Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has won a clear majority in the country's snap elections held on 24th June, according to early reports from the state news agency Anadolu.
The presidential and parliamentary elections are crucial for Erdogan to maintain control over a reformed government where he will be the most powerful leader since modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Attaturk.
Situated at the nexus between Asia and Europe, Turkey divides the Black Sea from the Mediterranean. Nearly all of the country is in Asia, comprising the oblong peninsula of Asia Minor—also known as Anatolia (Anadolu)—and, in the east, part of a mountainous region sometimes known as the Armenian Highland. Turkey’s control of the straits of Bosporus, Dardanelles and Sea of Marmara, the only outlet from the Black Sea, has been a major factor in its relations with other states.
The Anatolian peninsula, comprising most of modern Turkey, is one of the oldest permanently settled regions in the world. According to Acts of Apostles 11, a city in the southern of Turkey, Antioch (now Antakya) is the birthplace of the first Christian community. In 324, Constantine I chose Byzantium to be the new capital of the Roman Empire, renaming it New Rome. Turkmen tribes invaded Anatolia in the 11th century CE, founding the Seljuq empire; during the 14th century the Ottoman Empire began a long expansion, reaching its peak during the 17th century.
Following the Armistice of Mudros in 1918, the victorious Allied Powers sought to partition the Ottoman state through the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres. The Turkish War of Independence, initiated by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his colleagues against occupying Allies, resulted in the abolition of monarchy and the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, with Atatürk as its first president. The common threat posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War led to Turkey's membership of NATO in 1952, ensuring close bilateral relations with Washington.
Since the liberalisation of the Turkish economy in the 1980s, the country has enjoyed stronger economic growth and greater political stability. Turkey joined the EU Customs Union in 1995 and started accession negotiations with the European Union in 2005. However, conflict in Cyprus has hindered Turkey’s accession to the EU. The Syrian Civil War saw large influx of refugees into the country which complicated international responsibilities while striving for favourable realpolitik.
In 2016 a failed coup resulted in the imposition of a state of emergency which has since been extended on numerous occasions till now. Incumbent President Erdogan won, with a very small margin, a referendum which would reform Turkey’s government by granting greater powers to the President.
With 97.7 percent of ballots counted, Erdogan received more than half the votes required to secure an outright victory, Sadi Guven, the head of the Supreme Election Committee (YSK), told reporters in the capital, Ankara. The Islamist-rooted AK Party won 42% and ally MHP won 11%, based on 99% of votes counted, broadcasters said. In the opposition camp, the CHP had 23% and the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) 11% - above the threshold, it needs to reach to enter parliament.
“It is out of the question for us to turn back from where we’ve brought our country in terms of democracy and the economy,” President Erdogan said. “There is no stopping for us until we bring Turkey, which we saved from plotters, coupists and political and economic hitmen, street gangs and terrorist organisations, to among the top 10 economies in the world.”
Muharrem Ince, main opposition candidate, said he accepted the election results, noting there was no significant difference between the official figures and those collated by his own party.
A majority of 360 votes in parliament are required to take a constitutional change to a referendum in the new executive presidential system. Opposition parties have banded together, but the Kurdish HDP, excluded from the coalition’s efforts so as to not offend conservative nationalists, will be able to swing votes in favour of any force opposing Erdogan.
Turkish voters were polarised not based on ethno-religious lines, but instead the choice was between being pro or anti-Erdogan. Recent reforms would endow Erdogan with Prime Ministerial powers, thereby strengthening his authority over the government. In the new era, the presidential office will have the power to appoint vice presidents, ministers, high-level officials and senior judges. The president will also be able to dissolve parliament, issue executive decrees, and impose a state of emergency. Furthermore, the president will have direct control over the military and the police, both national forces within the country.
The Venice Commission, which provides legal advice to the Council of Europe (of which Turkey is a member), has set out its concerns about many of these reforms in detail. With military courts abolished, the Commission concluded that: "they lead to an excessive concentration of executive power in the hands of the president and the weakening of parliamentary control of that power". It warns of "a presidential regime which lacks the necessary checks and balances required to safeguard against becoming an authoritarian one”.
It is important to note that the EU faces a tough choice. By attempting to move away from Russian supply of oil with the newly inaugurated Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP), the EU now has to maintain cordial relations with Turkey.
For the Turkish voters, on one hand, Erdogan is seen as a ray of hope in a tumultuous region. His move to overturn the law that banned hijab wearing individuals from schools, universities, and places of employment was commendable. Polls found that, in the wake of the Arab Spring, he was seen as having led his country to “having played the most constructive role in Arab events.” In 2013, he helped organize significant diplomatic victories in Turkey’s relationships with Israel and with Kurdish rebels. However, Erdogan has vehemently opposed the creation of an independent Kurdish state.
On the other hand, Turkey’s economy is struggling with double-digit inflation and an astounding 18% interest rate. Crackdown on dissent and an astounding 90% control over media has suffocated the liberal environment of independent Turkey.
Our assessment is that President Erdogan’s re-election is a clear display of Turkish preferences. We believe that Erdogan has set out ambitious economic projects which may favour the elite over the average citizen. Opposition unity is pivotal to prevent a populist overhaul of the country.