IntelBrief: Turkey Moves Further Into One-Man Rule
Bottom Line up Front:
- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won re-election onJune 24 with over 52% of the vote—and now assumes almost 100% of the power.
- The June 22 elections were, in the eyes of the opposition, the last chance to check Erdogan’s power.
- Constitutional amendments passed last year mean that Erdogan holds perhaps even more power than did Ataturk at his height.
- Turkey’s shift toward autocracy is straining its relations with the West, including on its continued NATO membership.
In considering the results of Turkey’s June 24 elections, the numbers tell the least important part of the story.Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won just over 52% of the vote in presidential election, while his Justice and Development Party (AKP) won 42% of the votes in the parliamentary elections, enough to form a majority with the aligned Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which came in with a stronger than expected 11% of the vote. The snap elections, while held under a state of emergency that has been in place since the 2016 failed coup—with a media increasingly under Erdogan’s grip—was not a sham election, with a turnout of almost 90% of eligible voters and a relatively strong opposition showing in some races. The results of giving so much power to someone with such autocratic tendencies as Erdogan, however, might end up producing a sham democracy.
Erdogan’s main rival in the election, Muharrem Ince, garnered 30.7% of the vote. Meral Aksener, who some had thought would take a large share of the nationalist vote from Erdogan, underperformed, winning a mere 7.3% of the vote. The political opposition to Erdogan in Turkey is sizable; Erdogan’s support hovers consistently in the mid-50% range. This election was seen by many in the opposition as the last best chance to slow Erdogan’s march toward one-man rule, either by defeating him in the presidential election, always unlikely, or by keeping the AKP from forming a majority in Parliament—likely but still difficult. There was hope. The booming Turkish economy, once Erdogan’s strongest appeal to the electorate, slowed; inflation is around 12%. The AKP’s foreign affairs philosophy of ‘zero problems with neighbors’ is long since forgotten. Ankara has tense relations not only with its neighbors, but ostensible allies like the U.S. The possibility of EU membership, a long-time goal of Turkey, is dead. Still, the alliance of the AKP and the MHP landed a win.
The relative narrowness of both Erdogan and the AKP’s victories belie the depth of the changes to come. The election was an endorsement of the April 2018 referendum on changing the Turkish constitution, which passed by a very narrow margin. Those changes give the office of President unprecedented power and eliminate the office of Prime Minister completely. The President will now have the power to appoint vice presidents and parliamentary officials and interfere in the judicial system. With the extension of term limits, Erdogan can conceivably run Turkey as an elected monarch of sorts until 2032.
It remains to be seen how provocatively Erdogan will test his new powers (though, in practice, Erdogan has had essentially unlimited power for some time now). He will still face a vocal and symbolic opposition, especially in the Parliament. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) won more than 10% of the vote, earning themselves a place in Parliament. Even with a strong will to check Erdogan’s power, Turkey’s opposition parties now face a political landscape far more difficult to navigate than that which they have faced before.
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