Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 64, who served as Turkey’s prime minister since 2003 and then as president since 2014, won presidential elections held last week by polling 52.5 per cent while opposition candidate Muharrem Ince, from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), received 30.7 per cent despite a huge campaign.
Erdogan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) now has a new ally, the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP), that helped retain a majority in parliamentary elections that helped Erdogan win the presidential election on the first round.
But in parliament, the AKP will need to continue to depend on this ally more than ever, because on 24 June, the AKP lost its parliamentary majority. It now holds 293 out of the parliament’s 600 seats. It will need the MHP’s 53 deputies
The government made changes to the election law through parliament in March 2018 which allowed parties to create coalitions to bypass the requirement that a party has to secure at least 10 per cent of the vote to win parliamentary seats. From here the AKP-MHP alliance was formed.
The elections took place 16 months earlier than the November 2019 election date originally proposed during last year’s referendum campaign.
An executive presidential system of governance entered into force following last week’s elections. This new system was narrowly approved by voters in the April 2017 referendum and will greatly increase the president’s powers and reduce the role of Turkey’s parliament.
“There could be some significant ballot stuffing or not, we do not know. But it has been a blatantly unfair election. Erdogan is the winner of this unfair and unfree election,” AhvalNews senior editor Ilhan Tanir told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Devlet Bahceli, the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) leader and AKP new ally, hailed the election victory of the People’s Alliance on Turkey’s “historic day” and described the victory of the alliance an “honour”, “leaving those expecting a crisis, bewildered”.
“Nationalism in general, and nationalist parties in particular, including the AKP, increased their vote share in total. It’s too early to predict how long the nationalist alliance will last. Both leaders need each other and I think it is likely that both will find compromise in this partnership and enough pragmatism to work together. We will see,” Tanir told the Weekly.
“With all the resources of the state, in media and propaganda power, Erdogan only got 52.5 per cent of the vote under the state of emergency and unfree conditions. Half of the country stays strong in opposition to Erdogan despite years of the incumbent’s consolidation of power,” said Tanir. Nonetheless, he added: “The opposition is in shambles. For now, it appears Erdogan will continue to increase his power.”
Before the official results of the presidential elections in Turkey were announced, Kati Piri, EU rapporteur to Turkey, said in a statement: “Results show political opposition in Turkey is resilient.
This means there is still a strong base for democratic change. Let’s see if President Erdogan keeps his electoral promise to lift the state of emergency and return to the rule of law. Tens of thousands of people in jail are awaiting a fair trial.”
“It appears that the state of emergency will expire in late July and will not be reinstated. This is good news,” Tanir commented on the statement optimistically, adding that whether the rule of law will prevail in Turkey anytime soon is unclear.
“The Turkish judiciary is now too weak to push back the executive presidency. Also, the question is why any ruler should refuse such enormous powers when he has been fighting for years to get the same. It needs overwhelming will on the part of Erdogan to curtail his own ambitions, because the rule of law inevitably will have to translate into pushing back Erdogan and his cronies.”
Tanir thinks that some detainees might be released in upcoming months, but Erdogan will remain free of checks and balances. Turkey has become the world’s biggest jailer of journalists.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) Turkey Director Emma Sinclair-Webb in a published article stated: “During the election, Erdogan pledged to lift the state of emergency. Doing so would be the right thing for the country. It would be an important first step to demonstrate to the 47 per cent who voted for other presidential candidates that he intends to govern for the whole population and protect their rights.”
In the article, Webb also stated that many more steps are urgently needed. “One such step should focus on restoring public confidence in the courts and mending Turkey’s broken justice system. Bold measures to secure the release of journalists, human rights defenders, politicians, public officials, judges, prosecutors, and thousands of ordinary people wrongfully jailed would be a start,” she wrote.
The opposition managed to put up a strong fight, despite the odds. Unprecedented millions turned out CHP Ince’s rallies in Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara.
Now, however, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu refuses to step down despite of the fact that his party lost votes nationwide and its presidential candidate lost the race. “As long as this lack of accountability is present among the opposition, they cannot be successful. They, opposition blocs, should not try to unseat Erdogan before being able to unseat their own losing leaders,” Tanir commented.
“Parliament is much weaker than before. HDP MPs cannot do much under the circumstances where Turkish nationalism is the winner of the elections.” Tanir expressed fear that the party might not be as effective as they have been previously, “considering their charismatic leader, Selahattin Demirtas, is still in the jail without a conviction,” Tanir told the Weekly.
Tanir thinks that the only female candidate, Meral Aksener, who briefly served as interior minister in the 1990s but did not achieve much at the polls, despite the fact that her new party IYI passed the electoral threshold, faces a choice. “Since she is leading a nationalist party, albeit a moderate one, she might decide to join in the pool of nationalism and swim with the stream.”
“We do not know. She has been a very effective speaker and has shown she has 10 per cent of voters’ backing. She has not talked much yet about what she wants to do next and what kind of an opposition party leader she wants to be since the elections,” Tanir told the Weekly.
In his victory speech, Erdogan said that the winner was democracy and the people of Turkey — a country of 81 million citizens. He also thanked his people for standing by him and his government through difficult periods; the Gezi events and the July 2016 coup attempt.
According to HRW, in an analysis piece published before the elections, there will be limited checks on the powers of the president. The president will assume control of government and appoint vice presidents, ministers and high state officials.
The position of prime minister will be abolished, and the president will have powers to legislate by decree and secure the presidency’s budget without parliamentary approval being a precondition.
The president will be able to run for two five-year terms and have the power to dissolve parliament, although triggering parliamentary elections will also entail new presidential elections.
This systemic transformation will likely have a huge impact on the conduct of foreign policy and Turkey’s Kurds. “There is not much hope that the Turkish government would soften its stance towards Turkey’s Kurds or regional Kurds.
It is expected that the alliance, with the popular nationalist backing, would continue to go after Syrian Kurds,” Tanir told the Weekly, adding that first signs since the election indicate that Erdogan might resort to even harsher methods in dealing with Turkey’s Kurdish movement.
The Washington-based writer also thinks that Erdogan will try to get along with both Moscow and Washington as long as he can.
“Things like the S-400 Russian missile system and whether eventual delivery of the systems take place will be another important turn in the relations of Erdogan with the West and East. However, everything has a price. More conflicts around and inside Turkey will push many investors and tourists away. It should be expected that Erdogan will continue his domination in foreign policy. Erdogan has to make some sharp U-turns if he wants better relations with the West going forward,” Tanir concluded.
On Monday, the government of Turkey announced early local elections for November instead of March 2019, but there will have to be some support from the oppositionon as the process requires a constitutional amendment which requires a three-fifth majority in parliament to be brought to a referendum and a two-thirds majority to pass without a referendum.
According to the constitution, local elections must be held every five years.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 July 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Erdogan: One-man rule