Erdogan’s triumph


RECEP Tayyip Erdogan shares the Turkish tendency to play a good hand badly. The Turkish president has just been returned to the one-thousand room palace he built for himself and his country’s future heads of state. The final election results are not in but it seems Erdogan won some 52.5 percent of the votes, while his main challenger managed around 30 percent.

In his victory speech before a delirious crowd of supporters, he delivered the sonorous warning that no one should seek to challenge the legitimacy of the vote. This had the unfortunate consequence of making it seem there might be cause for a challenge. The jury may still be out on the fairness of the elections. State-controlled media along with a now much-cowed independent news sector gave far more coverage to Erdogan than his chief opponent Muharrem Ince. Countrywide, his Justice and Development party (AKP) dominated the hoardings. There was some violence and alleged intimidation by the party’s supporters, but this is not exceptional in a democracy where, not so many years ago, one legislator shot an opponent dead in parliament.

On a high turnout approaching 90 percent, Erdogan’s victory is very probably justified. And the man himself could have made the important point that the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) once again appears to have passed the threshold of ten percent of the vote and this is likely to have some 70 members in the new parliament. However, the HDP’s presidential challenger, Selahattin Demirtas, had to campaign from his jail cell where he is currently awaiting trial on charges of supporting the Kurdish terrorist PKK group. It is one of great puzzles of Erdogan’s now 15-year rule that he was the first Turkish leader to open up to the PKK and negotiate a ceasefire. Yet, after a claimed infringement, he turned on the insurgents and resumed the civil war. This has now overflowed into northern Syria and looks set for a major incursion into the north if Iraq for which Erdogan has been seeking Iranian backing if not actual military and perhaps logistical support.

If Erdogan had set out to fix Sunday’s vote to any significant extent, he would have wanted to ensure that the HDP did not cross the crucial ten per cent line and thus rob them of any legislative voice. Moreover, it seems as if support for the AKP itself has declined by approaching ten percent with the party winning something over 40 percent of the popular vote. Whatever the frustrated opposition parties may claim, this looks very much like a free and fair election.

As a result of last year’s referendum, Erdogan now takes on extensive executive powers, with control of the judiciary and the ability to rule by decree. To outside analysts, the danger is that there are now no checks and balances within the government. There is no longer a prime minister and it is possible the Cabinet he appoints will merely be advisory. It seems very likely that parliament will have only a walk-on role unless Erdogan wishes to create a popular mandate on a controversial issue. From 1980 until Erdogan came to power, Turkish politicians distinguished themselves by their bickering and venality. Voters longed for a powerful, populist leader. Now, for better or worse, they have one.