Turkey’s local elections that turned into a referendum for the Prime Minister are finally over and the clear winner is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. For a party that has been in government for over 11 years, winning more than 45 per cent of the vote in a local election is a clear victory. The voters in Turkey made their choice.
As the regular followers of this blog will recall, the result is not altogether a surprise for me. My first- hand observations during the election campaign and several comments I posted before the vote had repeatedly underlined the fact that the issues preoccupying some of us would not be the main concerns of the masses at the ballot box.
Corruption allegations, government bans on Twitter, YouTube and the relentless pressure on the judiciary, the parliament and the media did not influence the outcome of the election.
The main opposition has also failed to distinguish itself from the movement of Fethullah Gulen. They allowed the Gulenists’ carefully timed and selected leaks to dominate their campaign. As I wrote about the dangers of “waiting for deliverance with further scandalous evidence against a corrupt government”, the opposition chose to be dragged by the rip current. On crucial issues such as the Kurdish problem and the economy, they remained mostly silent. To be fair, the leader of the opposition, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was clear about the dangers of the government policy towards Syria. People in some border areas responded by voting the opposition party candidates in, but like the corruption issue, this did not have much impact on the rest of the country.
No doubt the opposition will carefully re-evaluate their election campaign strategies in coming days but before they set out to do that, Turkey’s relevant institutions will first have to examine the complaints over voting irregularities and the widespread power cuts during the vote counting. These allegations are serious enough to overshadow Turkey’s last remaining claim to being a democracy, holding free and fair elections.
Whilst it is clear that the Justice and Development Party received enough votes to declare an electoral victory, the result cannot be seen as a vindication for the government.
While only half of the votes were counted, Mr Erdoğan made his post-election balcony speech .
Flanked by almost every member of his family and the government that was implicated in the corruption probe, including his son Bilal and his former minister for Europe, Egemen Bağış, the Prime Minister gave the message that his election victory has brought an end to the corruption allegations. It has also given him a mandate to punish those that launched the probe. “Those who managed could flee. More can flee tomorrow. I have filed criminal complaints about some of them; I said they can also flee. As I have said, from now on, we’ll walk into their dens. They will pay for this” he said.
As well as an imminent threat to crack-down on his opponents inside, Mr Erdoğan used a harsh language for his rivals outside, too. Amid chants of “God is great”, he told his supporters that Syria was in a state of war with Turkey.
That was certainly news to me.
A new mandate he has received from the electorate seemed to have given him a renewed vigour to reclaim Turkey’s leadership of the region and the rest of the Islamic world. In his post election speech, he also addressed the people of Palestine, Egypt, Macedonia, Kosovo and Syria.
A little of “the Ottoman slap” delivered by the people of an” invincible Turkey” must have landed on the faces of the Western critics, too. “We have the democracy that the West yearns for” Mr Erdoğan said, adding “The old Turkey is no more; there is now a brand new Turkey”.
Sure enough, his senior advisor Yiğit Bulut wrote in his Star newspaper column on 31 March: “There is no longer any doubt. Turkey will become a new super power. A new global power, the new Turkey is on its way”.
An emboldened government looks ready to administer further slaps to its citizens. Yet, neither the other half of the country that did not vote for him nor the outside world would be prepared to turn the other cheek.
This post is also available in: Turkish