Turkey plumps for its strongman again

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan reacts during an election rally in Istanbul, Turkey, June 23, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s outright victory in the recently-concluded presidential election has not only given him another term as Turkey’s President but it has also accelerated Turkey’s descent into authoritarian rule. While Erdogan won 52.5% of the vote, his nearest rival, Muarrem Ince, secured 30.7% of the vote. The Turkish economy’s robust performance under Erdogan’s presidency and his strong support base among the country’s Muslim working class won him a second term at the helm. But also, his control of every institution in the country, including the Election Commission, the media and the judiciary provided him with an unfair advantage in the elections. His Justice and Development Party (AKP) also won the largest number of seats in Parliament. Erdogan will now take on extensive new executive powers under a new Constitution that was endorsed in a controversial referendum last year. This will give him new powers to directly appoint top officials, including ministers and vice-presidents; intervene in the country’s judiciary, and impose a state of emergency. Importantly, he has done away with the office of prime minister and parliament’s powers have been severely curtailed. At the helm as Turkey’s prime minister in the 2003-13 period and as president thereafter, Erdogan has acted systematically to grab and consolidate his grip over power. He can be expected to take this process further in the coming years. Turkey is a classic example of a country that may hold elections periodically but is not democratic as its institutions do not function freely and critical voices have been silenced.

And yet, Turkey’s opposition need not lose hope. They were able to dent the AKP’s support base in parliamentary elections that were held alongside the presidential poll. The AKP secured 42% of the vote, down 7% from the November 2015 general election. It has 293 seats in parliament and has thus lost its majority for the first time in 16 years. The opposition parties campaigned energetically in the recent elections and they should keep up this momentum to chip at Erdogan’s support base. This may not be easy, but it is not impossible.

Erdogan is expected to set up a coalition government with the support of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). He will be hostage to the MHP’s hardline agenda. The MHP will strongly oppose talks with the Kurdish parties at home and push the government to adopt a tough approach towards US-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria. This Islamist authoritarian-fascist coalition government is likely to make Turkey’s accession to the European Union all the more difficult. Erdogan can be expected to steer his country into a closer embrace of Eurasian countries.

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Turkey plumps for its strongman again

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