POST TIME: 6 July, 2018 00:00 00 AM
Erdogan’s pyrrhic victory
S M Hali

Erdogan’s pyrrhic victory

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his Justice and Development (AK) party and their nationalist allies have won the 24 June 2018 elections by securing 52.6 percent of the votes cast. President Erdogan’s main rival, Muharrem Ince, was able to secure only 30.76 percent of the votes. The results preclude the requirement of a second round of polls.

Simultaneously, in the parliamentary vote, AK and its coalition partner, the hardliner Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), won a combined 53.6 percent, enough to ensure a comfortable majority of 344 seats (out of 600) in the assembly. The opposition alliance, led by Mr Ince’s CHP and the Iyi party, won just 189 seats with a combined 33.9 percent of the vote. Mr Demirtas’s HDP won 11.7 percent, just above the electoral threshold of 10 percent, enough to send 67 of its members to parliament. The remaining opposition candidates, the imprisoned Kurdish leader, Selahattin Demirtas, jailed for terrorism charges and the founder of the conservative Iyi party, Meral Aksener, received just 8.4 percent and 7.3 percent of the vote, respectively.  These results are very consequential for Turkey, but the rest of the world watched the developments closely too because of Turkey’s strategic location. It sits astride Europe, Asia, Russia and the Middle East, which is facing chaos and conflict. With the control of both the parliament and the presidency, Erdogan will be able to push through the constitutional amendments approved in the 2017 referendum.  The changes, which now go into effect, will transform Turkey from a parliamentary democracy into a presidential system, abolishing the post of prime minister.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan takes control of the Presidency once again at a crucial time. The country is facing a state of emergency, which was imposed following a botched coup d’état attempt in 2016, in which military leaders wanted to assassinate Erdogan and take control of the country. There were rumours that some western powers were behind the failed revolution. With a nearly 90 percent turnout in the state elections, President Erdogan rightly declared “Turkey has given a lesson in democracy to the whole world”. The last Presidential Elections in the US saw a turnout of only 55 percent. With this victory, Erdogan’s 15-year rule will be extended by at least another five. He could potentially control Turkey until 2028.

Though he was initially hailed by the West and perceived as a liberal leader, the courtship ended when Erdogan began to take a stand on issues plaguing the Muslim world. Despite having diplomatic ties with Israel, he did not shy away from giving his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres a dressing down at the World Economic Forum at Davos in 2009

The challenges facing Erdogan now are regional security, refugee flows and a slowing economy. A big question is, will the state of emergency be lifted?

Modern Turkey was founded in 1923 by Ghazi Mustafa Kemal Pasha, as a secular state. Erdogan however, is inclined towards religion. Though he is not an extremist, but a moderate. The fact that more than fifty percent of the votes were cast in his favour speak volumes for the popularity of his policies. He wants to raise a “pious generation,” implementing an Islamic curriculum in schools around the country. He has led calls to end the ban on headscarves in public institutions, a longstanding gripe amongst religious Muslims who feel discriminated against by the policy. A giant mosque, a pet project of Erdogan, is under construction overlooking Istanbul. An interest has been rejuvenated in Ottoman rule, which is evident from the numerous period pieces appearing on Turkish TV.  Learning from the glorious past of the Ottomans should not be criticised. The raging popularity of the soap operas depicting Ottoman rule, bears witness to the interest of the people in the golden era of their forefathers.

Erdogan had come to power in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. He was hailed by the West and perceived as a liberal leader. This courtship ended when Erdogan began to take a stand on issues plaguing the Muslim world. Despite having diplomatic ties with Israel, he did not demur from giving his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres a dressing down at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2009. Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Shimon Peres the Israeli air strikes and invasion of the Palestinian territory were “very wrong” and said “many people have been killed”. The Israeli President was offensive and when the moderator of the debate, David Ignatius refused to give Erdogan the chance to refute Peres, Erdogan walked out. He received a hero’s welcome when he returned home after storming out of a World Economic Forum debate. Thousands of people gathered at Ataturk airport, despite inclement weather in Istanbul, to greet the Turkish prime minister, waving Turkish and Palestinian flags and chanting “Turkey is proud of you.”

The West proceeded to find faults with Erdogan, citing human rights abuse because of his crackdown on the rebellious Kurds and the alleged polarisation of the Turkish society. The truth is that Erdogan is an astute politician, a statesman, who knows that the country is bigger than its leaders, and will steer Turkey from the challenges it faces and turn them into opportunities. His victory on June 24 is complete and conclusive.

 The writer specialises on strategic affairs