Local polls showed Turkey not dictatorship, but autocracy -expert

The defeat of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the March 31 polls, in the key cities of Istanbul and İzmir, prove that Turkey is not a dictatorship, however it firmly maintains its place as an autocracy, wrote Ömer Taşpınar, non-resident senior fellow at the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence of the Brookings Institute.

March 31, 2019  will be remembered as a turning point at time when Turkey firmly believed that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule was inching towards becoming permanent, Taşpınar wrote, in an article first published in the Asia Times.

Millions watched on as the Turkish democracy – or what remains of it –  exhibited that it still had a pulse, the article said, following a pessimism that has been etched into the Turkish psyche in the brutal crackdown on opposition forces and a series of AKP electoral victories at the local, parliamentary and presidential levels between 2014- 2018.

As demonstrated in irregularities during the country’s 2017 referendum establishing a presidential system, elections could be rigged, Taşpınar wrote, which caused Erdoğan’s autocracy to seem election-proof and immune to the vagaries of the ballot box.

AKP’s loss in the capital city Ankara is in and of itself very significant, the analyst noted, pointing to the loss of Istanbul – the microcosm of Turkey and Erdogan’s bastion since 1994 – as an even more important development.

What happened on March 31 proves that the ballot box still matters in Turkey, Taşpınar said, "despite Erdoğan’s efforts to turn these local elections into a national referendum on national security and survival, with his alarmist and bellicose discourse of anti-Western and anti-Kurdish nationalism.”

The tactics of Turkey’s strongman badly misfired as all major cities preferred to focus on something much more concrete and visible: inflation, unemployment, recession and a major drop in standards of living, the article highlighted.

The fact that the Turkish president has lost Ankara and Istanbul, after 25 years of de facto control of these two symbols of political and financial power, will inspire hope in a young generation of Turks who have seen nothing but Erdoğan’s electoral victories, Taşpınar underlined.

Turkey is not a dictatorship, he stressed, but still very much an autocracy in which Turkish strongman has entered the last and most difficult stage of his political career.

With the country’s economy facing the daunting challenge of stagflation on the one hand, and Turkey’s problematic relations with the West on the other, the Turkish president is faced with a very rocky period, he wrote.

"But only time will show if the Turkish strongman, who is addicted to nationalist populism and surrounded by sycophants, will have the vision and courage to pursue painful reforms. Time is on his side, but his track record is not,’’ Taşpınar concluded.