Over the weekend, Turkey apparently re-elected its President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after fifteen years in power. The election’s been described as pivotal for the country’s democratic future. The New York Times went so far as to describe it as a ‘democracy on the brink‘.
As always when we deep dive into other countries, (like our dives into Iran, Italy, or China) an attempt to cover everything is doomed for failure. We just cover the facts to get you oriented. Here’s what you need to know.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan was been in charge of Turkey for fifteen years. And during that time there’s been enormous change. Just last year, Erdogan took Turkey to a referendum to fundamentally change how the country operated. The referendum passed. The role of Prime Minister was scrapped, and the government moved towards a Presidential system, whereby Erdogan was given more power. This wasn’t a shock. It was on the cards for a long time. So Turkey’s government hasn’t been exactly stable.
In fact, a year previous (2016), the military tried and failed to overthrow the government, partly responding to a series of investigations into bureaucratic corruption and mismanagement. Fighter jets dropped bombs on the parliament, and the chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff was kidnapped by his own security detail. Ordinary citizens took to the streets to oppose the move. They succeeded, but 241 people died.
Since that time, Erdogan has kept Turkey in a ‘state of emergency’. While it was certainly needed in 2016, many critics say that it’s a mis-use of power to keep the country in a state that allows Erdogan and the police extra rights. Since that coup in particular, Erdogan’s authoritarian streak has grown larger, and many in the international community are nervous.
Erdogan has jailed tens of thousands of dissenters, including journalists. He became, in fact, a world leader in punishing those who opposed him. This is a shadow of the man who was first elected, initially widely celebrated as a moderate Islamist who supported democracy and economic liberation. While the early years of his rule meant an economic boom for Turkey, the country is now in a lot of trouble – and the working class who got him elected in the first place are starting to grumble.
International parties have become nervous too. Originally embraced for his pro-European stance, Erdagon’s role became more complicated as the situation in Syria worsened (Turkey shares a border with Syria). Turkey is still apparently co-operating with NATO (a large collection of Western allies) to help out with security in Syria and Iraq and help control the flow of immigration through to Europe. Meanwhile, Erdogan’s become cosier with Russia. He’s bought one of their missile defence systems and is planning a Russian-built nuclear reactor in Turkey.
With all of this in the background, Erdogan called an election back in April. The vote was largely seen as a referendum on his rule. As I write (on mid-Monday morning), he’s claimed victory, but there’s a lot of uncertainty. Official results see him winning with 53% of the vote. But the opposition has immediately said that’s rubbish, and will be undergoing their own count in the coming days.
Election Day was scrutinised by the opposition, on the look out for expected fraud. There was some violence. A dispute at a polling station left one person killed. There were also complaints of armed groups threatening violence. There’s early reports that some polling stations had suspiciously large numbers.
We’ll keep you updated as the situation develops.
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