Turkey’s strongman wins again

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has, not surprisingly, been re-elected for a second five-year term, winning on the first round, according to preliminary results, with 52.5% of the vote against five opponents (see Friday’s preview here).

His People’s Alliance has also won a legislative majority, with 343 of the 600 seats, based on 53.6% of the vote.

The headline result is that Erdoğan has improved upon the 51.8% of the vote that he won in 2014, but that’s rather misleading, since one opposition party – the hard-right MHP – has switched sides in the meantime and was now supporting Erdoğan.

The president’s own AKP only won 42.5% and does not have a legislative majority in its own right; the MHP with 50 MPs will have the balance of power. But even if it were to revert to opposition, the legislature’s power to check the president is limited.

It’s impossible to say how fair the voting itself was, but clearly the background conditions – including pro-government media and a state of emergency in place since 2016 – put the opposition at a large disadvantage. To get as close as they did was a substantial achievement: given a level playing field they almost certainly would have won.

Muharrem İnce, from the centre-left CHP, was runner-up with 30.7%. Selahattin Demirtaş, of the pro-Kurdish leftist HDP, had 8.4%, while centre-right candidate Meral Akşener had 7.3%. Demirtaş’s result is particularly impressive given that he has been in prison for the last 18 months.

As autocracies go, 52.5% support is nothing much. Russia’s Vladimir Putin, with whom Erdoğan is naturally compared, won 76.7% in his most recent election. For all its troubles, Turkey’s opposition retains an active base of popular support that its Russian counterparts can only dream of.

If Erdoğan is sufficiently ruthless, that probably won’t matter much. But his mandate is somewhat less sweeping than he must have expected two months ago when he called the early election. Even if he ignores that fact, some of his supporters might not.

For now, Turkish democracy is still breathing, although its prognosis is not good. Expect some anxiety in the region as we wait to see how Erdoğan will use his new power.


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