|ISTANBUL - Foreign observers, media and organizations are becoming more critical of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan after praising him since he took the power in 2002.
The world's leading media organizations, including Newsweek, the Economist, and Reuters, have been publishing articles in which they criticize Erdogan for losing his reform enthusiasm.
"Mr Erdogan appears increasingly autocratic and out of touch. And because he lacks any credible political opponents, either within or beyond the AKP, this is making Turkey look stagnant and adriftand further away from EU membership than ever," the Economist wrote in an article in this week's issue.
The Turkish government and Erdogan were already under fire for putting the brakes on reforms, losing tolerance to criticism, increased reports of torture, launching a war against media and underestimating the global credit crisis.
Reuters news agency published an analysis on Friday, the same day as the Economist, titled as "Clouds gather for Turkey's AKP ahead of elections."
"Turkey's ruling AKP is rapidly losing the support of liberals and business leaders who once saw it as an engine of reform, confronting it with serious challenges three months before municipal elections," the article said.
"But with those reforms halted and graft allegations swirling, critics accuse Erdogan of becoming increasingly autocratic and say the AKP today resembles the same establishment parties it swept out of power six years ago."
Reuters was among the first media organizations to identify AKP as center-right party despite its Islamist credentials and to call its leadership as "ex-Islamists". This came at a time when Erdogan and his party were accused of holding an Islamist hidden agenda by opponents. The AKP government had attempted to lift the headscarf ban in universities.
Both the Economist and Reuters have long praised Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted party AKP for the economic boom, while criticizing the efforts of opponents to block the prime minister to run for the presidency as well as of having his party banned.
Newsweek wrote in early November that there is a danger that Erdogan might follow a similar path as Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in his fight with the owner of Turkey's largest media group, Aydin Dogan.
International media organizations had long criticized Erdogan opponents of being "staunchly secular" and resistant to change.
THE REASON BEHIND SHIFT
Foreign media and analysts, however, cite different reasons for Erdogan's change from reformist to "autocrat", as they call it.
Critics accuse the AKP of aligning itself with the powerful military on its approach to finding a Kurdish solution, and of adopting an increasingly nationalist tone, Reuters said.
"Liberals believe the AKP, which survived a legal case to close it down for Islamist activities, and the army, have struck a deal that allows the party to remain in power in exchange for dropping EU reforms to curb the generals' power," it added.
The Economist took a step further by claiming that there is talk of his having struck a deal with Turkeys new, hardline Chief of Staff Ilker Basbug according to which, Erdogan has promised to freeze reforms that dilute the armys power in exchange for his partys not being attacked in court again.
It criticized Erdogan over his remarks on Iran's nuclear program when he said, "Those who possess nuclear weapons do not have the right to tell others to not acquire them too."
It said Erdogan adopted a nationalist approach in its policies for the southeastern regions, stalled works to draw up a new constitution, and lagged in taking steps for the economy.
"When Mr Erdogan won power a second time, with an even bigger share of the vote, in July 2007, he promised to reach out to all Turks including those of you who didnt vote for me. He seems now to be alienating such voters. And as corruption also starts to infect the AKPs ranks, it is beginning to resemble many of the tired old parties that it buried at the polls," it added.
Wolfango Piccoli, a political analyst from Eurasia Group, said Erdogan has long had a reputation for blunt-speaking and a forthright, often aggressive, management style, however, during the AKP's first term in power in 2002-2007, these tendencies were suppressed by the government's impressive economic record and the presence in powerful positions of influential individuals such as Abdullah Gul, Bulent Arinc and Abdulatif Sener.
"As a result, during the AKP's second term, Erdogan has not only assumed responsibility for virtually all aspects of government policy but surrounded himself with a coterie of trusted advisors who are notable for their unquestioning personal loyalty rather than their ability," he added in a note last week.
RELATIONS WITH MEDIA SOUR
Foreign media institutions, organizations and the European Union had reacted against the prime minister's attitude towards the Dogan Group, the largest media company in Turkey, when he called on his supporters to boycott the groups newspapers, including Hurriyet.
Erdogan's attempts to suppress media coverage of the Deniz Feneri scandal coincided with a campaign by the opposition Republic People's Party (CHP) to publicize a growing number of corruption allegations against leading members of the AKP, Piccoli of Eurasia Group said.
In the latest sign Erdogan's intolerance with opposition media organizations, his press office cancelled the accreditation of seven journalists, mainly from such newspapers.
"Erdogan's intolerance for a free press and his appeal to boycott Dogan's newspapers has raised many eyebrows within Turkey's liberal circles, alienating many who had previously supported the AKP believing the party was going committed to the project aimed at transforming Turkey into a consolidated and inclusive liberal democracy," Piccoli added.
"Erdogan remains far and away the most popular active politician in Turkey; while his personal authority within the AKP is such that a challenge to his leadership remains unthinkable. Perhaps more critically, it is currently unclear whether anyone in Erdogan's inner court of trusted advisors has the courage and the ability to persuade him that his increasingly aggressive and authoritarian attitude is likely to be counter-productive - not least when it comes to his hopes of the AKP increasing its votes in the March 2009 local elections."