The victory of Recep Tayyip Erdogan as Turkey’s President was never in doubt. He has emerged as one of the strong global leader like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping and Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. The elections were held in an atmosphere of fear. Thousands of journalists, lawyers, Kurdish activists, judges, human rights activists, etc, are in the prisons since the 2016 failed coup. As a shrewd politician, he had advanced elections by more than one year thinking he will win by a huge margin but it did not happen. He won the elections in the first round itself by securing 52 per cent votes.
The modern state of Turkey emerged out of the wreckage of Ottoman Empire in 1923. The policy of Erdogan is not going to be changed. He will continue with his hard-line politics. There is no possibility that he will release arrested people soon. He is in power since 2003 when he was elected as PM. His party Justice and Development Party (AKP) is Islamic-rooted conservative. This time, he silenced the opposition and used “muscle power” to win the elections. The state and other media helped Erdogan. The opposition the Republic People’s Party (CHP) complained in vain. In fact, CHP complained that the results were declared even before ballots were counted fully. The questions were raised regarding electoral process also. The allegations are also that Erdogan has already subverted democratic institutions.
Erdogan has changed Turkey. It is no more Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s Turkey. Ataturk had made secularism as one of the founding principles on which Turkey will be developed. Erdogan has used Islam for his brand of politics. The country, which is divided between Asia and Europe has, under Erdogan, abandoned aggressive secularism. Erdogan has become successful in converting the image of a nation. His campaign was against Turkish secular elites and liberals. He and his party AKP got support from religious clergies significantly.
He crushed coup of 2016 with an iron fist. The alleged leader of the coup was his one-time ally, the US based preacher Fethullah Gulen. But, Gulen had denied his involvement. While crushing the coup, Erdogan put even those opposition leaders, journalists in prisons who had nothing to do with the failed coup. Turkey has couple of hundred journalists behind bars. His election campaign was around plank of nationalism. He categorically said that his government is fighting against outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its militant based in Syria and Iraq.
After victory, he said, “Turkey voted for decisive fight against PKK”. The rise of nationalist sentiment was also visible in the parliament election results. He also benefitted from the alliance with far right party, the Nationalist Movement Party, which is anti-west and anti-Kurdish. When Erdogan first came to power, in 2003, he tried to bring Turkey closer to Europe.
In 2014 also, Erdogan was elected as President but now he will have sweeping powers. It is because after a controversial referendum last year, he has granted the President vast power by changing the Constitution of the country. The head of the government now is President and not Prime Minister.
In his victory speech, Erdogan aggressively vowed to “fight decisively” against Turkey’s enemies at home and abroad. It means that the coming days will be more difficult for the seculars, liberals and Kurdish people.
He signalled a renewed military drive against Kurdish militants in South East of Turkey. Kurdish people are divided between Turkey, Syria and Iraq. He showed no courtesy towards his opponents who did get 47 per cent votes. The positive part is anti-Erdogan and pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) passed 10 per cent threshold for parliamentary elections.
Erdogan is opposing the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and it is believed Ankara is helping militants fighting Assad. At the same time, Turkey is working very closely with Russia and even Iran. Syria is getting staunch support from Russia. Syria is able to liberate most of the area earlier controlled by Islamic State (IS) and other militant organisations. In a rapidly changing global scenario, Trump and Putin will be meeting in Helsinki, Finland on July 16. The growing influence of Russia in Turkey, Syria and Iran, etc, is also a matter of concern for US. Sure, they will discuss the Syrian scenario as Russia is supporting Syria and US dreams of toppling Assad of Syria. The summit between the two leaders will be significant as it will be taking place in the background of recent summit between Trump and North Korean supremo Kim Jong-Un in Singapore.
Erdogan needs to rise beyond his sectarian nationalism and fulfill the aspirations of the Turkish people. Erdogan needs to play a positive role in Syria with the help of Russia and Iran. He will be President till 2023 when Turkey will celebrate 100 years of Republic. Ataturk’s dream of secular democracy is the only way to move forward for Turkey.