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Ground Truth Briefing: Elections in Turkey: The Results and the Ramifications

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan secured another term on June 24, a victory that comes in the wake of last year’s constitutional referedum, which granted sweeping powers to his office. His AKP party, while losing its parliamentary majority, should still maintain control of the legislature alongside its nationalist ally. The victories further strengthen Erdogan's position as he reshapes the country's political structure.

In this Ground Truth Briefing, three veteran analysts and observers of Turkish politics assessed the results and their implications.

 

Selected Quotes

 

Jane Harman

“While I was a member of Congress, I was invited to Turkey to meet with President Erdogan in one of his earlier incarnations, when we all thought he would be the moderating force in the Middle East. The things he said were very moderate and the hope was that Turkey would intervene in the chaos of the Middle East and put some order there. Well, the chaos continues, and Turkey’s rule, especially after presidential powers have been vastly expanded in light of this election, is concerning.”

Aaron David Miller

"[In terms of democracy], Turkey seems to have fallen by the wayside, and I think it may well be that Erdogan now deserves mention as a member of the first autocrat’s club, along with Putin and a variety of other authoritarian leaders including Orban of Hungary, Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, and el-Sisi of Egypt.”

“It’s a double-edge sword. [Erdogan] controls everything, but he’s also now responsible for everything. There is no way to shift the blame and the focus to others.”

Asli Aydintasbas

"We’re now under an entirely new system. I like to describe it as U.S.-style executive presidency minus the checks and balances that you have. Our system stipulates a very weak parliament, in fact. The checks and balances are simply not there as they are in the American Constitution. Having said that, I don’t think much will change in terms of day to day governance, because already President Erdogan has been at the helm of his party and running the country and pretty much controlling the parliament.”

“The perception I often see in Europe [of] Erdogan being almighty, all-powerful, [and that] will run Turkey for the rest of his life is not necessarily one that people felt in this election. The opposition was very energized. We had a dark horse emerging and running a campaign in seven weeks. Muharrem Ince, the opposition candidate, managed to get 31% and I think far above the traditional secularist vote, which is 25%.”

“The elections were held under a state of emergency, and we live in a state of emergency since the failed coup... but I was still startled when I visited Diyarbakir last week because of the difficulty the pro-Kurdish party had in campaigning. I almost felt like I was in an episode of the Netflix series Black Mirror in the sense of whenever they held a rally, there were drones about, and not just police presence, but also facial recognition cameras, whereby if one of the kids chanted one of the banned slogans… he’d be detained right after.” 

"Look at what we had over the past five years. It doesn’t mean that five years from now we will not have a different Turkey. I don’t really take it for granted that this is now an Erdogan-istan forever.”

Henri Barkey

“This is the transition to a personalized autocracy. It is not a dictatorship – dictatorships do not allow other parties to coexist. It is certainly not a democracy; it’s a personalized autocracy where all power resides with Erdogan.”

“[Erdogan] is the state now. He is the ultimate arbiter – the buck stops with him – and, from now on, he is going to be responsible for everything that happens in Turkey.”

“I do not take the election results seriously, and, in many ways, it doesn’t really matter anymore in that Erdogan is ensconced in power. The parliament… is under his control, and therefore, he will do whatever he wants to do.”

Steven A. Cook

“The Trump administration is not terribly interested in the character of regimes amongst its allies and the conduct of elections among its allies. In fact, the Turkish press has reported, and the U.S. press is reporting, that there either has been or will be a phone call between President Trump and President Erdogan in which President Trump has congratulated or will congratulate President Erdogan on his electoral victory.”

“The issue that is most difficult for the Turks to swallow and move on [from] is the military relationship that the United States has with the Syrian-Kurdish YPG which, from the Turkish perspective — and I think quite rightly — is inextricably linked to the PKK, a terrorist organization that has been fighting the Turkish state since the mid-1980s. So even with the president’s congratulatory phone call and an effort to improve relations, I think these issues will continue to be an irritant at the least.”

“Turkey, Russia, and Iran are the three major players in Syria now. They have launched the Astana process, which is an effort to stabilize Syria. This, by way of background, is a certain amount of pragmatism from the Turkish government… given the fact that the United States has essentially written itself out of Syria. For the Turks to ensure their interests in Syria, they certainly had to go to Moscow and make amends with Vladimir Putin.”

“It’s essentially back to business between these big players and Turkey. The congratulatory messages from the United States and from the major European powers, [and] obviously the development of relations between Turkey and Russia, sends a message to Turkish officials, to the AKP, and especially to President Erdogan that Turkey is indispensable to them.”

 

Speakers

Introduction

Moderator

Panelists

  • Asli Aydintasbas

    Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations; columnist for the Turkish daily, Cumhuriyet
  • Henri Barkey

    Bernard L. and Bertha F. Cohen Professor in International Relations, Lehigh University; Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies, Council on Foreign Relations; former Director, Wilson Center Middle East Program
  • Steven A. Cook

    Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow, Middle East and Africa Studies, Council on Foreign Relations