Erdogan Fought Hard and Won Unfairly
It wasn’t a particularly impressive victory: Erdogan won the presidential election with about 52 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results, and while his Justice and Development (AK) party lost its majority in the parliament, together with the nationalist MHP party it garnered about 54 percent of the vote. But it means Erdogan has deflected the strongest political challenge he has seen in years, from Muharrem Ince, the candidate of the secularist, center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP).
Given the broad powers handed to the president last year in a constitutional referendum Erdogan won even more narrowly, with 51.4 percent of the vote, he has the opportunity to run the country pretty much as he pleases for another five years. For the opposition, to use a soccer analogy, this will be five years of playing without the ball while the referee — Turkey’s increasingly dependent court system — lets the other side run rampant.
Had Ince, a talented orator whose rallies attracted millions of people in Turkey’s Mediterranean strongholds of relative liberalism, forced Erdogan into a runoff, as he’d hoped, the opposition would have had a chance to beat him despite everything the Turkish ruler had done to skew the election system in his favor. The 30 percent he won even according to the opposition-run Fair Election Platform wasn’t, however, enough to keep Erdogan from claiming a majority.
Erdogan called the election, with its near-90 percent turnout, a lesson in democracy to the world. It definitely wan’t one. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe described in its preliminary report an electoral system to which the governing party had been free to introduce hasty changes; a gerrymandered map of parliamentary constituencies; laws that criminalize harsh criticism of the president and limit his own criminal responsibility; restrictions on the freedom of assembly in some provinces; and police harassment of some opposition forces, such as the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP).
Add to that Erdogan’s increasing control over the media (in March, a pro-government conglomerate bought what was probably the country’s strongest independent media group), a widespread practice of jailing journalists and bloggers for “aiding terrorism” and “hate speech” against the government (hundreds of internet users were charged with these crimes just before the election), tens of thousands of political prisoners (Putin’s Russia only has about 150 known ones, according to the country’s foremost human rights organization, Memorial), reports of torture and abuse while in custody, and the idea of Turkey’s giving anyone lessons in democracy appear ludicrous.
Unlike Putin, Erdogan hasn’t barred his opponents from running against him in elections, and so his electoral victories appear harder-won. But make no mistake about the fairness of these triumphs. The system is rigged in Erdogan’s favor. Since the failed 2016 coup, he has also done away with the military’s traditional moderating role on political power. With de-facto control of the constitutional court and a judiciary thoroughly purged after the coup, Erdogan can forget about checks and balances.