Turkey: Empowering an autocrat
Recep Tayyip Erdogan now wields virtually unlimited power, said Umut Uras in Qatar’s AlJazeera.com. The Turkish president won re-election this week with just over 52 percent of the vote, and he will return to office with vastly increased authority. The election was the first to be held after Turkish voters last year narrowly approved a referendum that eliminated the office of prime minister and granted the next person to hold the presidency—once a mostly ceremonial role—the right to personally appoint vice presidents, ministers, high-level officials, and senior judges, and to dissolve parliament. Still, this high-turnout election “signaled for the first time that there could be a credible alternative to Erdogan.” Rival Muharrem Ince of the secularist Republican People’s Party got a respectable 30.8 percent of the vote by running against the presidency’s expanded powers. “A single person is becoming the head of the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary, and this is a threat to the survival of the country,” Ince warned in his concession speech. “We’re now under one-man rule.”
Erdogan won because he has been “a champion of social justice,” said Ibrahim Kalin in the Daily Sabah (Turkey). His policies have lifted up urban and rural communities, and he has expanded the rights of ethnic minorities, including the Kurds and Armenians. That’s why, even as we host 3.5 million Syrian refugees, Turkey remains “an island of stability and prosperity in a troubled region.” This election was also a rejection of foreign meddling, said Beril Dedeoglu, also in Sabah. Turkey is battling both the PKK Kurdish terrorist group in the southeast and the terrorist organization led by the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who masterminded the failed 2016 coup attempt. The Turkish people see these groups as directed from outside, just as they believe that Turkey’s mounting economic woes, “including the fall of the lira and rising interest rates, are part of a foreign scheme.”
The opposition is heartbroken, said Turkish author Ece Temelkuran in The Guardian (U.K.). We thought we could finally end 15 years of Erdogan’s rule as we watched him “forgetting his words during speeches that the audience had been paid to attend” and making ridiculous promises such as free cake in coffeehouses. The campaign wasn’t remotely fair—Ince got almost no coverage in state-run media—but the vote count was not fraudulent. We won’t give up, and someday we will retake our country.
In the meantime, no one should pretend Turkey is a friend of the West, said Ross Clark in the Daily Express (U.K.). Since the failed coup, Erdogan has orchestrated “a Stalin-style mass purge of all opposition,” sacking more than 100,000 army officers, police, and judges—half of whom are now locked up. Newspapers and radio and TV stations have been shuttered, journalists jailed, and teachers fired. And now Erdogan has dictatorial powers. Turkey can no longer “claim to be a functioning democracy.”