Turkey has seen a wave of speculation about their president’s health recently, not for the first time and presumably not for the last either. This may come as little surprise given the importance of Recep Tayyip Erdogan for Turkey – but some observers argue that the whole debate amounts to little more than idle gossip.
It goes without saying that President Erdogan is the key person in Turkey and that public, economic and foreign policy, not to mention security policy are ultimately subject to his point of view. Since his ascent to power some two decades ago, first in the role of prime minister and later as president of Turkey, Erdogan steadily expanded his influence over the many realms of the state and has certainly made this an iron grip in the aftermath of the failed coup d’état staged by part of the armed forces five years ago.
In taking such a strong position, Erdogan has as a person become the focus of attention in the country that has a lively political landscape and culture of discussion. Speculation about the president’s health has surfaced on and off over the years. A decade ago, Turkish media was abuzz with talk about an alleged cancer treatment, a rumor that he himself later denied. And, with the benefit of hindsight, and given his grueling schedule as the country’s top politician over the past ten years, the rumors sound slightly absurd.
There Is No Health Issue
When the latest round of talk began in July, it focused on a taped video message to the population where he was alleged to have slurred his speech. My sources are telling me though that Erdogan has no problems with his health and that the talk is just gossip.
The question arises thus whether we should really report about this? Naturally, in countries with such a strong focus on one politician, the attention on his every step is a given. With his pronounced interest in monetary policy and his influence over who is running the central bank, economists tend also to look closely at what he is doing and saying because of the potential effect this has on markets.
The same of course is true about security policy, with Turkey involved in countries such as Syria, Libya, Cyprus and even as far away as Afghanistan. The country is home to as many as five million Syrian refugees and has helped the Libyan central government fight a war against the rebel-army of General Haftar. Turkey is also said to have been the key player helping Azerbaijan win its war against Armenia a year ago. Ankara has also taken a role in securing the airport of Kabul after the departure of the international coalition troops. So the argument goes that the personal wellbeing of the president is a key issue for political observers too.
Well, it is, of course. But it is also based on a simplistic an approach to politics and economics to pay such intense attention to this one issue. New politicians emerge to take over the reigns once the top person leaves stage, in whatever way that may be. They may not be able to do so during the reign of the person at the top, because there is too little room to flourish. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Therefore, it makes much more sense to focus on the government’s performance, it policies and projects, failures and successes. And not so much can be gained from speculating about the personal health of a president.