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The Decline of Erdoğan

By Sasha Mitchell

Recep Teyyip Erdoğan’s party may have won the Turkish general election, but Erdoğan’s political ambitions have been thwarted. On June 7, his Justice Development Party (AKP) failed to secure a majority, winning just under 41 percent of the votes and falling short of the 330 seats needed to change the Turkish constitution. The Turkish President’s dreams of a Putin-style hyper-presidential system are fading. Instead, in what many local and international observers hailed a breath of fresh air for the country’s democracy, the Kurdish progressive People’s Democratic Party (HDP) crossed the 10 percent threshold required for parliamentary representation for the first time, forcing open the doors to the Grand National Assembly.

Having distanced itself from the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) and broadened its nationalist message, the HDP, headed by Selahattin Demirtas, appealed not only to Kurds, but to liberal and secular ethnic Turks too. It also managed to capitalize on the Gezi movement, reaching out to all those who protested against Erdoğan’s increasingly autocratic leadership two years ago. In Parliament, the HDP vows to stand up for the country’s minorities, thus providing some counterweight to the Turkish President’s preposterous statements on homosexuality, Armenians, and the Jews.

But with no single-party majority, the future remains uncertain. On June 9, Erdoğan accepted the resignation of his cabinet but asked Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and his team to stay on until a new government is formed. The country now faces either an AKP-led coalition government with one or more of the three other parties that amassed more than 10 percent of the votes, or new elections within less than 40 days. Presently, the former seems unlikely—the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and the HDP having all ruled out forming a coalition with the AKP.  

One thing is certain, though, these results mark a turning point and the beginning of the end of Erdoğan’s domination of Turkish politics. Running for the mainly ceremonial role of president last year, and winning, was undoubtedly a political mistake. This year, Erdoğan ignored the Turkish tradition of presidency being “above politics” and made the election about himself and his ambition to consolidate power in his hands. As a result, the AKP lost 10 percentage points, 6.5 million votes, and dropped from its 2011 parliamentary position of 311 seats to a present day 258 seat hold.“The AKP is on the verge of an internal crisis and appears a shell-shocked political force in decline” observed Cengiz Çandar, a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Turkey Pulse the day after the election.

In the words of Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina writing for The New York Times, hope has returned to Turkey. The Turkish people voted for inclusion rather than exclusion and rejected Erdoğan’s frequent fearmongering. Notably, Armenians will be represented in the Grand National Assembly for the first time since 1961, along with members of the Yazidi and Roma communities, who had never set foot in Parliament before. The share of female deputies, although still insufficient, has risen to 18 percent from 14 percent in 2011, a figure that gives hope for the future of women’s rights and equality in the country. In addition, the HDP’s entrance into Parliament ensures that Kurdish nationalists are politically represented, which could help bring the country just that little bit closer to resolving the Kurdish issue.

On June 8, the day after the election, the words “The People Said Enough” were spread across the front page of Zaman, the most widely circulated newspaper in Turkey. This, of course, doesn’t mean that Erdoğan’s reign is over. He will remain president at least until the next election, and his party can still count on a comfortable majority of seats in Parliament. Even weakened, the Turkish President remains a shrewd and resolute politician, unlikely to relinquish the reins of a country he has tried so hard to change over the past 13 years. “Even though I am thrilled by the results, I’m finding it uncomfortable to think about the future”, says Hakan, a 22-year-old HDP voter. “Unfortunately, Erdoğan’s passion and obsession for power will always be a big problem.”

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Sasha Mitchell is an editorial assistant at World Policy Journal

[Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia commons] 

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