June 11, 2015 | Politico Europe
Turkey Thwarts Erdoğan
The Turkish general elections ended with the most unlikely outcome. Twenty political parties and 165 independent candidates competed for 550 seats in 85 electoral districts. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its majority, but it remained the party with the most seats. The biggest “loser” — President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan — was not even a candidate.
The four political parties that managed to cross the world’s highest electoral threshold of 10 percent to gain seats in the Turkish parliament have since made various claims proclaiming victory.
Although pundits are still undecided about the true winner of the elections, most seem to agree that Erdoğan, who had sought to forge Turkey’s parliamentary system into a presidential one that would help him consolidate power, is the vanquished party. The AKP’s lost seats marked a landmark reversal of fortunes for his authoritarian project.
Erdoğan, who had campaigned tirelessly for the ruling AKP, in breach of the Turkish constitution and election laws, repeatedly pleaded to voters to award his former party 400-seats, a utopian number in excess of a super-majority. This, in turn, would have allowed him to impose unilaterally a “presidential system a la Turca” (his words), an authoritarian dream to amass executive, legislative, and judicial powers in his newly-erected 1,150-room palace.
The Turkish people wisely vetoed Erdoğan’s “Enabling Act,” and ended twelve-and-a-half years of one-party rule by the AKP. The party lost 9 percent of its votes and 69 of its seats, leaving Erdoğan’s disciples 18 seats short of a simple majority and 109 seats short of a super-majority for the unilateral drafting of a new constitution.
A coalition government, something Erdoğan is loathe to broker, seems to be the only way out. To Erdoğan’s dismay, Turkish politicians are sharpening their negotiation and consensus-building skills, a hopeful sign for the future of pluralist democracy in Turkey.
The ‘Turkish model’
The demise of Erdoğanism is not only the failure of a Turkish autocrat, but also the failure of AKP’s “Turkish model.” When Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced his preference for an “illiberal state” in July 2014, he listed Turkey as a successful role model alongside Russia and China.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was no less of an Erdoğan fan than Orbán. When the Brotherhood made initial plans to nominate Khairat al-Shater as its presidential candidate — he was later disqualified by the election commission and replaced by Mohamed Morsi — the Islamist party released a campaign song celebrating the arrival of “the new Erdoğan of Egypt.” Erdoğan duly returned the favor by lending his campaigners to teach the tricks of majoritarianism.
Hamas’s Khaled Mashal is surely another mourner for the defeat of Erdoğan’s model. Mashal, the most applauded guest of AKP’s 2012 congress, addressed the crowds by praising AKP as “a model of success the Turkish nation can be proud of.” Mashal was also among the crowd at AKP’s 2014 congress in Konya, lending his wholehearted support to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Erdoğan’s now-discredited protégé.
The defeat of Erdoğan’s authoritarian model at the ballot box is not simply the drying up of a well of inspiration for the world’s existing and aspiring authoritarian leaders. It also strikes a blow to AKP’s elaborate impression management at home. So far, the AKP elite has quite successfully claimed that all the embarrassing challenges, from the Gezi Park protests of May 2013 to the graft probe of December 2013, were the result of a conspiracy by “the Mastermind,” AKP’s euphemism for the Jews. Since the embarrassing election results, however, there seems to be more finger-pointing and even self-criticism within the party and its crony media.
Now that Erdoğan’s authoritarian model has suffered a significant setback at the ballot box, is it possible to reverse Turkey’s shift away from Western values? Or as some diplomats whisper in the backrooms of Ankara, is Turkey beyond the point of no return? In other words, is there any realistic chance of reversing Turkey’s “Pakistanization”. Is there any light at the end of the Erdoğan tunnel?
The answer to these questions will surely determine not only the future of Turkey, but also the prospects of the transatlantic alliance with the United States, the viability of NATO, and the trajectory of liberal democratic values in the Muslim world.
United against authoritarianism
I have always been hopeful about the resilience of Turkish democracy. What defeated authoritarianism at the ballot box on June 7 was not simply the number of votes cast by citizens but the remarkable solidarity of volunteers from all walks of life, best exemplified by the Oy ve Ötesi.
More than 60,000 volunteers of this independent and nonpartisan initiative mobilized not to support the party of their choice but to guard the ballot boxes so that Turkish citizens could exercise their right to participate in fair elections.
The youthful and democratic energies that flow out of the Gezi Park protests or the Oy ve Ötesi initiative’s ballot box activism could be as potent an inspiration as Erdoğan’s politics of hate and prejudice to win the hearts and minds of the peoples of the Muslim world. Lacking Erdoğan’s resources and propaganda machine, Turkey’s next generation of democrats have to rely on their youthful creativity, resourcefulness, and global network of allies and friends.
This is what Erdoğan knows and fears.
Aykan Erdemir is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @aykan_erdemir