The Current

Populist leaders offer 'mesmerizing promise' to lure voters into a dictatorship, warns author

Author Ece Temelkuran says Western countries should look to today's Turkey as a warning for what can happen when polarization and arguing drowns out the state of democracy.

'Mr. Erdogan, Mr. Trump; they all do the same thing,' said Turkish writer Ece Temelkuran

Turkish journalist Ece Temelkuran is author of How To Lose A Country: The 7 Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Read Story Transcript

Ring-wing populist leaders excel at exploiting a specific weakness of humankind in order to succeed, according to Turkish author Ece Temelkuran.

She says she watched it happen in her own country.

"Humans … want to be part of greatness. They feel small in this world, and a man comes along and he says that you can be part of this greatness that we can create together. And it's an incredibly mesmerising promise," Ece Temelkuran explained to The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Temelkuran, a political commentator and author of How to Lose a Country: The 7 Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship, says Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling AK Party (AKP) has been taking calculated steps towards an authoritarian rule.

As an example, she cited Erdogan's reaction to Istanbul's mayoral election in May, when opposition leader Ekrem Imamoglu defeated the ruling party's candidate, former prime minister Binali Yildirim.

The president publicly questioned the legitimacy of the vote, calling it corrupt, illegal and irregular. Turkey's top election authority responded by voiding the election victory and ordered a rerun, which has been planned for June 23.

The Current requested interviews with Turkey's ambassador to Canada and a spokesperson for the AKP, both of whom declined to comment.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's conservative and Islamic-based Justice and Development Party, or AKP, alleged election irregularities made the Istanbul mayoral results invalid. (Murad Sezer/Reuters)

Temelkuran said the AKP's pivot from right-wing populism to authoritarianism was subtle and gradual — and she fears the transition will start happening elsewhere very soon.

She said it was painful to hear Western lecturers and intellectuals laud the AKP's rise to success by crediting the power of democracy run by "real people."

"And now the same things are happening with exactly the same terms in Europe and the United States."

Temelkuran drew specific comparisons between U.S. President Donald Trump and Erdogan, describing Trump as a right-wing populist who is skilled at "making the great masses feel like he's one of them," despite his wealth and privilege. 

"Mr. Erdogan, Mr. Trump; they all do the same thing."

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation. 

Produced by Karin Marley.


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