Turkey’s first popularly elected president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised a new era. “Today is the day we open the doors to a new beginning, the day we establish a new Turkey” he said, declaring his victory at the balcony of the Justice and Development Party headquarters in Ankara.
With 51.79 per cent of the vote, 13 points more than his closest rival, Mr Erdogan has consolidated his dominance of the country’s politics for many years to come. If he manages to turn the presidency into a powerful executive post, he will indeed change the direction of the nation. However, how successful he will be in carrying the other half of the country’s population with him is another question.
Along the way, there are likely to be more of the behaviours we have seen so far. With a renewed mandate, a more self-assured strongman with a proven instinct to divide and rule will become even more authoritarian. The country’s institutions that provide checks and balances to his rule will be undermined further; and the pressure on the media will be greater.
The short-term observer mission of the OSCE and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has presented their preliminary findings at a press conference on Monday, in Ankara. While praising the provisions for multiple representation, free campaigning and freedoms of assembly and association, the international election observers expressed concern over the Prime Minister’s use of his official position, the biased media coverage giving him a distinct advantage over the other candidates and The Supreme Board of Elections’ implementation of the legal framework. When they present their final report in six to eight weeks’ time, there will be more detailed assessment of the biased media coverage and pressures on independent journalists. Among them, I would hope that they would reinforce the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic’s statement on 8 August, expressing concern over the targeting of the Turkish journalist Amberin Zaman by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
On Sunday’s presidential elections, the turnout at 73.13 percent was low by Turkish standards. Out of 56 million voters, around 21 million voted for Mr Erdogan. His main rival, the joint candidate of the two big opposition parties Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu gained around 15 million votes; the Kurdish candidate the co-chair of Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas received around 4 million.
51.79 per cent of the vote was enough to secure a historical win for Mr Erdogan at the first round but it will not necessarily be enough to change the constitution in order to expand the powers of the presidency.
There are signs that the new president will face formidable challenges both from his own party and from the outside world.
His predecessor Abdullah Gul made it clear that he will return to active politics within the Justice and Development Party after he hands over the presidency on 28 August.
By calling a party congress to name the party president and the prime minister a day before, on 27 August, Mr Erdogan made his stand clear. Mr Gul is not going to be his preferred successor.
Ali Babacan, the deputy prime minister responsible for the economy is another Justice and Development Party heavy-weight that may be thrown overboard. Recently, contradictory statements from Yigit Bulut, the controversial chief adviser to the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan increased the speculation that Mr Babacan is on his way out. Public disagreements between the Prime Minister Erdogan and The Central Bank over interest rates have also increased doubts about Turkey’s policy coherence.
Even though its economy is ranked among the 20 biggest in the world, the OECD warns Turkey that it should rebalance growth through monetary and financial policies that keep inflation, exchange rates and credit levels on sustainable paths.
It is not just its economy that it is too vulnerable to dangers outside its borders. In an increasingly unstable and war-torn region, Turkey faces serious foreign policy challenges. An important part of its difficulties stem from the short-sighted policies of Mr Erdogan and his foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
If, as widely expected, Mr Erdogan chooses Mr Davutoglu as the next prime minister, we can predict that Turkey’s existing problems with its neighbours to be compounded.
This post is also available in: Turkish