Turkish Elections Take Two
Erdogan Divides and Rules

The politics of division and fear win a big victory in Turkey. Reuters reports:

With 99 percent of votes counted, the AKP was on 49.4 percent, according to state-run broadcaster TRT, giving it 316 of parliament’s 550 seats. The main opposition CHP was at 25.4 percent.[..]

The pro-Kurdish HDP, which scaled back its election campaign after its supporters were targeted in the Ankara suicide bomb attack that killed more than 100 people on Oct. 10, was on 10.7 percent, according to TRT. It won 13 percent in June.

The nationalist MHP, which was another casualty of the rise in AKP support, saw its share of the vote drop to 12 percent from 16.5 percent in June.

Erdogan came to power years ago winning Kurdish votes on the strength of promises to heal the country’s ethnic divisions and dismantle the authoritarian structures of Kemalist Turkey. This time he won by demonizing the Kurds, fanning flames of division—and winning right-wing nationalist voters who prefer a strong government, even if it is Islamist, to weak coalitions at a time of national emergency.

That Turkish voters went for stability makes a certain amount of sense: a look at neighboring Syria and Iraq provides a powerful reminder of just how bloody chaos and anarchy can be.

Turkey today is beleaguered as never before. An aggressive Russia has attacked Ukraine on the Black Sea, established a beachhead in Syria, and violated Turkish airspace. Turkey itself is trapped between its hatred of Assad, its fear of the Syrian Kurds, and concerns about ISIS and other radical groups operating in its near borders. Relations with Egypt have not healed, and its key neighbors—Greece, Iraq, and Syria—are all economic disasters.

The strong tilt toward authoritarian rule that President Erdogan has demonstrated in recent years has alienated any friends he once had in the west and divided Turkey’s Islamists. Newspapers and television stations have been closed, journalists killed, and a climate of intimidation and fear has descended on what, just a few years ago, was widely hailed as a role model for Islamic democracy around the world.

The external pressures on Turkey seem likely to grow, and so, too, the country’s drift from democracy appears fated to continue. Foreign investors may be temporarily reassured that the question mark over Turkey’s political stability has disappeared, at least in the short term, but it seems unlikely at this point that the overall tendency of Turkish policy will reassure them for long.

Erdogan is not without assets, however. The EU desperately needs his help in stemming the flow of refugees. The Europeans aren’t just going to pay him cash for his cooperation on the refugee front; they are also likely to ignore human rights issues as long as they need help. The Americans, too, thanks to a regional strategy that has opened the door to Russia and given Iran some enticing strategic opportunities, are likely going to be too busy fighting fires and looking for allies to give President Erdogan too much of a tongue lashing about human rights. Capitalizing on Turkey’s strategic value looks like his smartest play.

It has, all told, been less than a glorious decade for Turkey. This week’s election does not herald a change for the better.

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