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FT: Rising Power, Growing Questions

June 25, 2012


The Erdogan era has brought prosperity, but there are calls for the political system to be modernised.

On a warm evening inIstanbul, the most powerful man in Turkey's recent history was holding court.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prime minister, had come that day from a World Economic Forum meeting at a nearby hotel, where he exulted in the country's achievements under his 10-year rule: average growth of more than 5 per cent a year, a tripling of gross domestic product in dollar terms, increased trade and foreign investment and a rising place in the world.

"The experience we have had is an important example, not just for countries in the region, but for countries in Europe affected by the crisis," he declared.

The contents of his speech were not Mr Erdogan's only show of strength that day; so too were the circumstances in which it took place.

Having sworn in 2009 that he would never return to Davos, after a dispute with Shimon Peres, Israel's president, in the Swiss mountain retreat that year, Mr Erdogan had instead made Davos come to him.

Now, he was greeting forum delegates in the grounds of the Dolmabahce Palace, Turkey's Versailles on the Bosphorus, where 19th century Ottoman sultans lived and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish republic, died.

Standing in the courtyard before the palace's great gardens, as an Ottoman-outfitted troupe blared its horns andbanged its drums, a rapt Mr Erdogan was in his element, just as he is when addressing football stadiums full of supporters, as he has done several times in recent weeks.

It is not just that the prime minister is comfortable in contrasting settings; Mr Erdogan, a man of great political skill, dominates as perhaps no other leader has done since Atatürk.

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