Back in June, the anti-Democratic Erdogan regime fielded a major blow when Turkish voters, led by the Kurds, denied the Justice and Development Party (or A.K.P.) a parliamentary majority. It was a victory for not only the Kurds, but for liberal and/or secular Turks who had spent years protesting the power creep advocated by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the A.K.P., as well as the administration’s crackdown against dissidents.
After that election, we wondered, could this be the beginning of the end of Erdogan’s hold on power? It would have been a long time coming for the man who was behind the 2010 Gaza “Flotilla,” and who turned to paranoid Jew-baiting to whip his base into an anti-Israel frenzy. Unfortunately, that victory was short lived; yesterday, Erdogan and the Islamist-rooted A.K.P. fielded enough votes to return the Turkish government to single-party rule and continue their push to drastically alter the Turkish constitution to be more receptive to executive-centered rule.
From the New York Times:
“There is a president with de facto power in the country, not a symbolic one,” Mr. Erdogan told the crowd in his hometown, the Black Sea city of Rize. “The president should conduct his duties for the nation directly, but within his authority. Whether one accepts it or not, Turkey’s administrative system has changed. Now, what should be done is update this de facto situation in the legal framework of the Constitution.”
The margin of victory on Sunday did not give Mr. Erdogan enough votes to immediately revamp Turkey’s Constitution, a document that was written by military overseers after a coup in 1980, and which many political leaders say needs to be refashioned to enshrine more democratic rights for minorities, such as Kurds. The A.K.P. earned 317 seats in the 550-seat Parliament, just shy of the 330 that are required to bring a new Constitution to a referendum.
Even so, Mr. Erdogan secured his grip on the Turkish political system for at least four more years despite polls before the election that had predicted a result similar to June’s. And even as worries persisted about the deep polarization of Turkish society and a drift toward authoritarianism, the A.K.P. was close enough that many here predict it will only be a matter of time before Mr. Erdogan’s party secures additional support to move forward with a new Constitution.
Seems unbelievable, but according to the Financial Times, Erdogan’s return to power may be as much about ideology as it is a desire for institutional stability in an increasingly unstable region.
Give it a listen:
FT News: Turkey's Erdogan wins convincing poll victory https://t.co/kxfqjitav5
— Financial Times (@FinancialTimes) November 2, 2015
From the podcast:
“I don’t think his grip over the country has ever been as strong. There was a period in between the last election and this one (which was in June) where people thought that perhaps his hold over the public imagination had frayed. But the victory yesterday shows that the Turkish people still seem to prefer him as a stable and able guide through the kind of difficult economic and political times that they find themselves in.
Have no doubt about it, Mr. Erdogan is incredibly popular. The country may seem ungovernable from far away, but here in Turkey, voters have made clear that they prefer his steady hand at the helm…to kind of guide them through this period where they have a war in Syria, they have the possibility of increased ISIS attacks. The idea of having a coalition government where new untested players would help chart these waters was not something that the Turkish public seemed open to at all.”
This entire region is already unstable; adding a rebooted Erdogan to the mix could spell disaster for any chance at stability. Via Reuters:
But the same instability that troubles these countries also prevents them from being able to do much about Turkey’s commitment to democracy in the near-term. Turkey’s location, combined with its NATO membership, makes it an indispensable partner in dealing with Russian activity in the region, Islamic State, the Syrian civil war and the unfolding migrant crisis. Dealing with Erdogan is now, for his Western partners, much like holding a wolf by the ears: risky, but the alternative seems much worse.
Sunday’s results don’t end the political and social divides that threaten Turkey. They merely reset the stage for continued struggle: the AK Party against the secular cosmopolitan elite; Erdogan against the Kurds; Islamic State against Turkey and the region; and Europe, the United States and even Russia standing by nervously, assessing the potential impact on their regional interests. Erdogan has the means, motive and opportunity to exploit this moment of authority, and his recent political behavior suggests he will.
If Erdogan gets his way—and, at least for now, he has—he will jeopardize security not only within Turkey, but within the entire Middle East. It’s too soon to say for certain whether or not the loss of a supermajority in parliament will lead to further physical conflict between the Turks and the Kurds, but, as the Reuters piece notes, it’s not outside the realm of possibility.
What Erdogan has fought for, and won, is a mere facade of stability—but the cracks are already showing.
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