"The winner of this election is each and every individual among my 81 million citizens...”
This was how a triumphant Erdogan, flush from the joys of victory, having secured his second term as the President of Turkey, addressed his supporters. This marks his fifteenth year heading the transcontinental, and trans-civilizational nation. Previously he served as the Prime Minister of Turkey from March 2003 to August 2014. Under the new constitution, which dramatically enhances the powers of his office and was adopted in an extremely controversial referendum (See Erdogan Entrenched), he could stand for a third term, potentially holding power until 2028. In short, Turkey’s descent into totalitarianism seems irredeemable.
Election Fraud? Just so
Erdogan secured an absolute majority in the Presidential elections, winning approximately 53% of the vote. His closest rival Muharrem Ince (of the Republican People's Party or CHP) won 31%. While the outgoing Prime Minister, Binali Yıldırım, proudly announced that the election was transparent enough to be a model for other countries, the atmosphere was hardly conducive to a level playing field. Since the July 2016 coup, President Erdogan has launched an extensive purge that observers allege is an insidious ploy to destroy democracy and silence his critics. The elections this year saw the opposition’s access to media and state resources being limited severely. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), an international election monitoring group, reported irregularities of various kinds ahead of this year’s vote.
Despite an exceptional 87% turnout, independent observers report malpractices such as ballot stuffing and vote rigging being rampant. Although Ince acknowledged electoral fraud, he conceded that it did not fully explain his loss,
“Did they steal votes? Yes, they did. But did they steal 10 million votes? No.”
Noting similarities between official data and monitoring by his party, he said the victory margin was so wide that it “cannot be explained merely by election irregularities.”
Mr. Ince, however warned that constitutional changes ushered in by Mr. Erdogan earlier in the year represented a threat to the country's democracy. With Sunday’s vote, Turkey will no longer have a Prime Minister and Mr. Erdogan will become the “Executive President”— a Head of State as well as the Head of the Government. While the government has contended that the system is borrowed from the American model, the checks and balances of the US Constitution are clearly absent from the new Turkish Constitution.
"A single person is becoming the Head of the Legislature, Executive, and the Judiciary and this is a concern for a threat to the survival of the country..."
"...Turkey has departed from democratic values and Turkey has broken its ties with the parliamentary system which it had.", said Mr. Ince.
The changes endorsed in last year’s referendum (won on a tight 51% vote-share) grant sweeping powers to Mr. Erdogan. Under the new system, he will be empowered to appoint Vice Presidents, Ministers, High-level Officials, and senior judges. He will also possess the authority to dissolve the parliament, issue executive decrees, and impose a state of emergency.
The President contends his increased authority is necessary to empower him to address Turkey's economic woes and defeat Kurdish rebels in the country's south-east. In his victory speech, he said Turkey would act more firmly against terrorist groups, and would continue to "liberate Syrian lands" so refugees can return to their homes – Turkey hosts more than 3.5mn Syrian refugees, more than any other country. This is central to the European Union’s ability to restrict refugee flow in the continent and is the reason why the EU has allowed a large number of Mr. Erdogan’s transgressions on Turkish democracy to go largely unchallenged. For better or worse, the political future of many EU leaders – in particular Mrs. Merkel of Germany – depends on Turkish control of Syrian and Middle Eastern refugees, and this makes Mr. Erdogan indispensable – something he understands extremely well.
While the Presidential elections were a success for Mr. Erdogan, his Justice and Development Party (AKP) did not perform as well as expected in the parliamentary elections. AKP lost its majority in the 600-seat assembly, winning 295 seats with a 42.5% vote share. This was a 7% fall compared with the last parliamentary elections in November 2015.
However, the People's Alliance, an election bloc between the AK Party and the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), still has the majority with a combined predicted strength of 343 members. Both parties have signaled an intention to keep a united front in parliament.
"It is likely that Erdogan and his party will keep cooperating with the MHP, if he wants to keep on implementing the policies he followed in the last few years. In this case, the AK Party will be bound to the MHP," said Mesut Yegen, a professor with Istanbul Sehir University.
This means policy-making will remain driven by nationalist considerations, without any prospect of resuming the Kurdish peace process – every strongman needs an enemy. As for the opposition, the CHP won 22.6% of the vote, under-performing expectations and falling short of the 25% it won in the November 2015. Its electoral ally, the newly formed İyi (Good) Party, led by Meral Akşener, won an impressive 10% of the vote in its first-ever election. Among them, the two parties will have 189 seats in the Parliament. The pro-Kurdish HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) contested the elections on its own, and managed to pass the 10 percent threshold for entering parliament, securing 67 seats for itself. Even if all these parties were to unite, however, the Opposition will find it tough in Mr. Erdogan’s Turkey.
The state of the economy dominated discussions in the run-up to the vote, which came against a conflicting backdrop of skyrocketing GDP growth - 7.4% last year - and a declining lira, down 20 percent against the US dollar. The currency has suffered as the President pressured the Central Bank into keeping interest rates low, coupled with threats of restricting its independence in the near future.
The depreciating currency, along with rising inflation and current account deficit, will remain the most pressing issues for the new administration on the domestic front, while, internationally, the focus will be on Ankara's straining ties with the West. Europe and the United States have a clear interest in seeing a stable Turkey with a pro-Western democratically elected government. A long-time NATO ally strategically located between Europe and the Middle East, Turkey remains critical to addressing shared transatlantic concerns, including countering terrorism and managing migration flows. It’s role in Syria, alongside its opposition to the Kurds (supported by the West), will be critical now that President Assad has all but won the Syrian Civil War.
Silver lining—Stronger Opposition
Everything about this election was designed to eliminate any semblance of an opposition in Turkish politics. On April 18, as Erdogan announced the snap elections— advancing them from the scheduled November 3, 2019, to June 24, 2018 – the intention to throw the opposition off-guard. He had also hoped to exclude the newly formed right-wing ‘Good Party’, by denying it the time to fulfill conditions required to qualify for the contest.
Although the opposition couldn’t stop Mr. Erdogan from winning a majority in the presidential race, they did manage to significantly stir their own voting percentage. Mr. Ince (of CHP) received 31% of the vote— the first time since the founding of the AKP in 2001, that CHP’s vote share crossed the 26% mark. Analysts say Mr. Ince's emergence signals a credible alternative to the President, surpassing the current CHP leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu. That pro-Kurdish HDP party crossed the 10 percent threshold to enter Parliament might also be seen as a boost for Turkey’s opposition.
The massive voter turn out implies that the people of Turkey still rest their faith in the democratic process. While Mr. Erdogan has safely ensconced himself in another Presidential term, one cannot help but notice that almost half of his country’s population raised its voice against his rule.
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About the Author
Parth Maniktala is a student of literature at Hansraj College, Delhi University. He is the current President of the Hansraj College Debating Society. Parth has been recognized as one of Asia’s top 10 speakers at the United Asians Debating Championship held in Cambodia in 2017. He has also been the chief adjudicator of the annual national schools debating championship of Nepal. Apart from debating, he has a keen interest in cinema and literature. He has in the past served as the literary editor of the St. Columbas School's magazine.