Well this is disappointing, for me anyway:
Turkey’s long-standing leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has won a new five-year term after securing outright victory in the first round of a presidential poll.
Election authority chief Sadi Guven said the president “received the absolute majority of all valid votes”.
State media reports put Mr Erdogan on 53% with 99% of votes counted, and his closest rival Muharrem Ince on 31%.
Had Erdogan got less than 50% of the votes he’d have been forced into a second round; I’d hoped the result would at least have been tight enough for this to happen. Whatever claims of rigging and suppression of the opposition there are, this is a rousing endorsement of Erdogan and his policies. It’s worth noting that some 2m people took to the streets in advance of the election in support of Erdogan’s rival, so while he is happy to throw politicians, journalists, and judges in prison Turkey is not some sort of totalitarian police state, at least not yet. The result takes on an additional importance because:
President Erdogan will assume major new powers under Turkey’s new constitution. The changes were endorsed in a tight referendum last year by 51% of voters, and are due to come into force after the election.
– Directly appointing top public officials, including ministers and vice-presidents
– The power to intervene in the country’s legal system
– The power to impose a state of emergency
The job of prime minister will also be scrapped.
Like it or not, this is what the majority of Turks appear to want. Sure, the educated middle classes are distraught but they had the run of the place for decades, airily dismissing what are now Erdogan’s core supporters as backward and unworthy of their attention. As I said before:
The chattering classes in Turkey had no problem ridiculing Recep Erdoğan during his slow rise to power either, confident they could contain him while dismissing his supporters as backward reactionaries that could be defeated by sophisticated discussions among themselves. At no point did the elites in Ankara and Istanbul listen to his supporters to figure out why they were voting for him, and look at ways to persuade these millions of people to come on board with their own policies. Perhaps they believed that beating him at the ballot box wasn’t necessary and they could just remove someone who didn’t do their bidding by other means? And look how that worked out.
What the majority Turks seem to want is a country run along Islamic principles led by a strongman who isn’t going to get pushed around, can be relied upon to bash Israel, and will keep his boot on the necks of the Kurds. Anything else – the economy, secularism, relations with the west, and ensuring Turkey doesn’t become an oppressive, theocratic basket-case like Iran – is of secondary importance. One would be forgiven for thinking this is all rather normal for the Middle East, and historians may look back on Ataturk’s secular nation as being little more than a quaint experiment held in place largely by force. I have heard some Turks despairingly say that Ataturk put too much faith in the Turkish people, but he had the sense to ensure Islamist strongmen couldn’t take over by having the army step in when necessary. Then the EU stuck its beak in and, waving false promises of membership, told Turkey this safety-valve was incompatible with democratic norms and must be abolished. They complied, and now they have an Islamist strongman at the helm. Well done, Brussels! One can hardly blame this on Ataturk’s lack of understanding of his people; it suggests he knew exactly what would happen if every Turk got a say.
I suspect things will have to get a lot worse in Turkey before Erdogan is turfed out, and who knows what the place will look like by then. As I implied earlier, my guess is in ten years it will look a lot like contemporary Iran. The best thing the western powers can do is let them get on with it – it’s their country and they have decided this is the direction they want to go in. The last thing Turkey needs is western meddling in its internal affairs. However, they should seriously evaluate Turkey’s continued NATO membership; the Cold War is over and Turkey no longer holds the strategic importance it once did. Fears like this I believe are overblown:
And don’t forget, if Erdogan’s Turkey becomes a reliable Russian partner, not just a puppet state, but as reliable as China, NATO will effectively be disabled as an alliance opposing Russian interests. https://t.co/qRI5dNE2P2
— Nick Short 🇺🇸 (@PoliticalShort) June 23, 2018
Russia and Turkey share a distrust and rivalry for one another which goes back centuries; whatever relations Moscow and Ankara enjoy now are of convenience only. The next time Erdogan starts ranting about the west and invoking holy wars, the Americans should withdraw their military support, kick them out of NATO, and tell them to take their chances with the Russians. It won’t happen any time soon, but eventually they might not have a choice.