A test for Turkey: The crossroads nation faces severe challenges


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Turkey and its once all-star prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are slipping from what was a few years ago a position of great promise in its region and in the world.

Turkey’s situation has not changed in any fundamental way. It is still strategically located between East and West — a large, majority Muslim nation of 75 million, but one with some Western ways and aspirations. That aspect of Turkey seemed to suit it ideally to serve as a bridge between the West, including the European Union and the United States, and the world’s some 1.6 billion Muslims. Turkey’s economy is still reasonably healthy, although questions about its leadership and possible future direction have dampened, to some degree, investor and trader enthusiasm about it.

But the bloom still seems to be going off the rose, starting at the top with Mr. Erdogan. He and his family are believed by Turks, with some evidence, to be corrupt. Even though his AKP (Justice and Development) party has continued to do well at the ballot box, his reaction to the criticism has been, in general, to circle the wagons and take undemocratic actions against his critics and opponents. This even reached the absurd point prior to last weekend’s municipal elections of trying to suppress Twitter, revealing a lack of political judgment that was uncharacteristic of him and his party.

In any case, unlike in France where municipal elections provided voters the opportunity to pound a sagging government and leader, Mr. Erdogan’s AKP finished first in Turkey’s elections, with more than 45 percent of the vote. The AKP also won in Ankara, the capital, and Istanbul, the largest city, with only minor violence and charges of fraud.

So what is the problem? First, Mr. Erdogan has been in power for 11 years, perhaps beyond his proper shelf life. Second, Turkey has taken a battering from the continuing war in Syria next door. About 700,000 refugees have fled across the border, stretching Turkey’s resources. In addition, some of the Syrian rebels have been staging out of Turkey, creating friction with the government forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Turkey is also feeling the strain, as a NATO member across the Black Sea from Ukraine and Crimea, from the ongoing strains between Russia, the other Europeans and the United States. Based on sheer geography, Turkey could pay dearly from any heightening of hostilities over Ukraine.

Turkey can right itself fairly easily if, first, Mr. Erdogan eases off on his defensive domestic measures, matters in Syria continue to cool down and the United States and Russia back off barking and hissing at each other over Ukraine. A Turkey restored to healthy functioning is to everyone’s advantage.


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