Recep Tayyip Erdogan has won Turkey’s presidential election with 51 per cent of the vote. Hitherto, parliament had selected the president, and this is the first time that Turkey had a choice as to who its president might be. Despite the fact that Erdogan had a significant margin of victory, he comes to power at a time when in many ways, Turkey is a bitterly divided nation. His opponents in the election were described by one commentator as “ramshackle” and none could match his powerful, and for many, persuasive rhetoric. None could match his track record either. Under Erdogan, and despite the fact that many see his policies as polarising and authoritarian, the size of the Turkish economy has almost quadrupled. Growth is averaging four per cent a quarter and what is being dubbed the ‘new Muslim bourgeoisie’ has done very well under his leadership. They are the foundation on which is built his political success. However, it must be noted that 49 per cent of voters did not mark their ballots for him, and therein lie challenges.
Erdogan has shown himself intolerant of dissent and criticism. The protests in Gezi Park and Taksim Square were suppressed, leaving 11 protesters dead and up to 8,000 injured. When allegations of bribery and corruption by himself and his family members were made on Twitter, he promptly shut the website down. He warned protesters on one occasion that if they booed him, they would be “slapped”. And then there is what many see as his undermining of the secular nature of the Turkish state.
Turkish democracy is still a work-in-progress. New political groups are forming based around existing smaller political groups, and it is significant that a Kurdish candidate was a contestant in the presidential race. Erdogan is going to have a struggle to unite all Turks and he may never do, and there are some difficult paths to tread in terms of foreign policy in respect of his near neighbours, but we wish him well and hope to see him in Pakistan before long.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 18th, 2014.
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