The 24th June early presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey were neither free nor fair. But as stated in the OSCE observer mission’s preliminary report, despite “the restrictive legal framework and powers granted under the ongoing state of emergency restricting the freedoms of assembly and expression, including in the media” , Turkish voters had a genuine choice.
Muharrem Ince, a serious challenger, who energized his Republican People’s Party’s loyal supporters, ended up winning only 30 per cent of the vote against Mr. Erdoğan’s 52.3 per cent in the presidential poll.
As well as securing outright victory for its presidential candidate Mr. Erdoğan in the first round, the ruling Justice and Development Party retained the control of the Parliament, but only in alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party, MHP. The Nationalist Movement Party, with its surprise share of the 11 per cent of the vote, has now become an indispensable partner for Mr. Erdogan and a key player in Turkish politics.
While conceding defeat and accepting election results, Mr. Ince warned against the consequences of having one-man rule in the legislature, judiciary and government.
With these results, the new executive presidential system gives sweeping new powers to already all- powerful Mr. Erdoğan.
The outcome of the vote not only consolidates the power of political Islam; it also gives a significant say on major domestic and foreign policy issues to ultra-nationalists of the MHP.
As Turkey’s democratic deficit has become even larger, it is not surprising that the opposition supporters, whose hopes were shattered, are now in deep despair.
Yet, the enthusiastic participation at the campaign rallies and the high voter turnout at the election should give everyone in Turkey some comfort. They are inspiring signs that though Turkey’s democratic base is not strong enough to win elections, not all is lost. There are still enough people in Turkey, committed to democracy and freedoms. This resilience should remind the country’s rulers that their election victory does not give them a blank cheque.
In his post-election comments, Mr. Erdoğan has acknowledged that his party’s performance was not as strong as he had hoped.
He said he received the citizens’ message in the polls and promised to deliver on promises that they had made during the campaign.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party had proven to be good at learning lessons from their failures. After previous elections, they were quick to rectify their shortcomings and change their tactics.
Pragmatism has always been a key tenet of Mr. Erdoğan’s leadership.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party, on the other hand, has a tendency to rationalize failure.
Mr. Ince, who ran a good campaign by successfully rallying large crowds with his measured populism, was dignified in defeat; but bearing failure with poise will not be enough this time.
Mr Ince is very likely to challenge for the leadership of the Republican People’s Party (CHP). It would be inconceivable for the party to carry on with its present leadership.
During his campaign, Mr. Ince frequently condemned the Turkish government’s repression of the media and promised to uphold freedom of press and offered access to critical journalists.
Yet, on his first media appearance after his defeat, he began by throwing the public broadcaster TRT’s reporter out of his press conference.
True, the nominally public broadcaster TRT did not provide impartial coverage of presidential contestants and it did not give any airtime to Mr. Ince’s campaign activities. While Mr. Ince’s anger towards the TRT may be fully justifiable, kicking the TRT reporter out did nothing for his reputation for defending press freedoms. He also had to apologise for his leaked WhatsApp message to a friendly journalist conceding defeat several hours before making a public statement.
Muharrem Ince’s questionable relationship with journalists aside, one of the most positive outcomes of the parliamentary vote at the weekend was the successful election of journalist Ahmet Şık from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party in an Istanbul constituency.
Former journalist Enis Berberoğlu, who has been in jail for more than a year on charges for leaking state documents, has also been re-elected, along with Utku Çakirozer, another former journalist and an outspoken defender of media freedoms.
This post is also available in: Turkish