Opinion: Bitter realization in Turkey

Deutsche Welle, Germany
Aug 10 2014

Opinion: Bitter realization in Turkey

Date 11.08.2014
Author Baha Güngör

The Turkish presidential election is decided: Prime Minister Recep
Tayyip Erdogan will become head of state. It’s a bitter win, and not
just for opponents of further Islamization, says DW’s Baha Güngör.

The will of the Turkish citizens, who for the first time were able to
select their head of state on Sunday (10.08.2014), was clear: With a
solid lead, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan surpassed the
50-percent threshold in the first round and was elected president.

The outcome was fully democratic and therefore irrefutable. That’s one
side of the coin. But on the other side is the fear that Turkey could
now head further down the path of transformation into an Islamic
republic – with increasing religious requirements for citizens in
everyday life.

With Erdogan’s victory, the secular reforms of Turkey’s founder
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk fall further to pieces. Though they were loath
to admit it in recent years, the arrogance of the country’s Kemalist
elite in the face of the many problems of the Turkish people in daily
life has led to the current political status quo.

As a result, Erdogan’s Islamic-conservative Justice and Development
Party (AKP) was able to steadily build on its landslide 34 percent win
in 2002 to almost 50 percent in parliamentary elections three years
ago. In the end, the AKP won every election and has now crowned its
rise to overwhelming political power with the election of its leader
and head of government to the position of president.

Baha Güngör heads DW’s Turkish program

Erdogan knows what ordinary citizens want

The AKP emerged from the ruins of four religious parties, outlawed
between the late 1960s and the second half of the 1990s by the
military and deemed by the Constitutional Court to be a “center for
fundamentalist activities.” Based on the experience of these early
parties, Erdogan knows exactly what the average citizen needs and
wants. This insight has now been recognized by the voters. But above
all, Erdogan was chosen because he gave the Turkish people a whole new
sense of self-esteem based on religious values.

The fact that freedom of expression and the press and democratic
values have been severely restricted over the last decade, and that
Turkey ranks poorly when compared to international standards, does not
interest Erdogan in the slightest. His supporters have also ignored
the many allegations of corruption and abuse leveled at the prime
minister, his family and his inner circle – they’re the price to pay
for relative prosperity.

A ‘new’ Turkey

Erdogan will be president for the next five years. But the 60-year-old
will most likely remain in charge for a second term, that can already
be assumed. As a result, when the Turkish Republic marks its 100th
anniversary in 2023, he will go down in history as the man who will
have reversed nearly all of Ataturk’s reforms. A new regime based on a
presidential system with a marginalized parliament is very likely,
probably the reason why Erdogan is always speaking of the “old” and
“new” Turkey.

More than 52 percent of the electorate voted for Erdogan as new president

His main rival, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, achieved just under 39 percent
of the votes cast – even running with the support of 14 politicial
parties. The 41-year-old Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas,
meanwhile, enjoyed a moderate success with just over 9 percent of the
vote, a possible sign that his pro-Kurdish HDP could cross the
10-percent threshold required for representation for the first time in
the next parliamentary elections in 2015.

Europe’s waning influence

Erdogan may be respected by some in Turkey, but he still definitely
needs to work on his reputation abroad. Surrounded by ongoing crises
in places like Iraq and Syria, and the conflicts in Gaza/Israel and
Ukraine/Russia, not to mention the recently renewed fighting between
Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, Erdogan must
overcome fears that he will only add fuel to these fires. It’s
something he has often done in the past.

The EU – and especially Germany – will have to cope with an
increasingly uncomfortable relationship with Erdogan. The EU-Turkey
adventure is inexorably drawing to a close. This isn’t the end of the
world, but the EU’s influence on developments in Turkey is likely to
decrease. Whether that’s good for European interests in the region
remains to be seen.


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