mead berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn bayles
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.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Jim__L

    “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.”

    This is what it looks like when the EU loses its illusions.

    • Andrew Allison

      Or, perhaps, when the world loses its illusions about the EU?

      • Jim__L

        The illusion is in the form of a contradiction — Can the EU be both humanitarian and welcoming of refugees, and effective at pursuing the interests of its own existing population?

        The self-regard of the elites depends on their squaring that circle. I don’t see it happening. How much of the parade of horribles that happens when an elite comes unmoored from the interests of its constituencies is going to happen in Europe over the next years, one can only guess. I don’t think we’re at the point of right-wing populists fighting left-wing populists in the streets, but if youth culture starts to take on a physically belligerent edge, watch out.

        • Andrew Allison

          Yes, the fact that the elites (especially the unelected one in Brussels) have become completely unmoored from the the interests of their constituencies is exactly the problem, and the results will not be pretty.

  • Attila_the_hun

    Stability is a pipe dream. To the contrary Turkey is heading for a chaos If anyone thinks Erdogan will try to reconcile with Turkish Kurds
    is dreaming. His entire governing philosophy is based on Turkish/Sunni religious nationalism. He will rather go to war against the Kurds than giving an inch. Given the cooperation between The USA and PYG fighters Turkey and The USA are heading for a clash .
    At that point not only the entire ME political landscape will turn up side down also we will see the end of EU as we know it..

    • Andrew Allison

      Unhappily, as Jim L points out, the EU’s desperate need to deal with the migrant crisis seems likely to give Erdogan his head.

      • Attila_the_hun

        Sorry to break it to you. EU is incapable to help itself. Never mind helping Turkey. Not if but When Syrian wildfire spreads into south eastern Turkey. The current EU refugee crises will look like a picnic. Imagine 20 or 30 million Turks walk into Greece and Bulgaria. Turkey is pregnant to a trouble future.

        • Andrew Allison

          You are right, but your reply has nothing to do with mine.

          • Attila_the_hun


  • Dhako


    Erdogan, is the best politician of his generation in Turkey. And, in fact, he is the the man Turkey needs now, particularly in it’s troubling region. Furthermore, notwithstanding all the spleen in which his critics are bellyaching on regular basis, particularly the limp-wristed and the lily-livered folks, who never tired telling each other how much he is a tyrant according to their fine-sensibilities, it’s a fact, that, Erdogan, has effectively, created a strong state that will deal with the myriads problem in which of Turkey is currently facing.

    And, moreover, he may be a Neo-islamist according to some pundits in the West, but, it’s plain to all to see, that he is a proud Turk, much given to reverentially look back to the heyday of Ottoman’s empire, which was when to be a Turk, was not to be confused by others, as if you nothing but a local Kebab-seller down at the grittier ends of western’s post-industrial towns. But, it was indeed a time whereby the finest of European’s world considered the Turks as a worthy enemy much to be feared, not as a supplicant vassal state forever pleading to be allowed into EU.

    All, in all, he may be brass-neck or even a head-banger, in whose his presence, will not be welcome into any of the swankiest dinner party, held for the liberal elites in the western world. But, he is a man who is comfortable in his “Anatolian’s skin”. And, what is more, he is, the sort of chap, who will reach for his meat-cleaver, the minute some fancy-talking, who also glibly condescending western liberal waffler, start talking about how Mr Erdogan knows nothing about how to govern his nation. Or for that matter, he ought to sit at the back of the class, and start taking “lectures” about how he is a walking affront to some “western’s values”, in which, allegedly, he was supposed to govern his Turkey under it.

    And as for the Kurdish’s issue, he will resolve his way of “carrot-and-stick”. Which means, the PKK, will soon see “reason” to accommodate themselves to his way of seeing things, since, most crucially of all, the “gamble” in which the Kurdish folks took, which was that of hoping that if Erdogan became enfeebled through this parliamentary election, then he will be forced to make too much concession in-order to keep the Kurdish minority party in to his AKP ruling coalition majority government.

    And, this meant, so long as he is deny an outright parliamentary victory, then the PKK (or through the Kurdish respectable minority party, the HDP) will be in a position to put Erdogan’s AKP government at the peg and call of their pleasure, which means Erdogan can be made weak president, who is forever hostage to the concern of his coalition partners.

    And of course, this what Erdogan was against it, which is why he call for the second parliamentary election. And that is why, he will be the master of all he survey in Turkey; while at the same time, making sure the “tail” that is the Kurdish issue will not “wag” the beefy dog that is the Turkish’s state under his ruler-ship.

    • Andrew Allison

      Oh, please. He’s an autocratic would-be dictator who fortunately failed to gain the 330 seats needed to toss democracy completely overboard.

  • Andrew Allison
    • Attila_the_hun

      More accurately STOLEN. There were many reports of unmarked, non plate cars hauling ballot boxes. Plus power outages in critical areas of Istanbul and defacto capital city of Turkish Kurdistan Diyarbakir.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service