Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1209, (14 - 20 August 2014)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1209, (14 - 20 August 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan wins

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been celebrating his victory in this week’s presidential elections, writes Sayed Abdel Maguid in Ankara    

Al-Ahram Weekly

After years of working hard to reach this crucial juncture in his political career, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a son of Istanbul’s working class Kasmpaa neighbourhood, has now crossed the threshold into the Çankaya Kökü, the presidential palace in Ankara.

Erdogan is now the 12th president in the history of the Turkish Republic founded by Mustafa Kamel Ataturk 91 years ago.

On Sunday morning Turkish voters headed to 16,133 polling stations to cast their ballots in their country’s first direct presidential elections.

Erdogan had remained in his post as prime minister during the campaign, but voter turnout was somewhat lower than expected and did not exceed 71 per cent (38 million out of 53 million eligible voters) of the electorate, compared to the 89 per cent turnout for the municipal elections on 30 March this year.

Numerous explanations have been offered to account for the reduced turnout, among them that the elections were held in August, the summer holiday month, and they came immediately after the month of Ramadan.

Many voters may have felt that an Erdogan win was a foregone conclusion so why bother to make the trek to the polling stations? Such fatalism may also have been informed by experiences during the recent municipal elections.

An electricity black-out occurred in many provinces just as the votes were being tallied, and a ballot box was allegedly substituted for another to ensure the victory of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) mayoral candidate in Ankara, Ibrahim Melih Gökçek.

But Erdogan still managed to top the 50 per cent needed in order to win in the first round of the elections, winning 51.8 per cent of the vote, considerably less than the 57 to 60 per cent that he and his supporters had predicted.

But such details are likely to be quickly forgotten as for Erdogan and his Party it is the winning that counts.

The president-elect delivered his victory address from the balcony of AKP headquarters in Ankara, saying that he would be a president for all the Turkish people. He said he would embrace everyone, regardless of their political, religious or ethnic affiliations.

The presidential elections had marked the beginning of a new phase for the country and (alluding to the former political control exercised by the military establishment) an end to the era of non-democratic control of the Republican Palace, he said.

His victory was a victory not just for Turkey but for everyone, he added.

In the wake of Erdogan’s victory, the country’s opposition finds itself in an unenviable position. It had set its hopes on rolling back what it regards as an increasingly dictatorial regime, but these were defeated by what it claimed was an unfair and non-transparent electoral process.

Haluk Koç, secretary-general of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), said that the results of the polls were actually a victory for its candidate. He had obtained a remarkable number of votes in a process that lacked the proper guarantees of justice and equality, Koç said, especially since Erdogan had used the office and the facilities of the government to win.

Davlet Bahçeli is the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which joined forces with the CHP to field a joint presidential candidate. He noted the relatively low voter turnout and said that while his party respected the people’s choice, “everyone needed to be aware that the polls had not been fair.”

There had been evidence of bribery and honesty had given way to deception, he said. “We cannot regard a person who attracts doubts and suspicions to be the president of the republic,” Bahçeli said, referring to Erdogan.

Naturally, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the main opposition candidate, congratulated the winner. However, he too observed that while Erdogan had won he had done so through unfair means.

He added that his campaign teams had received reports of “forms of campaigning in favour of a certain candidate” (an allusion to Erdogan) that were in violation of the electoral laws. Mobile phones had been used by voters while casting their ballots, for example, he said, and photographs had been taken in polling stations, including of voters voting.

Ihsanoglu said that despite the tactics used by the AKP government, the number of votes he had won, at 38.9 per cent of those cast, had put paid to claims that he was “an unknown” not suited for politics.

CHP leader Kemal Klçdarolu also tweeted that “democracy and integrity in politics are the losers. With the [Erdogan] victory in the presidential elections, corruption and bribery cannot be forgotten.”

The star of the elections was Selahattin Demirta, leader of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), the political wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), not because he won 9.8 per cent of the votes but because he succeeded in such cities as Kazemir, Ankara, Sakarya and Manisa, all well beyond the Kurdish stronghold of southeastern Anatolia.

As Demirtas himself said following the elections, the results had showed that the Kurds could form a formidable bloc in Turkish political life. He was optimistic in that the elections marked the beginning of new steps forward for the Kurdish cause.

Meanwhile, the winners continued to celebrate, and in AKP offices throughout the country, especially in the Anatolian heartland where the ruling Party reigns supreme, apparatchiks and supporters have continued to sing the praises of Erdogan and his achievements.

However, as the flush of victory fades the country will enter a new era that Erdogan has vowed will be different from the past, notably because Turkey will move from a parliamentary to a presidential system of government in which he will be the uncontested centre.

But the road will not be easy, and Erdogan faces formidable criticism both at home and abroad. US congressmen, for example, have recently voiced their concerns that Erdogan is threatening democratic institutions in Turkey and warning of his autocratic tendencies.

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