Tag Archives: CHP

The only way to save Turkish democracy is a competent opposition

If the opponents of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hope to unlock his increasingly autocratic grip on power, they need to join forces, then work to divide the ruling AKP.

It’s a bridge too far to say that the Turkish opposition is responsible for a decade and a half of losses to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

But there’s no doubt that his opponents certainly haven’t posed an effective brake on Erdoğan’s accelerating chokehold on Turkish democracy.

Turkish voters, according to official tallies, narrowly approved sweeping changes to the Turkish constitution on April 16 that bring far more powers to the Turkish presidency with far fewer checks and balances against the newly empowered executive.

This was always Erdoğan’s plan.

It was his plan in August 2014, when the longtime prime minister stood for (and won) the presidency, introducing a de facto presidential system in Turkey. Prime minister Binali Yıldırım essentially serves at the pleasure of the Turkish president today.

It was his plan last weekend, when he won (or possibly stole) a victory for a de jure presidential system through 18 separate constitutional amendments, many of which take effect in 2019 with a likely joint parliamentary and presidential election. Most immediately, however, Erdoğan will be able to drop the façade of presidential independence and return to lead the party that he already controls indirectly. (It’s a step that apparently won praise, almost alone among Atlantic leaders, from US president Donald Trump and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán.)

It was his plan when, after the longtime ruling Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) failed to win an outright majority in June 2015, he plotted a crackdown on the Kurdish minority — after years of progress in integrating Kurds by relaxing restrictive and counterproductive restrictions on Kurdish language and culture — to engineer a majority win in a new round of elections five months later. Continue reading The only way to save Turkish democracy is a competent opposition

What we learned about Turkey from Saturday’s coup attempt

Turkish soldiers stand guard in Taksim Square Saturday night. (Sedat Suna / EPA)
Turkish soldiers stand guard in Taksim Square Saturday night. (Sedat Suna / EPA)

Something like tense calm seems to be settling on the streets of Istanbul and Ankara after an attempted military coup in Turkey early Saturday morning. Turkey

But the reverberations of the failed ouster will be felt for months and possibly years to come. Though the coup didn’t enjoy the full support of the Turkish military, it was something of a shock — and a throwback — to see tanks rolling through major Turkish cities. Amid the chaos, there’s still much that we don’t and, perhaps, cannot know about the fallout of the July 16 coup.

In other ways, the failed coup gave us quite a glimpse — in at least four ways — into the state of Turkish politics, culture and democracy.  Continue reading What we learned about Turkey from Saturday’s coup attempt

In blow to Turkish media, Erdoğan seizes critical Zaman newspaper

The Turkish government took control of opposition-friendly newspaper Zaman late last week. (Zaman)
The Turkish government took control of opposition-friendly newspaper Zaman late last week. (Zaman)

With much of Europe focused on a deal with Turkey to stem the flow of Syrian refugees into the European Union, the critical Middle Eastern country took another large step toward illiberalism over the weekend.Turkey

Following a court order, riot police on Friday took control of the country’s Zaman newspaper, with by far the highest circulation in Turkey. Police forcibly entered the news offices on Friday, firing its editor, Abdülhamit Bilici, and using tear gas to dispel any lingering protests from reporters and readers who might oppose one of the most shamelessly heavy-handed attacks on press freedom in Turkish history.

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RELATED: The fight for Turkey is between Erdoganists and Gulenists

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To put this in perspective, Poland’s opposition and much of the European elite rang alarms late last year when the new, conservative Polish government pushed to take aggressive control of the state media.

By contrast, the Turkish government has now taken one of the country’s most important private newspapers. On Monday, the newly government-owned Zaman was already taking a chillingly pro-government line. (Oddly, as of late Monday night, the English-language edition’s website was still up).  Continue reading In blow to Turkish media, Erdoğan seizes critical Zaman newspaper

Turkey’s election result the best possible outcome

Prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is now set to lead a majority government in Turkey. (Facebook).
Prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is now set to lead a majority government in Turkey. (Facebook).

Though there’s plenty to be pessimistic about in the five months since Turkey’s last parliamentary election in June, the result in today’s repeat snap elections is perhaps the best possible outcome for the various domestic and international actors with a state in Turkey’s continued stability.Turkey

The Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party), the conservative Islamist party that has dominated Turkish politics since 2002, scored the most crushing victory in its history — more than when it initially came to power and more than its prior peak in the 2011 elections. That’s despite a turbulent election campaign marred by an early October suicide blast in the capital city of Ankara, the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of the modern Turkish republic.

With 99.00% of all votes counted.

Though the AKP will not win the two-thirds majority that it hoped for to enact the constitutional changes that president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wants to rebalance powers away from the national assembly and to the presidency, the result gives the AKP a clear mandate to govern without seeking a coalition partner. The AKP’s path to a majority victory wasn’t pretty, and there’s a compelling case that Erdoğan has seriously damaged his legacy and, he further undermined the rule of law, fair elections, internal security and press freedom over the past five months. But the victory means that Turkey will not face a third election in the spring and all the destabilization that another months-long campaign period would mean.

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RELATED: Ankara bombing curdles already-fraught
Turkish election campaign

RELATED: How the AKP hopes to regain
its absolute majority in November

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Most surprisingly, the AKP managed its overwhelming victory while the leftist, Kurdish-interest Halkların Demokratik Partisi (HDP, People’s Democratic Party) still won enough support to win seats in the national assembly. That feels like something of a miracle, given the increasingly tense atmosphere across southeastern Turkey, where polling took place under conditions of near civil war between Turkish military forces and the radical guerrilla group, the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê (PKK, Kurdistan Workers’ Party).


While HDP leader attorney Selahattin Demirtaş has called for a peaceful approach to the fight for greater Kurdish autonomy, AKP officials, including Erdoğan and prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu have tried to tie the party to the more militant PKK as a years-long ceasefire, the product of advanced peace talks between the Turkish government and PKK leaders, unravelled in July in the wake of a suicide bombing in Suruç (and attributed to the jihadist ISIS/Islamic State/Daesh). Turkey’s hurdle rate for winning seats in the national parliament is 10%. That means, with around 10.6% of the vote, the HDP is entitled to 59 seats, but with just 9.99%, the HDP would have won exactly zero seats. The latter outcome, just five months after the HDP celebrated the first time an expressly Kurdish party won seats in the Turkish assembly, would have greatly undermined Demirtaş’s argument that Turkish Kurds can work through the democratic system for greater autonomy, self-government and other minority rights.

It’s certainly not the outcome Erdoğan would have been hoping for because, had the AKP taken those 59 seats, it would have the elusive two-thirds majority Erdoğan has sought since winning the Turkish presidency last August. In the long run, however, even if Erdoğan dislikes it, it’s much better that the Kurdish minority feels like it can benefit through democratic participation.  Continue reading Turkey’s election result the best possible outcome

How the AKP hopes to regain its absolute majority in November


Unable to form a governing coalition with any of Turkey’s opposition parties after more than a decade of one-party rule, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s strategy for scrambling politics prior to the country’s return to polls on November 1 is becoming increasingly clear, and it’s a cynical maneuver that could ruin one of Erdoğan’s most important legacies.Turkey

What’s clear is that Erdoğan and his chief lieutenant, prime minister and former foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu are determined to take back their majority in the 550-seat Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi (Grand National Assembly), even if it means bending the rules of traditional democracy. With each passing day, the Turkish military’s intensifying engagement both against the Islamic State/ISIS and Kurdish militants within the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê (PKK, Kurdistan Workers’ Party) seem designed to shake up Turkish politics enough for the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) to return to power without resorting to a governing coalition.

While there were already worrying signs that Erdoğan was attempting to harass Turkish media in the lead-up to the June campaign, he now seems to be going even farther by arresting and raiding the most critical voices in the press. As Erdoğan’s push against Kurdish militants increases, he has openly discussed persecuting all Kurdish politicians, even those with few ties to the PKK.

To understand what’s going on requires an understanding of the arithmetic of Turkish politics, especially because many polls show that voter preferences haven’t particularly changed since June.

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RELATED: How Turkey’s Kurds became a key constituency in presidential election

RELATED: Coalition politics returns to Turkey after AKP loses majority

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In the June 7 parliamentary elections, the AKP won around 41% of the vote. That’s far ahead of any of its opponents, but it wasn’t enough to secure a majority, let alone the supermajority that Erdoğan wants to revise the Turkish constitution and consolidate more power in the presidency. Continue reading How the AKP hopes to regain its absolute majority in November

Both Greece, Turkey could be headed for snap elections


August may be among the most quiet periods of the year for world politics, especially in Europe as workers spend weeks away on holiday. Greece Flag IconTurkey

But events earlier this week made it very likely that two Mediterranean countries could hold snap elections later this year, adding greater political uncertainty to a European electoral calendar that will see elections for a new Labour leader in the United Kingdom next month, a new regional government in Catalunya (with implications for the Catalan independence movement) and new national governments in Portugal, Poland and Spain.

Greece’s troubled far-left government may call a vote of confidence as it begins implementing the country’s third bailout package, finalized with European leaders last weekend despite onerous conditions that could retard economic growth for years. The bailout and its aftermath could split prime minister Alexis Tsipras’s ruling SYRIZA (Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς, the Coalition of the Radical Left). With far-left SYRIZA rebels already opposed to the bailout and with other opposition parties refusing to prop up Tsipras’s government, Greece could be forced to hold its second election since January, when SYRIZA first swept to power.

Across the Aegean Sea, Turkey may find itself forced to hold a repeat election after the ruling Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) of president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu (pictured above) apparently failed to find common ground with Turkey’s two largest opposition parties, leaving it just shy of a majority in the Turkish parliament. Without a working majority, Erdoğan may be forced to call a new election by August 23, when Davutoğlu’s mandate to form a coalition government expires. Continue reading Both Greece, Turkey could be headed for snap elections

Coalition politics returns to Turkey after AKP loses majority


The hand-wringing about Turkish democracy turned out to be overwrought — electoral churn is alive and well, despite the efforts of its president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to consolidate the power of his ruling party, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party).Turkey

For the first time since the AKP came to power in 2002, Erdoğan wasn’t technically leading the party after winning the presidency last year. Nevertheless, his presence was clear enough in the weeks leading up to the vote, threatening journalists and campaigning openly in defiance of the traditional independence of the office of the presidency, which Erdoğan hoped to strengthen significantly by changing Turkey’s constitution.

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RELATED: Turkish election a referendum on
Erdoğan-style presidentialism

RELATED: Who is Selahattin Demirtaş?

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Erdoğan hoped to win the 330 seats necessary to initiate constitutional changes to shift power permanently to the presidency and away from the assembly. Instead, the AKP fell to just 256 seats, 20 short of a majority. While that’s enough for the AKP to remain the largest party, by far, in the  Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi (Grand National Assembly), voters rewarded Erdoğan’s overreach by forcing the AKP to seek a coalition partner, a novelty after nearly a decade and a half of one-party rule.

Accordingly, the results bring more questions than answers. Though the election is probably good for the long-term stability of Turkish democracy, the result could mean a considerable amount of short-term instability, a prospect that’s already spooked Turkish markets this morning.

For the first time in Turkish history, an explicitly Kurdish party will hold seats (as a party) in the Turkish parliament. It’s a great opportunity for political pluralism, but it also brings risks. If Erdoğan turns too sharply against his Kurdish rivals, he could tragically damage the strengthening trust that he’s built over the past decade between the Kurdish minority and the Turkish government.

Prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Erdoğan’s former foreign minister, had pledged to resign in the event that the AKP failed to win enough seats to form a government, so his future is very much in question. If he goes, Erdoğan will be hard-pressed to find a reliable ally who satisfies both wings of the AKP and who will also govern in deference to Erdoğan’s wishes.

Moreover, shifting to coalition politics will prove difficult for the AKP, most especially Erdoğan. Even if he manages to find a junior coalition partner, Erdoğan might be anxious to hold new elections to restore the party’s majority. As much as the June 7 elections affirmed the resilience of Turkish democracy, snap elections might prove an even more serious test if Erdoğan is willing to resort to extralegal steps — especially after he flouted presidential impartiality and the AKP devoted significant state resources to its election victory.

turkeyelection turkey15

Erdoğan, over the years, has gradually consolidated authority into a narrowing group of advisers, to the point that he’s sidelined senior AKP figures, including co-founders like deputy prime minister Bülent Arınç and former president Abdullah Gül, who might otherwise challenge his authority. Increasingly, Erdoğan gradually shifted away from democratic best practices that emphasize liberal freedoms and consensus-building. Turkish voters are also becoming impatient with a slowing economy after years of booming expansion. Continue reading Coalition politics returns to Turkey after AKP loses majority

Turkish election a referendum on Erdoğan-style presidentialism


You will not find the name of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, on any ballot during the June 7 Turkish general election.Turkey

Make no mistake, however — Sunday’s vote is nothing short of a referendum on Erdoğan’s 12-year rule, creeping authoritarianism, mild (and sometimes not-so-mild) Islamism and, above all, his plans to change the Turkish constitution to redistribute more power to the presidency and away from the legislature.

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RELATED: How Turkey’s Kurds became a key constituency in election

RELATED: Erdoğan  wins first-round presidential victory

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Barring a surprise, however, Erdoğan and the ruling Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) will almost certainly fail to win the two-thirds majority of seats in the 550-member Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi (Grand National Assembly) to impose constitutional reforms. So long as the AKP controls the Turkish parliament, however, Erdoğan will almost certainly dominate national policymaking. Prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who previously served as foreign minister, is a loyal Erdoğan ally, and Erdoğan has started culling other senior members of the party, leaving a chiefly pliant set of AKP officials who owe their political careers to Erdoğan.

There are three key numbers to watch:

  • 330 is the number of seats Erdoğan and Davutoğlu need to push through unilateral constitutional change.
  • 311 is the number of seats the AKP currently holds.
  • 276 is the number of seats that constitutes a majority.

If the AKP wins 330 or more seats, it will be a surprising and astounding victory, despite a slowing economy and growing disenchantment with Erdoğan’s rule, as Constanze Letsch writes for Politico EU:

Firat Inci, a 32-year-old restaurant owner from the southeastern city of Siirt, has supported the AKP for years. This time, he intends to vote for the opposition. “The name of our ruling party is Justice and Development, isn’t it?” says Inci. “But they haven’t been able to deliver justice, and the development we have seen under this government has been nothing if not unjust.”

Over the years, the AKP has come to resemble the corrupt, authoritarian Kemalist regime it once unlodged — by the end of the last decade, prudent caution slipped into outright paranoia. Erdoğan and his allies began using the levers of government, through the Ergenekon trials, to prosecute opposition and military leaders, before turning on one-time allies, including secular allies, Islamic ‘Gulenists,’ and even top AKP figures like former president Abdullah Gül.

Despite glowing reviews for the Turkish economy, which liberalized and modernized under the AKP’s first two terms in power, corruption and rising debt have magnified the fact that Turkey’s galloping economic growth slowed to 4.1% in 2013 and to merely 2.9% in 2014.

If the AKP wins less than 276 seats, there’s a chance that Turkey’s opposition parties can form a coalition — or that the AKP will be forced to find a governing partner, the first time that Turkey will face a hung parliament since the 1999 elections.

The problem is that though Turks may be souring on Erdoğan, they are none too enamored of the other choices, either. Continue reading Turkish election a referendum on Erdoğan-style presidentialism

How Turkey’s Kurds become a key constituency in election


After a century of being treated like second-class citizens in their own country, Turkish Kurds must wonder with astonishment how they have become increasingly in the span of less than a decade one of the most important swing groups in Turkish politics.Turkey

When prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won Turkey’s first direct presidential election last week, he undoubtedly did so with the support of a significant portion of Turkey’s Kurdish population, which amounts to something between 15% and 25% of Turkey’s 76 million people. Continue reading How Turkey’s Kurds become a key constituency in election

Erdogan wins first-round presidential victory

erdogan wins

Ultimately, neither Gulenists nor Kemalists nor anyone else could stand in the way of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in his quest to become Turkey’s first directly elected president. Turkey

But his victory in yesterday’s presidential election wasn’t exactly surprising — the only question was whether Erdoğan (pictured above) would win the presidency outright on August 10 or whether he would advance to a potential August 24 runoff against the second-place challenger, former diplomat Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu.

As it turns out, Erdoğan narrowly won in the first round with around 51.79% of the vote:


Though the election’s outcome wasn’t really in doubt, Erdoğan’s future and the direction of Turkey’s political structure remain much cloudier. Vowing a ‘new era’ in his victory speech, Erdoğan’s  ambition to remain the most powerful figure in Turkish politics is hardly a secret, even though the presidency has been a ceremonial office since the 1961 constitution. That means his presidential victory now presents at least three difficult questions for which we won’t have answers anytime soon.

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RELATED: Can Erdoğan be stopped in
first direct Turkish presidential election?

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In light of Turkey’s role as a key fulcrum in international affairs, straddling the European Union to the west, with which it shares a custom union, and increasingly exerting its influence in the Middle East to the east, with mixed effect in Iraq, Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan.  Continue reading Erdogan wins first-round presidential victory

Can Erdogan be stopped in first direct Turkish presidential election?


You’ve probably never seen Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan like this before. Turkey

In his bid to win Turkey’s first-ever direct presidential election, he donned bright orange athletic gear (pictured above) and took to the football field at a new stadium in Istanbul earlier this week, scoring a hat trick against token opposition.

Though that may replicate Erdoğan’s seemingly unstoppable rise, leading his governing Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) to victory three consecutive times — in  2002, 2007 and 2011 — his latest electoral quest may prove more difficult.

Turkish voters will elect a president in voting scheduled for August 10 among Erdoğan and two challengers, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu and Selahattin Demirtaş. If none of the candidates win more than 50% of the vote, the top two candidate will advance to an August 24 runoff.

Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu

The Cairo-born İhsanoğlu (pictured above), who served as the secretary-general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation between 2004 and January 2014, is an academic with a background in, of all things, the history of science.

An independent by party and a conservative by temperament, İhsanoğlu was nominated for the presidency by an alliance of two very different opposition groups pushed together by a mutual opposition to Erdoğan: the center-left Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP, the Republican People’s Party), most associated with Kemalism in the pre-Erdoğan era, and the ultranationalist, conservative Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (MHP, Nationalist Movement Party).


Demirtaş (pictured above), a 41-year old rising star popular among Turkish leftists, is the candidate of the Kurdish-interest Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi (BDP, Peace and Democracy Party), though he hopes to win support from among the CHP’s more liberal supporters.

Defying decades of repressive precedent, Erdoğan has tried to pacify relations between the central government and Turkey’s Kurdish minority, and he’s increasingly made Turkey an improbable ally of the de facto independent Iraqi Kurdistan. That’s won Erdoğan genuine respect among Kurdish voters, though many will undoubtedly support Demirtaş in the election’s first round. It will nonetheless be something of a curiosity if Erdoğan is forced into a runoff, but makes it over the top on the basis of Kurdish votes.

Today, most observers give Erdoğan the edge, but the prime minister has become such a polarizing figure, and his project to place the Turkish power firmly in the presidency such a controversial idea, that it could be much closer than anticipated. If Erdoğan fails to clear 50% and thereupon faces a direct challenge from İhsanoğlu later in August, the runoff will become a referendum on whether  Turkey will essentially become not an Islamist or democratic or Kemalist state, but an ‘Erdoğan state.’

If İhsanoğlu wins, he will become, like many of his predecessors, a figurehead with ceremonial powers and little else.

If Erdoğan wins, in either round, he will almost certainly transform the Turkish presidency into a much more powerful office. Formerly, the president was appointed to a single, seven-year term by the Turkish parliament. Under the new system, the president is elected to a five-year term with possible reelection.  Continue reading Can Erdogan be stopped in first direct Turkish presidential election?

The fight for Turkey is between Erodganists and Gulenists


At first glance, Turkey’s local elections on Sunday seem like a huge victory for prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (pictured above).Turkey

His party, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party), which has governed Turkey since 2002, had an impressive day, notwithstanding the protests last summer that seemed to weaken Erdoğan’s grip on power, and corruption scandals that led to the resignation of four ministers in Erdoğan’s government late last year.

With nearly all of the votes counted, the AKP  won 44.18% of the nationwide vote — that’s even more than the 39% it won in the most recent 2009 local elections. Far behind in second place was the center-left, ‘Kemalist’ Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP, the Republican People’s Party), with just 26.15%.


Notably, the conservative, Turkish nationalist Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (MHP, Nationalist Movement Party) won more support, in percentage terms, that during any election since Erdoğan came to power. The leftist, Kurdish nationalist Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi (BDP, Peace and Democracy Party) won nearly 4% of the vote, picking up several municipalities in the most Kurdish areas in Turkey’s southeast. The map below from Hürriyet that shows the winners throughout the nation:

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 6.00.28 PM

Though the CHP (light red) is still a strong force in Turkey’s major cities and along its western coast, and although the BDP (blue) thrives in Kurdish-majority areas, the wide swath of yellow demonstrates that Turkey is still AKP country.

Even more impressively, the AKP appears to have won the mayoral contests in both Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, and Ankara, its capital. Kadir Topbaş, who has served as Istanbul’s mayor since 2004, narrowly won a third term against CHP challenger Mustafa Sarıgül, the longtime mayor of Istabul’s Şişli district, by a margin of 47.85% to 39.93%. Though there are reports of electricity blackouts during the vote-counting and other minor irregularities, Sarıgül has conceded defeat.

In Ankara, however, the race is still too close to call. The AKP’s Melih Gökçek, who has been Ankara’s mayor since 1994, officially won 44.64%, while CHP challenger Mansur Yavaş won 43.92%. Both candidates have declared victory, and Yavaş has alleged ballot fraud. The CHP will appeal the result in what could be a protracted fight over control of the Turkish capital.

But the real fight was never between the AKP and the CHP, and though Erdoğan defiantly claimed victory in a balcony rant Sunday night, threatening vengeance on his enemies, other forces within his coalition will determine whether Erdoğan will be a candidate in Turkey’s first direct presidential election in August, and whether Erdoğan (or another AKP leader) will lead the party into its bid for a fourth consecutive term in government in parliamentary elections that must be held before June 2015.


That’s because Erdoğan’s most serious challengers are the followers of Fethullah Gülen (pictured above in a rare BBC interview earlier this year), a Turkish cleric based in Pennsylvania since his self-exile from Turkey in 1999. Continue reading The fight for Turkey is between Erodganists and Gulenists

14 in 2014: Turkey presidential election


10. Turkey presidential election, expected in July.Turkey

Turkey will choose its first directly elected president in summer 2014, and it’s long been assumed that the country’s controversial prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the leader of the ruling Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, Justice and Development Party), wants the position.

With a record of strong economic growth over the past decade, the presidency just a few months ago seemed like it was Erdoğan’s for the asking.  Having vanquished the old Kemalist order — wherein the Turkish military ‘guaranteed’ Turkish democracy by overthrowing Islamists that it didn’t like — Erdoğan showed promise in his early years as prime minister as a leader with the ability to revitalize Turkish political life and to transform Turkey into a truly representative democracy.

But 2013 may become the year in which Erdoğan lost the magic touch with respect to ruling Turkey — the year in which the world finally took notice that he crossed the line from populist democracy into soft authoritarianism, though the signs were always there for anyone to see in the way that his government slowly squeezed out political rivals (most notably through the series of politically motivated ‘Ergenekon’ trials).  His heavy-handed response to the Gezi Park demonstrations in May/June 2013 and the use of force to disperse protestors near Taksim Square showed that Erdoğan’s real weakness wasn’t creeping Islamism within Turkey so much as his disdain for liberal democracy.

Though the Turkish presidency is largely a ceremonial position, with a handful of constitutional duties and other roles in representing Turkey to the rest of the world, Erdoğan hasn’t been shy about indicating his interest in holding the same office that the founder of the modern Turkish state, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, also once held.  He hasn’t also been shy about his interest in amending Turkey’s constitution to transform it into a more powerful US-style presidency.

As the leading figure within Turkey’s ruling party, Erdoğan would have become a president with extraordinary powers, appointing in his place a pliant prime minister — not unlike the relationship that the Russian or French president has with their respect prime ministers when the presidential party holds a parliamentary majority as well.

But within the past couple of weeks, Erdoğan has faced a new internal threat in the form of a corruption crisis that’s already led to the resignation of three members of his cabinet, causing an internal rift within Turkey’s Islamist camp between Erdoğan loyalists and a cabal of Gulenists, the followers of Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric who lives in Pennsylvania in self-exile.  He leads the Hizmet movement, which boasts the support of around 1 million Turks, including many members of the Turkish bureaucracy, security forces and judiciary.

Turkey’s main opposition party, the Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP, the Republican People’s Party), is in no shape to win the presidency — even if the AKP hadn’t tilted the political playing field so much in its own favor, the CHP would already have been hampered by weak leadership and its image as the remnants of the old Kemalist order.

So what is Erdoğan to do?  If he survives the latest crisis, he may still be able to claim the presidency, but he’ll need to make amends with the Gulenists and with other top members of his own party, who may believe it’s time for Erdoğan to move along quietly.  It’s possible that Abdullah Gül (pictured above), Turkey’s president since 2007, a former foreign minister and also a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party, could run for a second term instead.  While it was once thought that Gül and Erdoğan might switch places, with Gül becoming prime minister under an Erdoğan presidency, it may well be that Erdoğan limps on as prime minister through the June 2015 parliamentary elections, when the AKP chooses a new figure to attempt to lead it into its second decade in power.

Next: Indonesia

Hand-wringing over Erdoğan is alarmist, but Turkey’s still trapped in a perilous standoff



The images from Taksim Square over the past week, culminating in conflict between protesters and Turkish police authorities, have stunned a global community that’s used to thinking of Turkey — and, in particular, Istanbul — as a relatively tranquil secular meeting point of East and West.Turkey

Although I’ve not written much about Turkey through Suffragio, it’s a fascinating country that I was delighted to visit in 2010, at the height of the glory days of the government of its current (and now embattled) prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Ultimately, there are two questions at issue here: how to evaluate Erdoğan’s performance prior to the recent protests, on the one hand, and how to evaluate Erdoğan’s performance during and in response to the protests, on the other hand.

Although Western commentators have increasingly argued of Erdoğan’s move toward increasing Islamization and authoritarianism, I worry that those calls misunderstand the depth of Erdoğan’s support and the nature of what modern Turkey (it is, after all, a country that’s over 98% Muslim) has become today.  But it is impossible to watch Erdoğan’s repression of basic political freedoms, such as his government’s recent moves to disrupt a planned May Day protest, and the ongoing brutal police response to the Taksim Square and increasingly, nationwide, protests without admitting that whatever legitimacy Erdoğan once enjoyed is rapidly dissipating, and Erdoğan, his government, Turkey’s president, Turkey’s military, and Turkey’s awakened — and rightfully angry — protest movement, are all trapped in a suddenly perilous standoff.

It’s all the more fragile given the ongoing civil war in Syria.  Not only has the Erdoğan government been unsuccessful in persuading one-time ally Bashar al-Assad to pursue a more moderate course, the growing number of refugees from Syria within Turkey’s borders means that Turkey risks being drawn into a wider regional conflict (though, in one of the few humorous asides to the ongoing protests, Syria has now issued a travel warning for Turkey).

Erdoğan’s initial position was legitimate and democratic

When Steven Cook wrote in The Atlantic earlier this month, that ‘while Turkey is perhaps more democratic than it was 20 years ago, it is less open than it was eight years ago,’ I had two initial reactions.  First and foremost, shouldn’t we care more, from a pure governance standard, that Turkey’s government is representative and responsive to its electorate than it hews to some Westernized standard of ‘openness’? What does ‘less open’ even mean? Secondly, when Cook laments Turkey’s ‘less open’ nature, he doesn’t equally lament that the European Union virtually slammed the door in the face of Turkey’s application to join the European Union in 2005, when despite the opening of negotiations for Turkish accession, it became clear any road for Turkey’s EU membership would be long and arduous.  It may be difficult to remember today, but it’s a push that Erdoğan’s government made even more passionately than the governments that preceded it.

Turkey, let’s be clear, didn’t leave Europe.  Europe left Turkey, which has focused on becoming a more important regional player in the Middle East in recent years.

More importantly, from a day-to-day perspective for most Turks, Erdoğan ushered Turkey into a new era of economic reform and modernity, partly due to his enthusiasm to enter the European Union in his first term.  But despite the futility of Erdoğan’s initial rationale, Turkey’s economic gains are real, the country certainly remains under much better economic stewardship than Greece or much of Europe:

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But Cook, and similar analysts, I fear, are not placing enough weight on the fact that Erdoğan has delivered Turkey’s most responsive and democratically accountable government since the foundation of the modern Republic of Turkey in 1923.  And when I read critiques of Erdoğan that cast him as a modern-day ‘sultan,’ I have to cringe because it’s intellectually lazy for opponents to slap Orientalist labels on Erdoğan simply because they disagree with his policy choices.

The Economist on Sunday trumpeted a foreign diplomat who argues that ‘this is not about secularists versus Islamists—it’s about pluralism versus authoritarianism,’ though the question remains — pluralism compared to what? The governments that came before Erdoğan?  Some Western fantasy of what Turkey’s government should be?

Erdoğan is neither a sultan nor a dictator, but the duly elected leader of Turkey’s government for over a decade, enjoying the repeated success of consecutive democratic victories in election after election.

Continue reading Hand-wringing over Erdoğan is alarmist, but Turkey’s still trapped in a perilous standoff