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Erdogan Cements One-Man Rule in Presidential Vote

Turkey has stood on the cusp of a regime change over the past two years. With a definitive victory in the first round of critical presidential vote on Sunday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a de facto reality a de jure one, enabling himself to make great strides toward becoming an all-powerful one man with nearly unlimited powers at his disposal.

Elbowing aside emerging expectations for a potential upset victory by the opposition after his main contender Muharrem Ince invigorated popular sentiment, Erdogan cemented his rule in Turkey at least for another five years, expanding his powers over the judiciary and the legislative body.

After hours of bickering over the vote tally, Turkey’s Supreme Election Council (YSK) President Sadi Guven confirmed that Erdogan won the presidential elections, and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) secured the majority in Parliament after its alliance with Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) took the lead in the parliamentary vote with 53.5 percent.

Erdogan won 52.4 percent of the votes while Ince was able to garner around 30.8 percent with 99.99 percent of the votes counted. In the showdown of two alliances, AKP-MHP alliance dubbed as “People’s Alliance” defeated the “Nation Alliance” formed by four opposition parties by getting 53.5 percent of the votes against the opposition’s 33.4 percent.

The CHP candidate who ran a successful campaign despite a myriad of challenges and media blackout conceded defeat, FOX Haber reported. “It was not a fair competition but I accept that Erdogan won the vote,” Turkish media reported, quoting his leaked Whatsapp message to a friend.

In his admission of defeat, CHP’s Ince lamented about the lack of fair and free competition. The Turkish government denied access to many European observers for elections. But YSK president Guven on Sunday met with a delegation from Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) countries who came to Turkey to observe elections. The choice stood in stark contrast to Turkey’s past practices. 

Recent surveys and the popularity of Ince created an expectation for a surprise result that at least the presidential election would see a runoff in early July. And polls also suggested that Erdogan’s ruling coalition would stumble in parliamentary elections on Sunday.

None of the forecasts came true.

“If Erdogan does win the presidency in the first round, it will have done so under undemocratic conditions, beginning with manipulating voting district boundaries, not allowing opposition parties to campaign freely or to be covered by the Turkish media, which is largely run or cowed by the state, using state funds and agencies to campaign, and moving voting locations far from people’s homes, especially in the heavily Kurdish east,” Professor Jenny White of Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies said in remarks to Globe Post Turkey before YSK’s official announcement of the results.

“There were many reports on election night of irregularities, including ballot stuffing, intimidation of voters and stealing of bags of ballots, of men voting for women and officials voting for people who weren’t there,” she noted.

According to her, Erdogan’s control over the media message (and what information is not circulated on Turkish media) allowed him to claim that all was well with the economy. “Whatever was wrong was due to outside manipulation and he, the strong leader, would fix it. People believe what is circulated within their own echo chambers,” she said, offering an assessment of the Sunday’s election.

The election outcome cemented a certain degree of support for Erdogan, a factor that has begun to take more clear shape over the past several elections. He has a support base ranging 42 percent to 52 percent, differing in local, parliamentary and presidential elections.

“I think Erdogan’s election victory was expected. The opposition has not been able to present a viable alternative to Erdogan. It is not enough to count what Erdogan has done wrong when people don’t know what you will do differently if in Erdogan’s position,” Dana Jaf, a scholar at Durham University who focuses on Muslims in the U.K., told Globe Post Turkey

“The opposition especially Ince & Aksener embraced a xenophobic anti-immigrant rhetoric which in no way in line with their claim of working for a more open and tolerant Turkey,” he noted.

Both CHP candidate and Meral Aksener who broke away from MHP last year to found a new nationalist party pledged to revisit the AKP government’s refugee policy.

Last week, nationalist Good (IYI) Party Chairwoman and presidential candidate Aksener vowed to send 4 million Syrian refugees back to Syria. Her anti-refugee credo is well shared by CHP and other opposition parties.

Jaf thinks that despite the expected Erdogan victory, it is no secret that the Turkish politics and society is highly polarised. The winners, especially Erdogan has a duty to address the feelings of alienation by significant numbers of people, he argued, pointing to the social divisions and fragmentation of the society.

Erdogan’s Win of Elections

President Erdogan, at times, appeared to be lacking his former appeal, shun out of creative edge during the campaign trail. After 16 years of rule, he repeatedly showed signs of fatigue, stumbled on stage and indulged in bizarre mistakes.

And in contrast to a fraying president, the opposition seemed to be upbeat and energetic. At the center of Ince’s and other candidates’ campaign promises lay the end of the prolonged state of emergency and reconstructing fractured state institutions and restoring rule of law.

In the aftermath of a failed coup in 2016, President Erdogan purged his political rivals from civil service and the military, subdued judiciary by imprisonment of more than 2,500 judges and prosecutors, and squelched critical media. As part of the sweeping purge, more than 150,000 public workers have been sacked without due process and the same number of people have been detained over dubious charges of terrorism and coup involvement.

The elections took place under such draconian measures and unfavorable conditions during the emergency rule. And yet, Erdogan sealed another victory, to the astonishment and surprise of observers.

“Although President Erdogan was widely expected to clinch the election, it increasingly looked like there would be a second ballot. So why did this not happen? Election results -as yet unofficial- suggest that President Erdogan has secured victory with 52.5 percent of the vote while his party (AKP) only reached around 42 percent in parliament,” Professor Gulcin Ozkan from the University of York told Globe Post Turkey

She noted that the real surprise is the strong showing by the MHP – the Nationalist Action Party –  reaching over 11 percent, securing Erdogan’s victory by making up the difference between his vote share and that of his AK Party. 

Erdogan’s gamble with the electoral alliance with MHP to secure victory in the presidential vote seemed to pay off. His efforts to sink pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP) below the 10 percent electoral threshold, however, did not work.

With its presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas jailed, the HDP faced a number of formidable challenges and restraints during the campaign. Even state-run Anadolu news agency, which became the target of sharp criticism over poor and partisan reporting of the vote tally, acknowledged at an early hour that the HDP made it to Parliament, securing at least 64 seats with 11,5 percent of the votes.

Although Ince, who had an electrifying election campaign, fell short of expectations by 30 percent of the vote, his share of the vote is some 8 percentage points ahead of his main opposition party’s 22 percent in the parliamentary elections, according to Ozkan.

She outlines three major factors underlying the results. “Firstly, the country has become increasingly isolated and inward-looking in recent years following a number of foreign policy issues: the stalling of the E.U. membership process, the increasingly hostile rhetoric in relations with E.U. countries, deteriorating relations with the U.S.”

This, she underlined, has led to a simmering of nationalist sentiment, reinforcing the electoral support for the nationalist parties, the AKP and the MHP. “Secondly, the significant worsening of the economy in recent months unnerved the electorate, ironically strengthening the support for Erdogan given the opposition’s lack of experience,” she said, pointing to the prevalence of economic factors shaping the voter behavior. 

She added: “Finally, the intense polarization in Turkey has had clear electoral consequences. Political parties have clearly identified support bases and the cross-party transition is very low. This leads to a disconnect between the performance of parties, and their showing in the ballot box.”

As a result, despite opposition parties’ success in attracting large numbers to their rallies, this has not turned into votes, she said in conclusion.

CHP’s Ince drew millions of people to his rallies in the western province of Izmir on Friday and in Istanbul on Saturday. The scale of participation has created a sense of a surprise on Sunday. Expectations, however, have never materialized.

“I have always said the 2002-2007 AK Parti / Erdogan Vision is the better vision for Turkey and not the 2018 Akp/MHP alliance or 2018 CHP/SP/IYI alliance. A return to those days where AKP faced the ‘old Turkey’ establishment is the best thing Erdogan with his vast powers,” Jaf said, elaborating on the nature of political fault lines that defines Turkey’s fragmented political domain.

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