From Malaysiakini

COMMENT Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the Islamist-democrat who some time ago was held up in parts of the democratising world as the object of emulation. The leader of the religiously-inclined Justice and Development Party (AKP), elected to rule Turkey in 2002 after years of misrule by secular parties, would demonstrate for all the Western and Muslim worlds to see that an Islamist orientation would not render a governor inhospitable to democracy.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan storms out of DavosPakatan Rakyat supremo Anwar Ibrahim would favourably cite of Erdogan every chance he got during the long prelude to Election 2013. He, like Erodgan, was going - if given the chance at GE13 - to reshape the widespread assumption that an Islamist worldview was necessarily hostile to the premises and postulates of democracy. Today, after nearly 11 years of rule by AKP and following the events of the last few weeks in Istanbul's Taksim Square where huge crowds have demonstrated their contempt for Erdogan's methods, the Turkish premier no longer looks the model Islamist-democrat.

Instead, Erdogan seems more like Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader who behind a democratic veneer deploys methods of repression of the opposition that recall the ways of the worst autocrats in the history of a nation notable for its ability to engender the species. That Erdogan the Islamist has morphed into someone more reminiscent of the oligarchs that have dotted Russian history does not necessarily render the notion of the Islamist-democrat oxymoronic.

It's just that, after what Mohamed Morsi had turned out to be in Egypt after the heady promises of the Arab Spring (2011-2012) at Tahrir Square, it is more difficult to contend that an Islamist orientation can co-exist with democratic persuasion in the same ruler.

Slippery slope to authoritarism

Let's see how the erstwhile Erdogan slithered down the slope to authoritarianism. He began the slide towards autocracy by announcing his intention in 2011 to Islamise a generation. This intention boded ill for the democratic and pluralistic aspects of Turkish society. After having reconfigured the exam formula applicants for university admissions had to sit for to benefit those who had attended Iman Hatip schools - the Turkish equivalent of the madrassa - over those who had a liberal arts education, Erdogan's administration decreed that the religious instruction that is already in the state curriculum be Sunnism, ignoring the fact that 20 percent of Turkish Muslims are Alevis, not Sunnis.

The Erdogan model of political development in tandem with Islamism took an ominous stride towards autocracy in 2005 when Bulent Arinc, then speaker of the Parliament, threatened to dissolve the constitutional court if it continued to find AKP legislation unconstitutional. This threat took on added menace when subsequently Erodgan promoted Arinc to be his chief deputy. This was followed by the PM himself describing the separation of powers as the government's main obstacle to the introduction of steps the AKP wanted to effect.

Six months ago, Hurriyet Daily News, a leading newspaper in the country quoted Erdogan to this effect: "Even during our own governing tenure, we are having some troubles. Unfortunately, the errors within the system are the causes of those troubles. Since the system was built the wrong way, we are facing some unexpected troubles. Bureaucracy blocks our path or we face the judiciary unexpectedly...."

Peace deal with the Kurds

Erdogan's growing taste for the acquisition of power further manifested itself in the peace deal he worked out with imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan. Doubts over the durability of the pact, agreed to last March, revolve around the unwillingness of Erdogan to implement the confederation between the Kurds and the Turks that Ocalan's followers demand. The political reorganisation entailed by such a confederation would also demand reforms to the security forces and intelligence services that had once repressed the Kurds.

Erdogan, though loathe to give full force of the confederation implied by the peace pact with the Kurds, is keen on obtaining the support of Kurdish voters for any constitutional referendum to endow a revamped presidency with news powers. Erdogan is interested to run for the post when he retires as PM. Also, Erdogan wants the peace pact with the Kurds to win for Istanbul the host status for the 2020 Summer Olympics, an award that would see huge construction projects in the city, a large share of which is almost certain to be stream to Calik Holdings, a company run by his son-in-law.

In other words, Erdogan may have begun his public career as an Islamist politician with an inclination to democratic persuasion. But after several years in power, his religious orientation, like Morsi's, has not been a sufficient check on his appetite for increased power and its trappings. That should come as no surprise to those brought up on the wisdom of Lord Acton's dictum on the corruptive consequences of power.

A religious orientation is no guarantee of immunity from its effects.

TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for four decades. He likes the occupation because it puts him in contact with the eminent without being under the necessity to admire them.