Many people I know woke up yesterday morning with a knot in their stomachs. ‘Another five years,’ I heard one person mutter. They were referring of course to the victory secured by President Erdogan in Turkey. He won nearly 53 per cent of the votes in an election that many had hoped would see him defeated, especially as his regular ‘Ace’ card, the economy, has been rather rocky these past few years. The result showed his main rival wasn’t even close: Muharrem Ince garnered a little shy of 31 per cent in the poll.
The 64-year-old president thanked the country for putting their faith in him once again. He told crowds from his HQ in the capital Ankara that ‘the winner of this election is each and every individual’ in Turkey. Forty-seven per cent of those who cast their ballots may forcefully disagree with that sentiment. The win means Erdogan will now be able to assume major new powers, endorsed by 51 per cent of voters in 2017. These powers worry some, as they give him the ability to not only directly appoint top public officials, including ministers and vice presidents, but also the power to intervene in the country’s legal system.
Critics say that puts too much power in the hands of one person. You could argue that similar powers are already in place for leaders in other countries such as the US or France. However, there is a big but. In both the US and France, there are checks and balances on these executive powers. Not so much in Turkey. Conceding defeat, Muharrem Ince warned the constitutional changes were a threat to democracy and this would ‘break the ties’ with the parliamentary system.
Erdogan took a gamble on this election and though many hoped it would be one that would backfire, it simply hasn’t. I saw so many reports during the campaign about the surging support for the opposition and there was energy in the CHP (Ince’s party), that I haven’t seen in recent elections. But it was not enough to take down the towering leader who has moulded himself into the modern father of the nation. There was one small sense of relief, though, that in the parliamentary elections, also held over the weekend, Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP) has been denied outright control of the parliament.
This election has shown that despite an overall win for Erdogan, Turkey is divided. Perhaps more so than ever before. Since the failed coup in 2016, it has become a country where no-one is safe. This result will not help ameliorate the fear that is present in so many; it will only exacerbate it. For those who do not toe the AKP line, life could be about to become even more difficult. For the 160,000-people locked up for opposing the government, there is no end in sight for their plight.
The result could also have a major impact on foreign policy. Although Turkey is a paid-up member of Nato, in the last 18 months the country has shown a tendency to move away from the pack and closer to countries such as Iran and Russia. Erdogan has openly criticised European leaders, even going as far as saying ‘Nazi measures’ were being employed in Germany, making it pretty clear those remarks were directed at Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The reality is that no-one knows what this election result will actually mean, probably not even Erdogan himself. His verbal fisticuffs with other leaders often seem to appear from nowhere, other than a bruised ego. Like Trump, he is unpredictable and that’s perhaps the most worrying aspect of this result, as Turkey remains strategically placed, teetering between the East, the West and a yearning for the glory of the former Ottoman Empire.