Recep Tayyip Erdogan was sworn in as Turkey’s first executive president after winning elections last month.
On June 24, over 50 million Turkish citizens went to the polls to vote in presidential and parliamentary elections. According to the Supreme Election Council (YSK), incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan emerged victorious by securing 52.59 percent of the vote. Runner-ups Muharrem Ince and Selahattin Demirtas trailed behind at 30.6 and 8.4 percent, respectively.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan is slated to continue his nearly 16-year reign by assuming a newly created role of executive president. Securing a simple majority needed to avert a runoff, Erdogan seized on the high turnout to recast what many had described as the greatest electoral challenge to his power yet as a “good democracy lesson to the world.”
The inauguration comes on the heels of a highly controversial constitutional referendum of 2017 which, amid reports of ballot-stuffing and lack of transparency, saw the country transition to a new system with vast executive powers. Somewhat of an alloy of presidential and parliamentary models, the new system allows the president to absolve parliament, declare a state of emergency without legislative consent, and increase the number of appointed judges – sparking warning of one-man rule.
Emboldened by the outcome of the 2017 referendum, Erdogan went on to call for a snap election. Undergirding the highly unusual move was a constitutional loophole that allows an incumbent president to stay in power longer in case of winning early elections. Erdogan thus chose to gamble his safe seat – which would have allowed him to serve uncontested through November of 2019 – in hope of evading Turkey’s two-term limit.
The 2018 parliamentary elections had Justice and Development Party (AKP) at 42.5 percent – a plurality of votes but nevertheless a 7 percent decrease from the controversial 2015 election that last brought Erdogan’s ideological brethren to majority. While high inflation and deteriorating economy likely contributed to the AKP’s weaker showing, its coalition partner, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), garnered 11 percent of the vote. As long as the two parties caucus together, they should effectively be able to control the parliament.
The AKP-MHP union would not please Kemal Ataturk, the founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey. In power from 1923 to 1938, Ataturk oversaw the country’s transition to a secular, republican democracy – earning his policies and ideology the name of Kemalism.
AKP has long abandoned its initial pro-Western sentiments to embrace non-secular and, many would argue, authoritarian tendencies. The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) likewise sees Turkish ultra nationalism and Euroscepticism as its driving force.
Things are equally interesting with Nation Alliance, an opposition coalition securing 31.5 percent of the total vote. The fact that center-left Republican People’s Party and center-right Good Party felt the need to make a pact with Felicity, an openly Islamist and far-right movement, to present a united front of opposition speaks volumes about Turkey’s departure from its founding secular ideals.
The elections come at a time of simmering tension between Turkey and the West. In April, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed concerns over Turkey’s purchase of a Russian missile system – describing the move as incompatible with NATO interests. The statement adds to a series of Western grievances over the Erdogan Administration’s steadily worsening human rights record, continued reluctance to stand up to Putin in the Syria conflict, and imprisonment of North Carolina pastor Andrew Brunson on terrorism charges.
As Erdogan officially assumes office yet again, the world will continue to observe his newly empowered presidency with keen interest.
Featured Image via Flickr/Recep Tayyip Erdoğan