Apr 18 2019

Erdogan's election response threatens Turkish democracy - analyst

Rather than setting Turkey on a path toward depolarisation, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s response to the opposition victories in Turkey’s March 31 local elections could further undermine Turkish democracy, said an analysis for the Washington Post.

Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have contested the result of the mayoral race in Istanbul, won by main opposition candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu, and this week called for the election to be annulled and repeated in the city.

“If their demands are met, this would amount to an election reversal and threaten to put an end to one of the last vestiges of Turkey’s long-standing democracy under Erdoğan: No longer fair, no longer free, yet still competitive and winnable, elections,” Murat Somer, professor of political science and international relations at Istanbul’s Koç University, wrote on Thursday for the Washington Post.

Erdoğan portrayed the elections as a referendum on his government and often argued that  losing Istanbul, where his political career began when he was elected its mayor in 1994, would be the beginning of the end for AKP rule.

“Istanbul has long underwritten the AKP’s national machinery of winning elections and engaging in social engineering,” said Somer. “Multibillion-dollar pork-barrel projects and partnerships have been financing election campaigns, charity to the poor, pro-government media owners, GONGOs and religious endowments.”

The opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) ran a positive, non-polarising and pro-democratic campaign, according to Somer, who added that its gains were more impressive for having been won on an extremely unequal and actively manipulated playing field.

Erdoğan and the AKP enjoyed enjoyed the full control of state institutions and almost complete control of the media, according to Somer.

“The results under these conditions undermine Erdoğan’s image and suggest his actual support, in a more equal and less manipulated electoral and informational environment, might be much lower,” said Somer. “The CHP was much better organised. Images of opposition MPs sleeping on ballot bags guarding votes during the recounts went viral on social media.”

Now the AKP is aiming to suspend and reverse the results by selectively abusing, not applying or violating the law, according to Somer, which could further undermine the foundations of Turkey’s democratic political institutions.

“When democratic institutions responsible for guarding and regulating democracy are packed or hollowed out from inside, it is the democratic will and capability of organised political actors, most importantly parties, that can save and bring back democracy,” said Somer. “Turkey’s future will depend on how its newly revitalised opposition parties use their opportunities in the short and long term in a still severely polarised country.”