ISTANBUL — Fresh from a landslide victory at the polls, Recep Tayyip Erdogan lost no time telling the world what he now expects: a little more respect, please.
The Turkish president, emerging from morning prayers and a visit to a tomb in Istanbul where Ottoman rulers once strapped on the sword of the Prophet Mohammed as a sign of their power, Erdogan on Monday praised Turkish voters. They had chosen stability, he said, by giving almost 50 percent of the vote to his own ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
On Sunday, the AKP had raked in 49.3 percent of the ballots in snap parliamentary elections called by Erdogan after a regular poll in June failed to produce a majority government. The AKP will have 315 to 317 seats out of 550 in parliament so it can govern alone, according to preliminary results. The opposition, which inflicted a defeat on the AKP in June, was humbled by a massive swing of about 4.5 million voters toward Erdogan’s party.
Erdogan’s prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said he was asking for support from other parties in parliament to change Turkey’s constitution to introduce the U.S.-style presidential system that would boost Erdogan’s power. Whether he will get that backing is an open question. Despite its election triumph, the AKP lacks the necessary majority to introduce the changes without partners.
Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the elections were marred by government pressure on the media and by security fears. A “rapidly diminishing choice of media outlets, and restrictions on freedom of expression in general, impacted the process and remain serious concerns,” the head of the mission, Ignacio Sanchez Amor, said in a statement.
But analysts said the real reason behind the AKP’s triumph was the attitude of two opposition parties in recent months. The right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) under its leader Devlet Bahceli refused to join in a coalition with the AKP after the June election, creating a naysayer image that drove voters away, journalist Yalcin Dogan wrote in an analysis for the T24 news portal. “Bahceli has made the biggest contribution to this [AKP] victory,” he wrote.
The pro-Kurdish Democratic Peoples’ Party (HDP), which scored a victory with 13 percent of the votes in June, was punished by voters this time and dropped to 10.7 per cent, barely enough to enter parliament. Analysts say voters deserted the HDP because it was unable to prevent rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) from launching fresh attacks on security forces in the summer and from erecting barricades and digging trenches that stopped public life in Kurdish cities.
“Kurdish voters said: ‘I didn’t vote for the HDP to have them digging trenches, but to represent me in Ankara,’” journalist Asli Aydintasbas told the CNN-Turk news channel. “Kurds want a political process, not an armed struggle.” According to some estimates, the HDP lost up to 20 percent of the vote in some Kurdish cities.
Various commentators also acknowledged that the AKP did more than other parties to reach voters. “The opposition was extremely lazy, while the AKP was extremely hard-working,” wrote Ahmet Hakan, a news anchor and newspaper columnist with the Hurriyet daily. He said the AKP also attracted voters worried about losing their jobs in a difficult economic situation.
So, despite what many Turks saw as insane behavior by Erdogan in recent months, they should be cautious with criticism now. Or so he thinks.
“The whole world has to respect this,” the president said about the election result, but then again, he added, he didn’t see “such maturity in the world.” Referring to critical comments in Western media, Erdogan said they did not respect Turkey’s “national will.”
Strengthened by the poll, the AKP government is likely to act with increased self-confidence in dealing with the outside world. In the Syrian crisis, Ankara is expected to cling to its position calling for a removal of President Bashar al-Assad.
“With or without a coalition government, the country is moving toward deepening its involvement in northern Syria in order to keep a check on Kurdish and jihadist activity and steer its southern neighbor back to Sunni rule,” intelligence company Stratfor said in an analysis of the Turkish election.
The opposition had promised a turnaround in Turkey’s approach to the Syrian war, amid criticism that Ankara put all eggs into the basket of Sunni radicals there. With the election win, “There will be no change in the Syria policy,” political scientist Cenap Cakmak from Osmangazi University told The Daily Beast.
Erdogan’s triumph was hailed by Ankara’s friends in the region, some of which are no friends of the U.S. in the Middle East. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Hamas organization both praised the AKP victory. So did the Syrian opposition umbrella group Syrian National Congress and several rebel forces fighting in Syria.
With regards to the European Union, Stratfor suggested, “Erdogan will leverage the ongoing migrant crisis to extract concessions from the Europeans, but Ankara will do little to prevent migrants from using Turkey as a thoroughfare to Northern Europe.”
Responding to a question about talks to win EU concessions in Ankara’s membership bid in return for Turkish efforts to stem the flow of hundreds of thousands of Syrians toward Europe, a government official suggested on Monday the new government was ready to act—but only if the EU was ready to respond in a way that would make Ankara happy.
The AKP government is now in a position to implement democratic reforms and hold up its side of the bargain with the EU, the official said on background, in a written answer to questions from The Daily Beast. “What we really need, however, is for the European Union to engage in an honest, meaningful dialogue with Turkey.”
Well, at least Brussels knows who it’s talking to now, and for the foreseeable future.