Brute power

Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s victory in Turkey’s just-concluded presidential election does not come as a surprise.

 His performance as prime minister over the past 11 years was impressive; Turkeys’ economy did well, contributing to its emergence as a regional manufacturing and export powerhouse. Voters acknowledged this by choosing him as president.

 Erdogan’s rise to the presidency is historic. Not only is he Turkey’s first prime minister to become president but he is also the first to do so via a direct election.  His victory in the election has evoked jubilation in Ankara and other cities. However, it has triggered anxiety too over the future of Turkey’s nascent democracy as there are strong signs of Erdogan accelerating the country’s drift towards dictatorship as he is showing strong authoritarian tendencies. He dealt brutally with peaceful protestors, crushed political opponents, dismissed or transferred hundreds of ‘disloyal’ judicial and police officials, jailed journalists and sought to ban social media.

This is likely to increase in the coming years. Although the post of president in Turkey is a ceremonial one, Erdogan has promised to transform it into a more powerful, executive post.

 As prime minister, Erdogan’s moves were moderated to some extent by the outgoing president, the more liberal Abdullah Gul. As president, he will not come under any such constraints. The new prime minister is expected to be someone who is beholden to Erdogan. This and the fact that there is no one in the Justice and Development (AK) Party, who can match Erdogan’s stature, means that the new prime minister will avoid reining in Erdogan.  To create the strong presidency he has talked about, Erdogan needs a two-thirds majority in parliament, which the AK Party lacks at present.

 However, this is unlikely to inhibit him. As president, he does have the power to chair cabinet meetings, for instance. These powers were not exercised by Erdogan’s predecessors in the presidency but he can be expected to do so.   A highly political person, Erdogan is unlikely to quietly recede into the Presidential Palace or be the non-partisan President mandated by the constitution. He is expected to be an active participant in the fray of day-to-day politics.

An election alone, even one that is free, does not make a country democratic.  Respect for human rights and dissenting opinion, and building democratic institutions are important as well. Erdogan must understand that his authoritarian ways are paving the way for the military’s return to the political arena.

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