Jun 26 2018

Which Erdoğan is set to rule Turkey?

The big question Turkey is asking is which Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will rule following Sunday’s victory at the polls, the one who hinted at major concessions, such as lifting the state of emergency, reopening peace talks with the Kurds, or the one who has trampled on Turkey’s rule of law, separation of powers and freedom of expression, said Blaise Misztal, director of national security at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think-tank.

Erdoğan takes up wide-ranging executive powers in new presidential system following Sunday’s polls, in which he received 53 percent of the vote and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) and their far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) allies secured a majority in parliament.

For Turkey’s opposition, the election represented the last and best chance of stopping Erdoğan’s domination of Turkish politics and society, Misztal said. Now that all cards are stacked in Erdoğan’s favour, what direction he takes is of the utmost importance.  

Turkey, he said, would see, ‘’Likely the same Erdoğan that has always existed: an Erdoğan with a fixed and committed ideological vision of a Turkey founded on its Islamic heritage and occupying a pre-eminent role in the Middle East, but with a flexible and pragmatic approach for achieving that vision by all means necessary, including burning through political allies and fracturing his opponents.”

With his eye likely already fixed on the 2019 local elections and the next national elections (most likely in 2023, but potentially earlier), Erdoğan is likely calculating not just how to maintain his electoral advantage, but how to undermine the positive advances made by the opposition in this latest elections, Misztal said.

Erdoğan will react to the opposition’s now demonstrated ability to work together across political divides to sow discord before any new coalitions can be formed against him, he said.

For Turkey’s strongman, ‘’signalling a willingness to explore a new Kurdish opening could be the most potent political wedge available’’, as it would force the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) to decide between the broad pro-democracy agenda it has pursued since 2014 and potentially securing the release of its imprisoned leadership and an end to the conflict in the mainly Kurdish southeast.

While the source of the AKP’s electoral success has often been attributed by analysts to the party’s domination of Turkey’s political right, Misztal said, by attracting voters ranging from pro-market businessmen, to nationalists, to religious conservatives (including Kurds) to even, early on, liberal reformers, the AKP had been able to construct a big tent party that could easily win against the fractured left.

What is evident is that the path to electoral success in Turkey lies not just in new permutations of alliances across the political spectrum, but in exploding the categories that have long demarcated the positions of Turkish political parties.

Erdoğan’s AKP redefined Turkey’s political map in 2002 when it came into power; politicians and analysts alike will continue to be proved wrong as long as they continue attempting to beat Erdoğan on the battlefield which he has defined.