Turkish Elections: Erdogan Wins a Historic Victory
Turkish Elections: Erdogan Wins a Historic Victory
Tulin Daloglu analyses the results of the Turkish election and the strategies that Prime Minister Erdogan might use in order to keep his position intact.
It came as no surprise: On June 12th, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan won a third consecutive term in the election. While Erdogan has argued in the past that secularists in the military, judiciary and other state bureaucracies denied him full power to govern the country, he can no longer make that claim. After AKP’s two term in office – today - there is no military that would attempt a coup, or a judiciary that would challenge him. Erdogan’s victory is the most decisive in his nine years in power. With Erdogan claiming to have the support of one out of every two registered voters, he begins this term feeling overconfident. That means two things: No matter what olive branches he extends in his victory speech, Erdogan will not want to compromise with the opposition. And he won’t change his stance on Israel. He is, however, likely to get tougher against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s assault on Syrians as he attempts to maintain his reputation on the Arab street. Furthermore, Erdogan will continue to receive the support of the Western alliance regardless of some disagreements on key issues.
Despite this decisive victory, however, the Turkish electorate did not grant the full power to Erdogan to change the constitution. The issue is that, all of Turkey’s political parties agree that the country needs a new constitution. Turks voted for a referendum last year to revise parts of it, where the AKP took it as a confidence vote to its future revisions. The results of the recent election make it clear that while the Turkish electorate decides to continue with Erdogan, they also ask him to restraint while moving forward in changing the constitution. Secularists fear that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has a vision to turn Turkey into an Islamic state, bringing new forms of limitations to freedoms through constitutional change, if it were to win a two-thirds majority in Parliament. Today, the AKP does not have such power.
The AKP’s election strategy was to keep the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) below the ten percent threshold. Alas, only the parties that passes that threshold has the right to representation in the Turkish Parliament. While it is a mystery as to who exactly did what, the attempts to push MHP off the political chart included the leaking of sex tapes, catching a few members of the MHP with their pants down – literally. Although the AKP’s strategy failed, and the MHP won 54 seats, Turkish politics witnessed a new low that is certainly going to complicate the workings of the new Parliament.
The main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), won fewer votes than expected, but gained more seats. CHP won 26 percent of the vote - increasing its number of seats in Parliament from 112 to 135. Although it seems that opposition parties havebeen failing to grasp the electorate’s message for the past decade, they will hopefully understand now that if they do not find new ways to appeal to the people, and work on strengthening their own base, they will flounder in the next election.
The Turkish Parliament has a total of 550 seats, and 330 votes are needed to subject the constitution to a referendum. If a constitution is approved by 367 votes, the president can accept it and declare it legal or put it to a referendum. Erdogan’s government lost four seats in the new Parliament, giving the AKP a total of 326 — not enough to trigger a referendum. But while the prime minister will not likely have the power to change the constitution, he will continue to exert political and social influence.
In the next four years, Turkey won't look like Saudi Arabia or Iran, but it will certainly look more like an Islamic state. Those who oppose this direction will have difficulties adjusting to the new political climate. But as Turkey continues to be molded by the AKP, Erdogan wants to see Turkey move from a parliamentary system to a presidential one. Regardless of whether he will be able to make that change, he declared that he would not run for public office again. The current president’s term will end in 2014, and Turks will go to the polls for the first time as a result of reforms last year. It seems certain that Erdogan will run in this election. Without him, it will be difficult for the AKP to stay equally popular.
So far, the so-called “Arab spring” sweeping across the Middle East does not seem to have raised any questions among Turkish voters about the AKP’s policies. It is difficult to suggest that Erdogan’s slandering of Israel gained him votes, but it is also hard to argue that the AKP’s Syria policy has cost it votes. It’s intriguing that Turks did not consider warnings of Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian inclinations. The Turkish electorate showed that the concerns over jailed journalists, pressure on the freedom of speech, and fears of becoming an Islamic state have a place only in intellectual debates.
Erdogan is not likely to change his attitude toward Israel, but the second Gaza flotilla may bode unprecedented turns in the relationship. The Gaza flotilla was the controversial attempt to carry aid and resources in six ships to Gaza to end the Israeli-Egyptian siege of the Gaza strip. It ended on May 31, 2010 with only one ship denying following the Israeli instructions. Nine Turks – including one Turkish-American – died in the course of the Israeli operation. The international community should resolve to prevent any situation that would necessitate Israel’s use of military force.
The United States has the ultimate responsibility to prevent the Turkish government from allowing this second flotilla to create any crises that will further complicate either the bilateral relationship between Turkey and Israel, or the regional dynamics. Still, even in the worst-case scenario, should Israeli Defense Forces kill Turks on this flotilla, Turkey and Israel are unlikely to go to war. Therefore, all parties to this crisis should primarily do their utmost not to put themselves in a position that will create these risks and cost human lives.
As the situation in the region is growingly becoming tense, such provocation toward Israel could trigger a full-fledged regional war. No one with a clear mind should seek such an outcome. Furthermore, the recent fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya has shown Turks what they have long known: it’s easier to start a war than it is to end one. At a time when the Turkish economy is doing relatively well but the world’s markets remain shaky, it should be too risky for Erdogan to take such a provocative stand.
Syrian President Bashar Assad is now pushing the envelope in the Golan Heights. He either wants to detract attention from what he is doing elsewhere in the country, or from the fact that he has no control over the people who are causing trouble at the border with Israel, which could be even more problematic at the end. But one thing is clear: Assad knows that if he gets into a war with Israel in the Golan Heights, it will be more difficult for him to maintain power. He can easily lose control in the country. Therefore, while he won’t think twice before annoying Israel, he will take care not to go to war.
The Erdogan government will get tougher on the Assad regime as the killings of civilians continue. Earlier in June, the prime minister assured Syrians that the Turkish border with Syria will remain open for Syrian refugees. Any other action would find Turkey facing overwhelming disapproval from the international community anyway. And Erdogan has no interest in receiving that kind of criticism. Furthermore, neither the United States nor the European powers have openly called for Assad to resign. Neither has Erdogan. The Turkish government will now reposition itself both domestically and regionally. The whole process of doing so will bring clarity as to where and how Erdogan wants to see Turkey in the next decades.