InternationalVolume 13 Issue # 23

Erdogan’s moment of truth

Over 87 percent of eligible voters turned out to elect President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the June 24 elections but a five-year term in an executive presidency of expanded powers could be a setback to democracy in a country which faces many internal and external challenges. It needs urgent measures to overhaul a faltering economy, resolve the Kurds issue and revisit foreign policy.


According to analysts, Turkey has missed an opportunity to democratize the old system and realize a negotiated change and instead ended up with a more authoritarian, more centralized and closed system. Erdogan had to ally himself and his party with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) to realize his political project, enabling the MHP to win a key role in shaping politics. It means he will not have any chance to lead in a more conciliatory way even if he wants and needs to, especially concerning the Kurdish issue. The European Union has closed its doors to Turkey and its huge investment has been wasted. Many members, instead of supporting Turkey, as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), are wary of Erdogan’s adventurous policies in the region. He needs to redefine his policies in the region and the international system after failure in Syria, despair of Europe and isolation in NATO.


The dream of reviving “Ottomans time” by Erdogan has been now replaced with a concern called “Preserving Turkey.” In other words, Erdogan, though unwillingly, had to walk away from “idealism” and move towards political “realism”, observed the Tehran Times. Before 2014, Erdogan had set his domestic and foreign policy based on unlimited risk-taking. But today, he has to take steps cautiously. Although he has no desire to name his old friend Abdullah Gul after the election, everyone remembers that how Erdogan and his entourage were worried about the rumor of Gul’s presence at the presidential elections. More than a fifth of the members of the AKP and other parties opposed to the movement announced their support for Abdullah Gul’s presidency alike, and it could turn Erdogan to a loser in his country. Thus, his victory in Turkey’s recent presidential election is due to his friend’s help. The main point is that in such a situation, he can’t be called “the most powerful Turkish politician, it observed.


Erdogan could only gain 52 percent of the popular vote, while almost half of the community disagreed with his policies and it will motivate opposition parties to a great extent. Hence, the recent presidential election will be the start of a new round of power play in Turkey. He needs a kind of “U-turn” in his regional and international politics. Over the past six years, he has been attempting to topple Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria. But the Turkish authorities failed to achieve their goals in the neighbouring country, while they expanded Turkey’s security and military spending exponentially. The more Erdogan insists on his current foreign policy, the higher Turkey’s political and security costs will become. Obviously, in such an equation, “revival of the Ottoman time” and “leadership of the whole region” no longer makes sense! He should now rely on the capacity of independent players in the region, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, and he has to perform a major surgery on Turkey’s foreign policy. The Turkish president knows well that the slightest risk and mistake in his country’s foreign policy will undermine the balance of power in Ankara. He has no choice but to discard abstractions, and look directly at the realities in his country, the region and the international system. The recent election showed that there could potentially be a political explosion in Ankara even before 2022, when his term ends, and the fact should make him more prudent. As a matter of fact, he should hasten to redefine his country’s political, social and international approach, and it should be done with great caution, it noted.


The Washington Post feared the elections had made democracy a distant memory for Turkey. “President Erdogan will use his powers amply telegraphed by his actions in recent years, especially after the failed coup attempt of 2016, when he imprisoned or silenced his critics and attempted to neuter civil society. The strongman just got a new lease on a bigger place. How Erdogan accomplished this opens a window on the autocrat’s handbook for the 21st century. What authoritarians have figured out is not to cancel elections, as old-fashioned dictators used to do, or fake them entirely, but rather to hold the vote and control the circumstances so tightly that no one else can win. The latest Turkish campaign was neither free nor fair. Erdogan dominated television, both state and private. By some accounts, his closest rival, Muharrem Ince, from the Republican People’s Party or CHP, got one-twelfth of the broadcast airtime on state TV as the incumbent. Erdogan put the news media into friendly hands and jailed his critics before the votes were counted, a strategy of today’s autocrats to suborn electoral politics. He managed a modest first-round victory of less than 53 percent, likely leaving him envious of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 77 percent and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s 97 percent, both in March.”


“When Erdogan took office 15 years ago, many hoped he would steer Turkey toward a role as a moderate and democratic Muslim state in a sea of extremism and tumult. No more. A whole generation has no idea how Turkey looked before Erdogan. After two more terms, Turkey’s democracy could be a memory buried in the distant past. Turkey’s strategic importance is undeniable, but that can’t justify turning a blind eye to the direction it is taking,” the Washington Post added.


Supporters of Erdogan suggest that the elections only reinforce the democratic nature of the country, and that critics must now accept the public verdict. His critics believe he has created an internal social and political atmosphere to stifle his opposition. Erdogan’s sweeping powers mean he can form and regulate ministries, remove civil servants without parliamentary approval, appoint four members of the Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK), the parliament can appoint seven, draft the budget and decide on security policies, declare a state of emergency for up to six months (such as the one that has been in effect for roughly two years) without cabinet approval and dissolve parliament. Under the new powers of the presidency, the post of prime minister has been abolished and Erdogan can rule by decree and has greater control over the judiciary. Turkey, Iran and Malaysia are considered modern Islamic countries in the world among “tribal” societies in the rest of the Muslim countries. Turkey could have set a better example of democracy for the rest of the Islamic world.