Thursday 18 April 2019

Wafer-thin margin could see an emboldened parliament push back if economy stays weak


Supporters listen to Recep Tayyip Erdogan give a speech. Photo: Reuters
Supporters listen to Recep Tayyip Erdogan give a speech. Photo: Reuters

Mark Almond

After 15 years of dominance, Turkey's high-handed and authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan looks to have squeaked home in elections marred by allegations of rigging and government-dominance of the media.

Mr Erdogan used to be the poster-boy for Western hopes that Islam, democracy and prosperity could mix happily. But 15 long years in power fed Mr Erdogan's authoritarianism and pasha-like caprice.

Millions of Turks, who had backed him for stabilising the economy and liberalising official attitudes to the country's minorities like the Kurds, felt deceived as the economy tanked and Mr Erdogan used emergency rule to crack down on political rivals as well as the coup plotters of 2016.

Although Mr Erdogan argued that Turkey needed a strong presidency to secure the country, the fact is that the stronger he has become, the more disruption has hit the economy and his country's relations with its allies in Nato. A chastened President Erdogan is hardly likely to change his style of rule. In fact, he has thrived on crisis.

Many Turks' desire for economic stability, as well as less trouble on their borders with Syria and Iraq, explains the surge in support for the opposition.

It may not have toppled Mr Erdogan but it indicates disenchantment which his dominance of the state and election system could not hide.

If he is dependent for his majority in parliament on the nationalist MHP party, then if Mr Erdogan has retained the presidency he will be using its new, vastly enhanced powers from a much weaker parliamentary base.

A wafer-thin margin of victory in the presidential poll means that the parliamentarians could be emboldened to defy Mr Erdogan, especially if the economy continues to dip.

Like a generous sultan, Mr Erdogan gave a sop to parliamentarians when he devised the new constitution by giving them the right to impeach the executive president despite his vast powers over government, the courts and so on. He assumed his party would dominate parliament but not any more.

With allegations of corruption swirling around key family members and charges of abuse of power against him, an Erdogan victory could be reversed by the very constitution which he intended to cement his hold on power for the next decade.

Westerners will probably rejoice at Mr Erdogan's hollow victory, but his opponents are not happy with the EU and US support for him for so long.

Ironically, as Mr Erdogan has veered away from his Nato partners to embrace Russia's Vladimir Putin and Iran, his domestic rivals have also been calling for an end to Nato's anti-Assad line.

Of course, Turkey houses huge numbers of refugees from Syria. Mr Erdogan's failure to resolve the Syrian issue was one of his rivals' most popular charges against him.

Sadly though, Turks are bitterly divided at home, they have voted for politicians united only by being disillusioned with the country's traditional Western partners. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Mark Almond is director of the Crisis Research Institute, Oxford

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