Jun 26 2018

Washington commentators on Sunday's elections: a victory for nationalism


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's impressive electoral victory last Sunday sparked a flurry of commentary about him and Turkey in Washington and many other Western capitals. 

Bülent Alirıza, director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)

One of Washington's leading think tanks, the centrist CSIS's Turkey director Bülent Alirıza said in an analysis piece after the election that the country's economic woes had had little impact on the election.

Alirıza published a recent article which laid out some serious issues with the Turkish economy and how that might impact Erdoğan's chances before the election. Alirıza on Monday wrote, “the election results indicate that the level of financial pain has not reached the level that might bring into doubt the loyalty of his (Erdoğan’s) followers.”

“Erdoğan now confronts formidable challengers beyond Turkey’s borders,” said Aliriza, “namely the increasingly sceptical international investors whose approval and funds he needs to sustain his ambitious economic development projects.”


Gönül Tol, founding director of the Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies

The results of Turkish elections on Sunday show the country is trapped in identity politics, wrote Gönül Tol, the founding director of the Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies.

One of the common focus points of analyses published about Turkey's elections is how opposition parties, including the candidate of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), Muharrem İnce, had failed to attract enough votes from the ruling party alliance. The reason for this failure is that segments of Turkey trapped in identity politics, said Tol, going on to argue that Erdogan's victory is not one for Islamism but a mix of Turkish nationalism and religious conservatism. 


Kemal Kirişci, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution

Following his victory in the Turkish presidential election on Sunday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will need to tone down his rhetoric and work closely with parliament if he wishes to address Turkey’s problems, wrote Kemal Kirişci, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Kirişci, like many other Turkey experts, brought to mind the reality that “(c)ampaign rhetoric will not suffice to bring down inflation or unemployment from their new heights, nor will it fix structural problems such as persistent current account deficits.”

Rather than rhetoric, Erdoğan should be prepared to compromise and engage in constructive politics, Kirişci suggested, adding that Turkey must reform its foreign policy, otherwise it will be very difficult to ”manage the geopolitical challenges in its region, emanating largely from the actions of Iran and Russia.” Kirişci said that if Erdogan wants show that he is ready to compromise and engage in constructive politics, he should start by lifting the state of emergency, which has been imposed since the failed coup attempt in 2016's July.


Steven A. Cook, senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations.

Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections on Sunday provided an example of post-truth politics, wrote Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations.

“The entire process was somewhere on the spectrum between free and unfree and fair and unfair, bewildering participants and observers alike,” he said in a blog posted on the think-tank’s website Monday. The confusion, he said, helped President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan “win with a veneer of democratic legitimacy”.

The polarisation that inevitably results from elections carried out in an atmosphere such as that in which Turkey’s was held is unlikely to deter Erdoğan and his ilk from holding future elections in similar environments. “It seems,” wrote Cook, “to be the perfect template for future elections in Turkey and other countries with populist and authoritarian leaders.”


Ömer Taşpınar, senior fellow, Brookings Institution

The true victor in the Jun. 24 presidential and parliamentary elections was a form of “angry Turkish nationalism” with the potential to slide into nationalist fascism, Brookings Institution senior fellow Ömer Taşpınar said in an article published by the Washington Post.

“These election results show that polarization along ethnic lines has clearly become a defining feature of Turkish politics,” wrote Taşpınar.

With only a semblance of democratic legitimacy, and the “Turkish model that was supposed to prove the compatibility between Islam, democracy and secularism" no longer relevant, the true story of the elections has been the rise of authoritarian Turkish nationalism, according to Taşpınar.


Alan Makovsky, Senior fellow, Center for American Progress

Former Senior professional staff member for Middle East and Turkey on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Alan Makovsky, in an analysis published by JINSA, said "rigged or not, democracy took a beating," reffering to how the elections were conducted. This beating was "possibly its final one," he added.

Makovsky said, "Turkish democracy was the big loser" of the elections while the bigger winner is Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to Makovsky, the second biggest winner is Devlet Bahceli, leader of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which doubled the vote that the polls predicted.

Makovsky put Muharrem Ince, CHP's Presidential candidate as another "likely winner" with his impressive performance as a candidate. 

Like many Turkey experts in Washington and around, Makovsky also thinks that nationalism is a "clear winner" of the elections. 


Blaise Misztal, director of national security at the Bipartisan Policy Center

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.

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.”