Turkey enters a new presidential era

Muhammad Zamir | Published: July 01, 2018 21:49:32 | Updated: July 01, 2018 21:56:59

-Reuters file photo

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has been reelected on June 24 elections. More than 56 million voters were eligible to cast their ballots in the elections, brought forward by more than 18 months by the AK Party-controlled parliament in April. The voters cast their ballots simultaneously in the presidential and parliamentary elections, in line with the constitutional changes approved in a referendum last year. The country's parliamentary system will now be transformed  to an executive presidential one.

The media reported that voter turnout was high - at almost 87 per cent. Mr Erdogan polled nearly 52.5 per cent in the most fiercely fought election in years. His main rival Mr. Ince received just 30.7 per cent, despite a lively campaign where his presence attracted huge crowds. Of the other two candidates, Demirtas received 8.4 per cent and Aksener received 7.3 per cent.

Unlike Erdogan's success, his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) lost its majority in the 600-seat Assembly by winning 295 seats. At 42.5 per cent, the party lost seven percentage points compared with the last parliamentary elections in November 2015. However, the People's Alliance, an election coalition constituted between the AK Party and the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), has still the majority with a combined predicted number of 343 seats. Both parties have signalled that they will keep a united front in parliament. The opposition CHP and its allies won only 33 per cent (190 seats) of the votes. The pro-Kurdish HDP, to the concern of many, re-entered the Parliament with 67 seats.

There were two surprises within the electoral dynamics and these gave the President the victory he desired.

The first was that the combined score of Muharrem Ince and Meral Aksener was not higher than Erdogan's score. Mr Ince's 30.7 per cent was quite high. Ms. Aksener - nicknamed the "she-wolf", once seen as the biggest threat to the President - polled lower than expected and than what was needed- for a strong united front against Mr Erdogan. The second surprise was that in the parliamentary election, the President's far-right coalition partner, the MHP, far exceeded expectations. Its leader, who is 70 years old, lacked any popular touch and had held only a few rallies. Nevertheless, MHP managed somehow to win enough seats to keep Mr Erdogan's parliamentary majority intact.

Mr Erdogan was Prime Minister for 11 years before becoming President in 2014. Under the new constitution, now approved through this election, he could stand for a third term when his second one finishes in 2023 - a hundred years since Ataturk's creation of modern Turkey. The new constitutional arrangement would also give him the benefit of seeking another five-year term in Office until 2028.

Tayyip Erdogan will consequently now be taking on extensive new executive powers following his outright election victory. Defeated opposition candidate Muharrem Ince has warned that Turkey was now entering a dangerous period of "one-man rule".

Despite polarised opinion, Erdogan has created a special appeal within Turkey due to his success within the socio-economic matrix. Over the years he has presided over a strong economy and built up a solid support base by investing in healthcare, education and infrastructure.

Mr Erdogan has proven to his opponents that for conservative, pious Turks, he is their voice - their very survival - in a country where many have felt marginalised under the past secular governments.

However, it has not been roses all the way. The Turkish Lira, in the recent past has tanked and lost about 20 per cent of its value. In addition inflation stands at around 11 per cent. These dark clouds will have to be removed from the horizon by the new Erdogan administration.

The coming weeks in all likelihood will see Erdogan initiating implementation of certain constitutional changes that were endorsed in a tight referendum last year by 51 per cent of the voters. His new powers will now enable him to - directly appoint top public officials, including ministers and vice-presidents; intervene in the country's legal system; and to impose a state of emergency whenever he feels that it is required. There will also be no Prime Minister in the Parliament. After this election Erdogan has become Turkey's most powerful leader since its founding father Ataturk.

Such powers have led some analysts to express their concern that the future evolving governance paradigm in presidential Turkey might suffer because of absence of checks and balances which are required for accountability in executive presidencies.

Congratulations have come in for Erdogan from around the world, though some Western leaders have been slow to react. Russian President Vladimir Putin has been in all praise for Mr Erdogan's "great political authority and mass support". Strategists have pointed out that his rise will remind the Western powers of Turkey becoming a more significant player and stakeholder in the Middle East.

Turkish writer and journalist Avni Ozgurel has said that while the new system will allow Turkey to be governed in a more efficient and stable manner, it is bound to run into problems during its initial implementation stage.

Kadir Ustun, the Executive Director at the SETA Foundation at Washington, DC, has observed that this change-over is probably the most significant thing that has happened in Turkish political system since 1923.

Within this evolving paradigm, Erdogan will also have to face a plethora of foreign policy challenges on several fronts. They will require his immediate attention. Among the country's pressing issues are: security threats posed by the armed group - the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK); a clash of interests with the US in northern Syria; the extradition of Fethullah Gulen - who Ankara accuses of orchestrating the 2016 coup attempt; the standstill over Turkey's bid to join the European Union; Iran's influences in the region; the unresolved conflict in Cyprus, as well as its souring relations with Egypt, Israel, Libya and Yemen. Erdogan will have to give priority to regional politics and this effort will be watched carefully by Russia, the USA and also his traditional Western allies and NATO partners.

The above issues will keep Erdogan's administration busy. However, he should not face difficulty on the question of Palestine. There is no divergence within Turkish politics on this matter. All political parties in Turkey - from far left to far right - agree on the need to support the Palestinian people and their cause. Turkey is also expected to continue playing its constructive role in Afghanistan.

Bangladesh would hope that Erdogan would continue to support it in its efforts to tackle the problem of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Turkey's role in this regard will be important within the Islamic Ummah.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.


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