There are many parallels between Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. Both pair themselves with weak presidents: Abdullah Gul is increasingly an empty suit who, like Dmitri Medvedev, is trotted out to be the face of moderation whenever criticism of his boss’s autocratic tendencies gets too loud. Both Erdogan and Putin are notoriously sensitive to criticism, and don’t hesitate to harass the press. While European officials label Erdogan a democrat, he is responsible for more court action against journalists than any of his predecessors. Like Putin, Erdogan is extremely vain.
Now comes word that Erdogan is winning Time Magazine’s “Who Will be TIME’s 2010 Person of the Year?” online poll. Online polls are nonsense, but the hacking of the poll is an important window into how Erdogan’s machine operates, even on the most ridiculous matters. Being on Time’s cover will, in the minds of Erdogan’s Islamist supporters, finally bring full circle the transformation of Turkey: The Republic’s secular founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk graced Time’s cover in 1927.