Erdogans of Malaysia, where art thou?

erdogan-malaysia1Turkey’s influence in our political history goes back to the days of the Ottoman empire.

Indeed, Turkish influence globally has been immense. The phrase Young Turks, originally used to describe those who advocated radical reform of the Ottoman empire in the early 20th century, now denotes any group eager for revolutionary change to the established order in any part of the world.

In the last two decades, the slow dismantling of the Turkish military elite, who for years ruled Turkey under the guise of secularism in the hope of getting the country back to the good books of the former Crusaders, has been touted as a modern political success story.

Such reforms in Turkey were largely due to the role played by the Welfare Party under Necmettin Erbakan, the precursor to the current Justice and Development Party (AKP) under Recep Tayyib Erdogan.

It won the hearts of ordinary Turks with its emphasis on welfare, rather than the mix of religion and politics which has characterised so many Islamic political movements.

But the political experiment in Turkey made it a model of choice for much of the Muslim world fighting corruption and pushing for good governance. Sunni groups, especially saw, in it something to emulate, because many of them found it difficult to replicate the Iranian revolution model, which was steeped in Shia principles.

In Malaysia, “Erdogans” is the name given to those politicians who speak on the platform of progressive Islam, of moderation, of dialogue and a commitment to change through the ballot box.

It’s a label they have proudly carried, even when developments of the last couple of years show it’s fast losing the goodwill associated with it.

AKP is possibly the strongest ruling party modern Turkey ever had, winning landslide majorities in elections.

But such a strong support, as history has shown, usually leads to absolute power. And Malaysians are too familiar what absolute power could do.

In the case of Turkey, it led Erdogan into thinking that he is the new Ottoman sultan. Even then, he could only scrape through with little more than 50% of support in a referendum for constitutional changes last April, which among other things give the president wide powers, including the power to dismiss judges and declare an emergency while effectively wiping out the post of prime minister.

The latest crackdown by the Erdogan government is only part of this malice. True, the Gulen movement which Erdogan accuses of supporting last year’s failed military coup does not instil confidence in ordinary Turks. Yet, Erdogan’s obsession for revenge only shows he has lost the plot in the same democractic field he once helped to develop.

Meanwhile, there is a deafening silence from the self-styled Erdogans of Malaysia. They probably are still stuck in the past, thinking nothing has changed.

It may be true that Erdogan, not unlike a certain doctor who once ruled Malaysia, would still be the choice of the majority of Turks should he call for elections today.

But that is not an excuse for Malaysian politicians wearing that label to remain silent in the face of the crackdown in Turkey, which has seen the arrest of thousands of people, a clampdown on the internet and conventional media, and the loss of jobs of tens of thousands of civil servants accused of sympathising with Gulen.

Our Erdogans have remained mute even as voices of condemnation greet the Malaysian authorities’ deportation of three Turkish citiziens under suspicious circumstances.

If the silence continues, won’t it tell Malaysians not to expect much from even the “moderate” Islamists?

The least they can do is to throw away their Erdogan badge.

Abdar Rahman Koya is the editor-in-chief of FMT.