing down. That’s a mistake, because he has the ability to turn the protests to his advantage and the country’s.
Erdogan is Turkey’s most effective leader since the republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and much of his success has been based on determination, populist rhetoric and a focus on business. Born into one of Istanbul’s notoriously tough neighborhoods, he is both the unyielding bulldozer of Turkish politics and the fix-it charmer. Almost 50 percent of the population voted for his Justice and Development Party two years ago.
What is happening in Turkey today is mostly about the other 50 percent of the country’s 76 million people. An opinion poll by academics at Istanbul’s Bilgi University found that 70 percent of the protesters had no strong political affiliation. The protests have been full of humor, volunteer enthusiasm, modern women, celebrities and bands of idealistic children skipping school. For the first week, the crowds were leaderless, the only things uniting them being social-media networks and a common slogan: “Tayyip, resign!”