I don’t pretend to have any great life lessons to impart, and I think even a cursory reading of this blog will make it apparent that I don’t, but I do think I can offer one tip to any budding political advisors out there: try, whenever possible, not to repeatedly kick a restrained protester when you think there might be cameras around, or ever, really. That’s what Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s deputy chief of staff, Yusuf Yerkel, did earlier this week as he and his boss were visiting the town of Soma, site of a horrific coal mining accident on Tuesday that has reignited some of the anger and resentment that some part of the Turkish population has for Erdoğan. There were protests in several major Turkish cities (met with tear gas and water cannons, because democracy, naturally), and yesterday a number of Turkish trade unions held a one-day strike to protest the privatization policy that they say is to blame for decreasing safety standards in Turkish mines generally. My newest piece for Lobe Log covers the accident and the political fallout, which has been fueled by Erdoğan’s frankly bizarre response to the outcry:
For Erdogan, less than three months away from the presidential election, the fallout from the disaster itself may be eclipsed by the series of missteps that have characterized his government’s response. Crowds of protesters in the larger cities were attacked, as last year’s Taksim Square protesters had been attacked, by government forces wielding tear gas and water cannons. His visit to Soma was punctuated by remarks that were seen as insensitive, in which he attempted to rebut criticism of Turkey’s privatization program by saying that coal mining accidents are “normal” and by comparing Tuesday’s explosion to coal mining accidents in 19th century Britain and mid-20th century China and Japan. Erdogan commented that “workers get into the profession [mining] knowing that these kinds of incidents may occur.”
Even more damaging for Erdogan’s image is a recently published photograph of his deputy chief of staff, Yusuf Yerkel, appearing to kick a protester who had already been restrained by police. Witnesses claimed Yerkel kicked the man “three or four times.” The opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) seized on a report that Erdogan himself punched a protester in a supermarket in Soma, but the video purporting to show the incident is indeterminate. The CHP has also accused Erdogan of ignoring a request its legislators made in late April to conduct an investigation into safety conditions at the Soma mine, which if true (and it appears to be) could further damage Erdogan’s public standing. The escalating political tension is being blamed for a decline in the value of the Turkish Lira, which had been gaining value but looked to be headed for a significant drop by Thursday.
The pictures of Yerkel kicking that protester in Soma, after the guy had already been tackled by police, are shocking, and while there are obviously questions of context, I’m not sure any kind of context can counter the image of a close aide to the PM doing this (via):
or, if you prefer a different angle (via):
This is bad stuff for Erdoğan’s presidential ambitions. I doubt it will be fatal to them, though; his support is strong enough that it would probably take more than this to really injure him politically. But August’s presidential election may be more interesting now because of stuff like this.