For all the optics in Istanbul and Ankara, the spectacular victory of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reinforces the one-person monolithic rule in Turkey. The country may not represent a repressive dictatorship as Syria does and Libya did, but its praxis of democracy is far from liberal.
Erdogan had founded his Justice and Development Party (AKP); today he personifies the party and also the State ~ as an entity of governance. The one-man dispensation will almost certainly be a facade for democracy, such as it is now practised in a country that was once westernised and liberalised by Mustafa Kemal.
For Europe in the wider canvas, this is cause for worry not the least because Turkey is the largest predominantly Muslim member-state of NATO. The country has been in a state of emergency ever since the failed military coup in July 2016. That attempted putsch was followed by a purge within the army, effected by Erdogan.
The emergency has even cast a cloud over the conduct of Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary elections. Government control of media meant opposition parties were not given equal airtime. The somewhat farcical exercise was underlined when one of the six candidates for the Turkish presidency campaigned from jail.
Erdogan’s victory has reinforced the referendum that he had won last year. He now has a free hand to control a powerful system of government that has abolished the role of Prime Minister, has curtailed the function of Parliament, and has made the President the “monarch” of all he surveys. The free hand will also facilitate legislation by decree.
With the President and his party controlling the entity that appoints the judiciary, even the courts will be regulated by an omnipotent executive. Thus has ~ and will ~ Erdogan take care of dissenting judges and prosecutors, 25 per cent of whom were dismissed in a crackdown last year.
The President has the rest of the judiciary on his side, which explains the grandstanding by the judges in the aftermath of his triumph. In the net, the separation of powers ~ one of the certitudes of a functioning democracy ~ has been reduced to irrelevance in Erdogan’s Turkey.
The President had succeeded to a depleted inheritance more than a decade ago, notably double-digit inflation and interest rates that hit 6,000 per cent! Erdogan has achieved a degree of growth and stability; Turkey’s economy today is double the size it once was.
Yet inflation is spiralling and the currency falling. Turks are deeply divided and the Kurds constitute a formidable challenge; in foreign policy, his pledge to “liberate Syrian lands” is bound to rock the regional applecart.
The migrants issue remains ever so thorny. Above all, he has accorded Islam a greater role in public affairs ~ an antithesis of what Ataturk had achieved a century ago. In many respects, President Erdogan has turned the clock back.