THE election victory of Recep Tayyip Erdogan was all but assured long before Sunday, the only question being whether he would need a second round run-off. He did not, securing an overall majority in the first round by taking 52.6 per cent of the vote with 99 per cent of votes counted. His chief rival Muharrem Ince came second with a creditable 30.64 per cent in an election in which one candidate, pro-Kurdish Selahattin Demirtas campaigned from prison, where he has been for 20 months on terror charges he denies, but still took 8.4 per cent of the vote.
Almost half the Turkish voters voted against Erdogan, but the fact remains that the majority voted for one-man rule, a seemingly lawful dictatorship. Last year Turks voted, by small majority of 51 per cent, to change the constitution and give the president sweeping executive powers, such as the right to issue decrees with the force of law, appoint senior judges, ministers and vice presidents and to declare a state of emergency whenever he saw fit. In other words, his dictatorial rule, which has been evident since the failed coup of July 2016, under the state of emergency he declared has now been legalised by the voters.
Although the election offered a genuine choice, Erdogan and his party enjoyed an advantage, said the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe. This was putting it mildly. There may have not been incidents of electoral fraud, but these could hardly be described as free elections, considering what has happened in the last two years. Since 2016, using the state of emergency, Erdogan has crushed opposition, imprisoning or sacking thousands of academics, judges, police and army officers, technocrats and students. He has put journalists in prison and closed down or taken over newspapers and television stations with the result that the big majority of the country’s existing media backs his authoritarian rule.
To use the argument favoured by Brexiteers, “the people have decided and there is no going back.” Turks have voted for one-man rule and no matter what outsiders say they will have to live with the consequences of their decisions. Perhaps in five years, when Erdogan seeks re-election, assuming he has not decreed in the meantime to be president for life, they will have had enough of his authoritarian rule and vote him out. The damage, however, he would have caused his country, the region and the West with his confrontational, aggressive policies might be irreparable.