Erdogan’s electoral win on a ‘me or chaos’ dilemma means trouble for everybody

Beril Dedeoğlu, Turkish Minister for EU Affairs, Feridun Sinirlioğlu, Turkish Minister for Foreign Affairs ad interim, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkish President (in the middle), Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the EC in charge of Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, Johannes Hahn, Member of the Commission in charge of European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Dimitris Avramopoulos, Member of the Commission in charge of Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship and Hansjörg Haber, Head of the Delegation of the EU to Turkey (from the 3rd, seated, from right to left). Erdogan, after moving to his new 1000 room Palace in Ankara, three times bigger than the Versailles, has adopted a majestic style in receiving foreign dignitaries. (EC Audiovisual Services. Date: 15/10/2015. Location: Ankara - Turkey, Presidential Palace).

Beril Dedeoğlu, Turkish Minister for EU Affairs, Feridun Sinirlioğlu, Turkish Minister for Foreign Affairs ad interim, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkish President (in the middle), Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the EC in charge of Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, Johannes Hahn, Member of the Commission in charge of European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Dimitris Avramopoulos, Member of the Commission in charge of Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship and Hansjörg Haber, Head of the Delegation of the EU to Turkey (from the 3rd, seated, from right to left). Erdogan, after moving to his new 1000 room Palace in Ankara, three times bigger than the Versailles, has adopted a majestic style in receiving foreign dignitaries. (EC Audiovisual Services. Date: 15/10/2015. Location: Ankara – Turkey, Presidential Palace).

The dilemma ‘me or chaos’ that the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hurled at his compatriots in last Sunday’s election paid dividends. And this despite the fact that he did what he could to produce frightening samples of the kind of chaos he had in mind. Understandably, then the Turkish voters didn’t give a super-majority to his AK party, enough to change the constitution and turn the country into a Presidential republic under his personal tenet.

In any case, the AK party won a very comfortable majority in the legislative, enough to support a single party government under Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. This last one, a university professor and a bookish character, is a very compliant aid to the President, who has made him the head of AK party and Prime Minister after Erdogan won the presidential election of August 2014.

A personal triumph

This new AK party victory is an incontestable personal triumph of Erdogan. His predicament worked well and the Turkish electorate was forced to elevate him to the level of undisputable leader of Turkey, comparable only to the country’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Of course this latter revolutionary, who led the Young Turks uprising at the beginning of the 20th century and made Turkey a secular state and a republic after abolishing the Ottoman political-religious mix of rule, would turn in his grave seeing his country return to a kind of Muslim lineup under Erdogan. Atatürk smashed the religious foundations and the rule of the Ottoman Empire to create a modern secular state, albeit in a much restricted geographical area.

Coming back to this date, there are huge costs associated with Erdogan’s strategy. He started a war against the Kurds in Anatolia and ruthlessly suppressed any critical voice in the streets, the media, the administration and society as a whole and deeply divided Turkey. And last Sunday he managed to secure a parliamentary majority, by creating a chaotic horizon in case his proposal was rejected.

Silencing the opposition

Nevertheless, Erdogan is now the absolute ruler of Turkey and he means to make good use of his supremacy. He has been and will continue silencing the opposition and the critical media and actually terrorizing any critic from civil society groups. He has also cleansed key state services of any possible challenger to his arbitrariness in the police and judiciary. Unfortunately, almost half of the Turkish voters vindicated his autocratic rule, a plan and a method that became apparent after the brutal suppression of last years’ demonstrations in all the major cities of the country.

Now the other half of the Turkish society that despises the way Erdogan rules the country is in distress. The truth is that after last Sunday Turkey is a deeply divided country, in a way that cannot be remedied, exactly because Erdogan is on the helm. The secular masses in big cities, the minorities, the westward looking large groups of people and the Istanbul and other elites simply detest Erdogan’s bossy rule. Exactly the same problem seems to plague also the country’s allies, the European Union and the United States.

The EU and the US are puzzled

It’s very characteristic that both Brussels and Washington appeared deeply puzzled last Monday. Their comments on Erdogan’s victory commenced with the same remarks, “praising the strong voter turnout” in the election that reached 85%. Federica Mogherini the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission called that “a sign of the Turkish people’s commitment to democracy”. On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean the U.S. State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said that “we congratulate the people of Turkey on their participation in yesterday’s parliamentary election”. No congratulations in sight for the winner of the election however. There is more to it though.

Both the representatives of the European Union and the United States right after their remarks about the strong turnout in the election, started showing their teeth. Trudeau expressed concern about the fact “that media outlets and individual journalists critical of the government were subject to pressure and intimidation during the campaign, seemingly in a manner calculated to weaken political opposition”. As for Mongherini, she even appeared reserved about the results by saying that, “We look forward to the OSCE’s/ODIHR’s preliminary findings”. ODIHR is the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

A challenging security environment

The ODIHR observers later on Monday said that the “elections in Turkey offered voters a variety of choices. At the same time, the challenging security environment, particularly in the southeast of the country, coupled with a high number of violent incidents, including attacks against party members, premises and campaign staff, hindered contestants’ ability to campaign freely”.

There is no doubt that the West will remain very critical about what Erdogan does from now on. He himself rushed to give an indication of his intentions by asking “respect for the outcome of the Turkish election”, as if the EU and the US had questioned his legitimacy. Or did he probably rightly sense such a challenge?

Yet they have to deal with Erdogan

Turn and twist it as they like, the EU and the US would have to deal with the Turkish President as the most important source of political power in the country. Remarks, like the ones the spokesman for the German Chancellor Angela Merkel aired last Monday, won’t help in this direction. From the Berlin Chancellery Steffen Seibert told Erdogan that he has “to tackle challenges including fighting IS militants, solving the Kurdish conflict and overcoming polarization”. Not a positive remark about anything. This is not the right way to welcome a foreign leader’s victory in a key election; reminding him of his duties.

In total, the West remains very reserved, if not hostile, towards Erdogan and this perplexes everything. However, Brussels and Washington need Ankara’s cooperation in a number of hot issues, but it’s questionable if they can count on the slightest Turkish synergy or even reaction without hefty concessions. Syria’s future and the migration problem may thus remain unsolved in the foreseeable future.

As for the Turkish President himself, he has no fewer problems. Apart from the internal difficulties and conflicts, he also has to deal with the West’s mistrust about his intentions. Russia and China have also shown their discontent on a number of issues. In conclusion, it is certain that Turkey won’t cooperate with the EU and the US, at least not easily, in confronting questions like the future of Syria and the refugee and immigrants problems. It’s equally true though that under the present confused conjuncture in the wider region of the Middle East, without Erdogan the problems could increase in number and become more difficult to confront for everybody and more so for Turkey.

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