Special Briefing: Erdogan’s Democratic Takeover of Turkey
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because one of the world’s most powerful leaders just secured sweeping new powers.
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW
What happened? Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (pronounced AIR-do-wan) cruised to a resounding but controversial victory on Sunday, winning re-election with 53 percent of the vote and adding another five years to his 15 in power. Turkish voters went to the polls in a nation where the media is largely controlled by the government; a perpetual state of emergency limits free expression; a leading opposition candidate campaigned from prison; and a state-run news agency’s early disclosure of the final election results had many claiming election fraud.
Why does it matter? Close to 90 percent of eligible voters turned out for the snap election, but the result is likely a setback for the nation’s democracy. Campaigning on a platform of economic and social nationalism, Erdogan not only survived a serious challenge to his rule but also won sweeping new powers. His Justice and Development Party (AKP) will also control Parliament thanks to its coalition with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Further challenges await the newly anointed strongman, however, including a plunging currency, a growing trade deficit and increased tensions with the European Union.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
He has the power. Turkey’s presidency was once a ceremonial role — but no longer. A referendum last year, whose changes go into effect soon, overhauled the country’s system of governance by scrapping the prime minister’s post and centralizing authority. That allows Erdogan to tap ministers and judges, as well as oversee the budget and control the security services.
So close, yet so far. Massive opposition demonstrations, including a rally of more than a million in the capital of Ankara on Saturday, preceded the vote but did not translate into success at the ballot. Political opponents failed to force Erdogan, 64, into a runoff, and they now face a deeply entrenched leader who is further establishing himself in a camp of global strongmen who manipulate democracy to consolidate their rule.
In with the old … Erdogan, the son of a coast guard captain, has risen rapidly over the past two decades. In 1999, as Istanbul’s mayor and during a time of strictly enforced secularism, he served four months in prison after reciting a nationalist poem describing the faithful as soldiers. But Erdogan and the AKP rose to power in part thanks to an emphasis on Islamic nationalism, and he has ruled Turkey since 2003, first as its prime minister and now as its president. During that time, he has slowly consolidated power, built a 1,000-room palace and tried to reform Turkish society, including attempts to introduce “alcohol-free zones” and criminalize adultery. Although major opposition to his rule became visible during the 2013 Taksim Gezi Park protests and a failed 2016 coup, he has so far reshaped modern Turkey more than any leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Out with the new … Since that failed coup there have been over 150,000 government workers and academics sacked, some 60,000 citizens arrested and hundreds of journalists jailed. New censorship laws, a prolonged state of emergency and human-rights abuses resulted in a harsh annual report by the European Union for Turkey’s progress toward full membership. Experts think the further Turkey moves from the EU, the closer they get to Russia.
WHAT TO READ
What the World’s Nationalists Can Learn From Turkey and Erdogan, by Ishaan Tharoor in The Washington Post
“But while many commentators in the West (and some critics at home) resent Erdogan for his Islamist leanings, the real ideology that underpins his rule is not religion, but nationalism.”
How Nietzsche Explains Turkey, by Selim Koru in The Atlantic
“This feeling has been present in Turkey for centuries, and spans the entire political spectrum. And it’s a feeling that Erdoğan has mobilized to serve his needs.”
WHAT TO WATCH
Will Turkey’s Erdogan Become Too Powerful After Re-Election?
“In this election campaign the opposition mainly tried to persuade voters that Erdogan had been in power too long. They didn’t say much about what the alternative looks like.”
Watch on Al-Jazeera on YouTube:
Opposition Presidential Candidate Selahattin Demirtas’ Campaign Address From Prison
“The only reason why I am still here is that the AKP is afraid of me.”
Watch on YouTube:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
Look to the lira. Erdogan has maintained popularity in part due to his country’s economic performance. But that may be changing. The Turkish lira has depreciated 16 percent this year, and cheap business loans have flooded the market to keep up growth while inflation is in the double digits. It’s an economy looking increasingly precarious, but luckily for Erdogan, he held his popularity contest before things got any worse.