Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) swept to a surprise victory in polling for parliament today.
An election in June ended up with AKP losing power for the first time in more than a decade. President Tayyip Erdogan failed in forming a coalition to govern with the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the party that received the second most votes. Erdogan gambled that he could regain a majority in parliament and called for snap elections. The result will be a clear majority for Justice and Development.
With almost all the votes counted, AKP received 49.4% while its closest rival, CHP received 25.4%. Any hopes of CHP forming a government were lost when smaller parties lost a big share of their vote, leading to an AKP majority.
At this point, it doesn’t appear that there is anything to stop President Erdogan from changing the constitution to grant the president executive powers — a move many inside and outside Turkey fear could lead to an even more authoritarian Erdogan. He has already severely cracked down on the press and has made the courts an arm of the presidency.
Erdogan’s crackdowns on media freedoms and tightening grip on the judiciary, following a corruption investigation that was shut down as an attempt to overthrow him, have alarmed European leaders. A large number of journalists and others have faced court proceedings for “insulting the president”.
Foreign capitals as well as Turkish media and other organizations will be watching closely for signs of whether a harsh climate will continue or government relaxes its grip.
Erdogan, Turkey’s most powerful leader in generations, resigned as prime minister last year and became Turkey’s first directly elected president – with the aim of transforming it from a largely ceremonial position to a strong executive post.
The AKP still lacks a majority big enough to change the constitution. But being the sole party in power, Erdogan will be able to reassert his influence over government from the grandeur of his newly built presidential palace.
“Turkey lost considerable ground in economy, politics and terror during this period, and gains were lost. Voters appeared to want to bring back stability once again,” a second AKP official said.
Some Western allies, foreign investors and Turks had seen an AKP coalition with the CHP as the best hope of easing sharp divisions in the EU-candidate nation, hoping it might keep Erdogan’s authoritarian instincts in check.
“I’ve given up on the AKP. The honest party is the CHP. The country needs to heal its wounds,” said Yasar, a 62-year-old retired laborer now working as a shoeshine man outside a mosque in the conservative Istanbul district of Uskudar.
But across the Bosphorus in the city’s Tophane district, an AKP stronghold, teenagers with drums paraded in celebration. Cars honked their horns as passengers waved AKP flags.
“In June, people wanted to send a message to the AKP, but in fact the people got the message,” said Osman Aras, 35, a food merchant. “Without the AKP this country will sink into chaos. We need a strong government to guide us through these times.”
Turkey is lost to the west for the time being, although the strong, secular traditions and western outlook haven’t died completely. But Erdogan has transformed the courts, the military, and the bureaucracy to reflect his Islamist leanings. He has abandoned Israel, cooled relations with western Europe, and opposed the United States in their assistance to the Kurds in Iraq and Syria.
Today’s election was bad news for Turkey’s friends who would like to see a return to a western oriented, secular government.