Erdogan Consolidates and Extends Power
Turkey's authoritarian leader is going to be around for a long time.
NYT (“Erdogan’s Victory in Turkey Election Expands His Powers“):
Turkish voters gave President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a decisive victory in national elections on Sunday, lengthening his 15-year grip on power and granting him vastly expanded authority over the legislature and judiciary.
The election was the first to be held since Turkish voters narrowly approved a referendum last year to give the president — once a largely ceremonial role — sweeping executive powers. Mr. Erdogan will also have a pliant Parliament, with his conservative party and its allies having won about 53 percent of the vote in legislative elections on Sunday.
Mr. Erdogan has overseen a crackdown on lawyers, judges, civil servants and journalists under a state of emergency declared after a failed coup two years ago. His critics had portrayed Sunday’s election as their last chance to prevent Turkey from becoming an authoritarian state.
The victory has potentially grave consequences for cooperation within NATO, security in Iraq and Syria, and control of immigration flows into Europe.
As in other countries where strongmen have gained at the ballot box, many Turkish voters appeared to have accepted Mr. Erdogan’s argument that powerful centralized authority was essential to forge a strong state and guard against the threat of terrorism.
“It seems the nation has entrusted me with the duty of the presidency, and to us a very big responsibility in the legislature,” Mr. Erdogan said. “Turkey has given a lesson of democracy with a turnout of close to 90 percent. I hope that some will not provoke to hide their own failure.”
Mr. Erdogan acknowledged that his own party had taken a hit in the campaign, but said the result was a vindication of his ability to deliver. “The winner is the politics of providing services,” he said. “The winner is the supremacy of the national will. The winner is Turkey, the Turkish nation. The winner is all the aggrieved people in our region, all the oppressed in the world.”
The victory means Mr. Erdogan will almost certainly make good on his desire to become the country’s longest-ruling leader, surpassing Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the modern Turkish republic out of the ruins of the collapsed Ottoman Empire.
Under the new system brought in by last year’s referendum, Mr. Erdogan can run for a second term as president — and a third, if he were to call an early election — opening the possibility that he could stay in office until 2032.
In parliamentary races, Mr. Erdogan’s party placed first, with more than 42 percent of the vote, the Anadolu agency reported, enough to retain a majority in alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party, which received about 11 percent.
Defenders of Turkey’s multiparty democracy did receive some cause for hope: The H.D.P. party, a liberal democratic party that emphasizes minority rights and is led by an imprisoned Kurd, Selahattin Demirtas, surpassed the 10 percent threshold needed to enter Parliament.
The deputy head of the Supreme Election Board said five parties had passed the threshold.
Soner Cagaptay, a scholar and author who has called Mr. Erdogan a “new sultan” in the vein of the absolute rulers of the Ottoman Empire, said the new Parliament would be the most politically diverse in 35 years, with nearly every major political faction represented.
Support for Mr. Erdogan appeared to be similar to its level in last year’s constitutional referendum, “suggesting that polarization around his simultaneously adored and loathed persona continues to divide Turkey,” Mr. Cagaptay said.
Erdogan’s reign is difficult to write about.
Turkey is a key NATO ally but one which, under Erdogan, has moved increasingly away from Europe and toward the Middle East and even Russia. Mostly, that’s because he’s slowly become more Islamist, eschewing the secularism that has been the norm in Turkish politics since it emerged from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. At the same time, both the EU and the US bear some responsibility for pushing him away, both rebuffing his efforts to join Europe’s lucrative common market and in supporting his Kurdish enemies.
As he has consolidated power, he has become ever more authoritarian, including ugly purges of the military, the press, and the intelligentsia. Yet, while he’s certainly exaggerated the situation considerably, there are actually enemies willing to use violence to take him out of power. Between his crackdowns on opposition leaders and control of the press, these recent elections have been less than fully legitimate.
There were no large-scale allegations of fraud, but the elections took place in what Amnesty International described as a “climate of fear”. The country is still under a state of emergency in place since a coup attempt in July 2016, one of the presidential candidates is in prison and his party, the HDP, has been widely persecuted with hundreds of cadres and officials arrested in the last two years.
The vast majority of the media are owned by allies of the president, transforming most news outlets into a loyalist press, and those who do criticise the government, like the oldest newspaper in the country, Cumhuriyet, are prosecuted on baseless allegations of abetting terrorism. According to figures by the Turkish TV and radio watchdog, Erdoğan was given 181 hours of coverage during the campaign by the state broadcaster TRT, while İnce was accorded 15 hours. Demirtaş was given just 32 minutes.
Yet he’s clearly genuinely popular. He’s both generated and responded to the sort of nationalism that has empowered populist leaders across the West, including in the United States.
While he’s been in power since 2003, Erdogan is only 64. He may indeed remain in power for quite some time to come. Breaking Atatürk’s record for longevity is almost a certainty; he only needs another year to achieve that benchmark.