ManIn his victory speech on Sunday night, Recep Tayyip Erdogan celebrated his re-election as Turkey’s president and called for national unity. “We are not the only winners, Turkey won … our democracy won,” he told supporters, doubling down on the inflammatory rhetoric he used against LGBTQ+ people during the campaign.
As Mr Erdogan begins his third decade in power with a conservative and nationalist mandate — and increasingly authoritarian powers to enforce it — millions of other Turkish residents have good reason not to believe him, too. Sunny words. Political repression and harassment of the country’s large Kurdish population will continue in an increasingly militarized “counter-terror” environment. The presidential campaign has been riddled with barbs and misinformation about the largely Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, which backs Mr Erdogan’s defeated rival, Kemal Kilizdaroglu.
Women’s rights groups – already grappling with the fallout from the 2021 decision to withdraw from an international pact to combat sexism and violence – will note with dismay the growing influence of Islamists in the presidential parliamentary majority. Syrian refugees, shamefully scapegoated ahead of Sunday’s vote, will wonder when Mr Erdogan plans to follow through on his promise to deport 1 million of them to an uncertain future. All will now worry about the future of the country, where constitutional reforms pushed by the president have weakened checks and balances and may usher in an era of one-man rule.
In a deeply polarized country, Mr Erdogan calculated that such constituencies and their concerns could be defeated by an identity-based coalition — one composed of voters in his social conservative heartland, Islamists and more. A coalition of secular nationalist forces. The acumen of the approach was confirmed when widespread criticism of the state’s slow response to February’s devastating earthquake prevailed despite inflation nearing 50%.
The cautious optimism ahead of the first round of voting thus turned into deep disappointment for the opposition parties that united in support of Mr Kılıçdaroğlu. As the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe noted, Mr Erdogan won in free but unfair elections; the president controls the vast majority of Turkish media, while political opponents are harassed and in some cases locked up prison. But amid encouraging early polls, Mr Erdogan’s critics at home and abroad are boldly hoping that, after gaining quasi-monarchic powers, he will pay the political price of presiding over the current crisis. Instead, the president’s loyal supporters see him as the strongman needed to fix the problem.
For the West, the main takeaway from Mr Erdogan’s victory is that leaders must continue to grapple – in the most geopolitically chaotic situation – with an unpredictable NATO member that refuses to fully align with the West. With the Turkish lira falling to record lows following Mr Erdogan’s re-election, the need to ease a deepening economic crisis could create new opportunities for talks and reconciliation. At home, the picture has been bleak for those hoping the election would end Mr Erdogan’s second decade of authoritarian tendencies. pace President, Turkish democracy was the big loser on Sunday night.