Turkey’s president tightens grip on power

Make Turkey great again: Voter turnout was 87% according to the state-run broadcaster. © Getty

Is Turkey still a democracy? In yesterday’s election, President Erdogan strengthened his control over the country. His opponents included a former physics teacher and a jailed lawyer.

As he cast a vote for himself in Turkey’s presidential election yesterday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters that his country was “staging a democratic revolution.”

The results were close — but in the end he secured a majority with 53% of the votes, according to the state broadcaster. However, even as he praised the “lesson in democracy” in his victory speech, his opponents were questioning the result, insisting that not all of the ballots had been counted.

Erdogan has been in power for almost 16 years. He takes credit for boosting and modernising Turkey’s economy; just last week his private jet became the first plane to touch down at Istanbul’s expensive new airport.

But the economy is stumbling. And yesterday’s election saw him take on a host of new powers that were narrowly approved in a referendum last year. He will now be able to appoint top judges and officials himself, while the role of prime minister has been abolished.

These changes have unsettled many in a country that prides itself on being the world’s only major Muslim democracy. They saw this as their last chance to stop him, and so support for opposition parties was strong. His main rival, Muharrem İnce, was a former physics teacher who finished with 31%.

“If Erdogan wins, your phones will continue to be listened to… Fear will continue to reign,” he told one million people at a rally on Saturday. “If Ince wins, the courts will be independent.”

All of this matters to the world. Turkey is an important country, straddling East and West. It borders both Syria and the EU, making it a major player in the Syrian civil war, Europe’s refugee crisis, and the fight against ISIS.

As a member of NATO, it is also a key ally to the West.

But can it still call itself a democracy?

The Sultan returns

Yes, say some. It has held elections for every step of Erdogan’s rule, even if the West has not always liked the results. This election had a strong opposition movement. Besides, the new presidential system is not so different from America’s — President Donald Trump too can nominate judges, and wields strong executive powers. As one of the world’s few Muslim democracies, Turkey sets an important example to the world. We should not be so quick to criticise.

Erdogan has been leading it into authoritarianism for several years, argue others. It takes more than voting to make a democracy: you also need a free press and an independent judiciary. But since a botched coup attempt in 2016, thousands of Turkey’s judges have been arrested, and it has jailed more journalists than any other country in the world. The head of one party campaigned for the presidency from a jail cell. Sadly, Turkey’s democracy has died.

You Decide

  1. Is Turkey a democracy?
  2. Is Turkey a friend or a foe to the West?

Activities

  1. List everything you think a country needs in order to be considered a democracy. Does Turkey meet your requirements?
  2. Research the history of Turkey and create a timeline of significant events in the last 100 years.

Some People Say...

“Democracy is like a streetcar. When you come to your stop, you get off.”

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
More than 56 million people were registered to vote in the polls, which also included parliamentary elections. Erdogan’s AK Party also won a majority in these. Voting closed at 5pm local time and Erdogan declared victory at around 11pm. The opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) eventhally conceded, but argued that it had not been a fair vote.
What do we not know?
Whether the results of the vote were fair. Reports of ballot box stuffing have emerged, mainly out of Turkey’s southeastern regions. There have also been reports that a group of Europeans were arrested and then released after claiming to be there to independently observe the elections.

Word Watch

16 years
He was prime minister from 2002 and has been president since 2014.
Boosting
Between 2002 and 2007, Turkey’s economy grew by more than 6% per year, according to The Economist.
New airport
Istanbul New Airport will be the third largest in the world when it opens in October.
Stumbling
Inflation has now reached 11% while the value of the Turkish currency (lira) has fallen 20% against the dollar so far this year.
Muslim
Official figures say that around 99% of the country is Muslim.
Refugee crisis
According to the latest UNHCR report, released last week, Turkey is home to more refugees than any other country in the world (3.5 million).
Coup
In July 2016, a faction of the Turkish army attempted to seize power from President Erdogan. The president called on ordinary people to resist the coup, and soon troops began to surrender. Turkey has been in a state of emergency ever since, and Erdogan has been accused of using it as an excuse to crack down on opposition.

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