Turkey is on the eve of national municipal elections.
As March 30th, the day of the elections nears, pressure mounts. These municipal elections are a referendum on Erdogan and his leadership. While he is not personally running in this election, everyone in the country is, by proxy, either voting for or against him.
At a recent election rally Erdogan threatened to shut down Twitter and other social media, which have become effective tools of the opposition, especially by the youth. He said that he will shut them down and does not care about world condemnation. Of course, Erdogan's statements are in and of themselves a form of electioneering. What he is trying to do is to turn his people against the West and Western technology.
There is no doubt that these comments by Erdogan are populist. Populism is a political tool which simplifies complex ideas in order to pit the "people" against the "elite" and the oppressors. In this case Erdogan is attacking the West via Western technology and asserting that outsiders, i.e. Westerners, hate Turks.
Populism is also a form of demagoguery that is best utilized by charismatic and popular leaders. And more than any form of debate it excels in convincing the masses. Erdogan is certainly a demagogue. He has charm and charisma and the ability to use his oratory skills to make very convincing arguments.
Of course, instead of downgrading and demonizing social media, Erdogan could use Twitter and Facebook and other social media to effectively aid his government and help them achieve their objectives. But that he will not do, it is not who he is. Erdogan's constituency tends to be older and it is the younger population that embraces the social media forums.
In the end, Erdogan will only crack down on social media if it will give him multiple goals in the campaigns and ensuing election. If it will cause and internal backlash he will not close it down as threatened. However, if he can use threats against and condemnation of the West as a tool, then he will shut down Turkey's social media. If he gains more by condemning outside influences that by shutting down Twitter, that's what he will do.
The situation is Turkey is precarious. Election results, assuming that they are run fairly and honestly, are hard to call. Protests are plaguing Turkey once again.
While the protests have erupted for several reasons, most important is that a 15-year-old boy died from the wounds he suffered during an anti-government protest in June last summer. The boy was hit with a tear gas canister and lapsed into a coma. Upon his death, huge rallies were organized. And then again huge protests took place throughout the country during the period of his funeral.
Although people are, quite rightfully, upset by the death of this young man his death is really a tool with which to draw Turks to the protests. The real reason for the huge anti-government protests taking place now is the upcoming election.
For the first time since he was elected to power nine years ago in 2003, Erdogan is worried. In
December major players associated with Erdogan were arrested and investigated on corruption charges. He has since begun a significant -- but unsuccessful -- campaign to prop himself up and deflecting the bad PR. Perhaps a little social media intervention would help, but then again, this is Erdogan we are talking about.
Turkey has been out of the limelight for some time. Expect it to return to center stage in the next few weeks. No one can predict what will happen. Erdogan can fail or he can succeed. Only time will tell.