If You Want Some Good News Out of the Middle East...

…there’s some to be had.


Turkish voters dealt a major setback to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s campaign to consolidate power in an election Sunday that ended his Islamist-rooted government’s 13-year majority rule.

For Mr. Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for a decade with a populist but polarizing message, the result marked the most stunning rebuke of his career: scuttling his bid to win a constitution-changing majority to further centralize power.

All three opposition parties clubbed together to oppose Mr. Erdogan’s plans to shift Turkey, a key U.S. ally, from a parliamentary to a presidential system—a move he argued would increase government efficiency, but which they said would be a step toward dictatorship.


Erdogan’s comeuppance has been a long time coming — too long.

The system bequeathed to Turkey by Ataturk was far from perfect, but it was also a big improvement over Ottoman rule and better than any other system the Turks were likely to adopt.

After the First World War, the only semi-modern institution in Turkey was the military, which became Ataturk’s major tool in his effort to modernize and secularize his new country. He gave Turkey a civilian government, but the Army was empowered to step in and …correct… things, should the civilian government prove too corrupt or too Islamic.

The idea was to drag the Turkish people into the 20th Century, kicking and screaming if need be, with the Army as a stopgap against retrogression.

It worked, too, although Turkey’s occasional military governments were about as awful as you might expect. Still, secularism ruled the day, and Turkey proved for decades to be a reliable western partner.

Until Recep Tayyip Erdogan rode populist Islam to power — with no intention of letting it go.

Erdogan’s first big move towards his goal to become President for Life was to emasculate the Army. He sacked lots of officers and replaced them with men more in tune with his desire to de-secularize and de-modernize the Ataturk state. I’ve sometimes wondered if Erdogan didn’t see himself as a potential new Caliph, only to have ISIS honcho Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi steal a march on him.


In any case, Erdogan played the populist/religious card well enough to get himself elected and re-elected — exactly the sort of leader Ataturk feared might come to dominate “his” Turkey. The Army might have stepped in, but… Erdogan had smartly taken care of that potential problem long before launching his attempt to rewrite the constitution.

Instead we have the people of Turkey to thank for putting a halt to Erdogan’s plans:

Provisional ballot results showed the governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, falling short of the votes needed to maintain its three-term stronghold in parliament. The party, which Mr. Erdogan led until his election to the nonpartisan presidency last August, secured less than 41% of the vote, according to state media, down from almost 50% in the previous general election.

That tally, the party’s weakest since sweeping to power in 2002, fell 18 seats short of the 276 needed to form a single-party government in Ankara’s 550-member parliament. While the figures hadn’t yet been confirmed by the electoral commission, all three opposition parties said they wouldn’t partner with the AKP in a coalition.

It’s impossible to say where Turkey goes from here, or if the country will eventually re-align itself with its NATO allies. But there’s at least now some hope that Ataturk’s secular Turkey will survive.



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