Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suffered a major setback at the polls. The results of Sunday’s municipal balloting indicate the candidate of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has won the mayoral election in Ankara, Turkey’s capital. The mayoral race in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest and most famous city, appears as if it will be won by the opposition candidate. It has yet to be officially decided, but as of this morning, CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu was ahead by a thin margin.
For Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) the results were a major blow. Although AKP candidates won 51% of the municipal elections across the nation, it wasn’t enough for him to declare the results a victory. If the Istanbul race is officially called for Imamoglu, it will be a catastrophe for Erdogan and AKP.
Going into Sunday, the elections were regarded as a barometer for Erdogan’s. He’d campaigned endlessly, calling the vote a matter of “national survival.” In a sense, his words ring true. The Turkish economy has been mired in a recession and the lira has required constant propping up. The nation is also engaged militarily in Syria and despite growing involvement there, and the returns have been less than Erdogan was hoping for.
The election results could be a turning point for the opposition which has been relegated to the shadows in recent years. With Erdogan and his party controlling much of the nation’s media outlets, CHP and other parties opposing Erdogan have not had the ability to spread their message far and wide. With Ankara, and perhaps Istanbul about to be led by CHP candidates, that could be about to change.
Of course, economic performance motivates people to vote more often than not. Right now, with Turkey’s economy looking shaky, it bodes well for the opposition, and less so for Erdogan and AKP.
Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi’s disappearance on 2 October resembles the plot line of a spy novel. Kashoggi, a frequent critic of the Saudi government, as well as the de facto head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Saudi Arabian branch, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey to obtain papers needed to get married. His fiancée waited outside, and when he did not leave by the time the consulate closed, she reported him missing. The Saudis claim that Kashoggi did leave the consulate through a back entrance. The Turkish government, however, argued that he was still inside, later amending their position to the belief that Kashoggi was tortured and later killed inside the building. The Turks later claimed that a 15-man team was brought in from Saudi Arabia to handle the operation.
Predictably, Kashoggi’s disappearance has bloomed into a major international incident. The Saudis and Turks are sticking to their stories. Investigations are underway, and supposedly both countries are cooperating with a joint investigation. The global outcry from media, and human rights organizations is reaching a fevered pitch. The future of Turkish-Saudi relations, already strained before this incident took place, could very well rest on the fate of Kashoggi.
This episode has also placed the United States in an awkward position. Both Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are American allies. The Turks have been sharing the alleged video evidence in their possession with US officials, and this morning Andrew Brunson, the American pastor who was arrested on treason and sedition charges in October of 2016, was released from Turkish custody. This latest move is most likely a calculated one made by the Turkish government to bring US support to its position, and version of events. Saudi Arabia is another close US ally in the region. Washington has been pressing Riyadh for answers both publicly, and in private. The Trump administration has not ruled out economic sanctions against the Saudis if they are found to be responsible for Kashoggi’s kidnapping, though punitive measures are unlikely.
On Sunday as the Christian world celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Turks across the world were voting on a historical constitutional referendum which, if passed, would grant Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a host of new powers. By late last night it became clear the ‘Yes’ vote would carry the day, propelling Erdoğan to a close, yet potentially decisive victory. If the referendum is implemented entirely, Turkey’s government will shift from a parliamentary democracy to one that is dominated by a strong executive president. The president will no longer be held accountable by Turkey’s parliament, control the judiciary, have broad budgetary power, and the ability to shape the executive branch of government as he sees fit. This morning, many are wondering just what the results of the vote will mean for Turkey’s future.
Before that question is considered, the results of the referendum have to be certified and digested. The vote count was close with the ‘Yes’ camp receiving 51%. Opposition leaders are calling for large number of potentially problematic ballots to be reviewed, and there are widespread reports of voter intimidation and voting irregularities across Turkey to be investigated. It is unlikely an investigation will happen though. Turkey’s electoral body has ruled the vote valid.
That act will do nothing to change the fact that the referendum results could usher in a new period of political instability for Turkey. In the nation’s largest population centers, the majority of citizens voted ‘No.’ Protests have already broken out in Istanbul and other cities and there have been clashes between Turks opposed to Erdoğan and his supporters.
Outside of Turkey, there is uneasiness about the new role of Erdoğan and the chance that the secular Turkey of the past will forever vanish. European politicians are spending a great deal of time this morning debating what the referendum results will mean for Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, and how it will affect the migration crisis. Concerns about Erdoğan directing Turkey away from Europe and toward a closer relationship with Russia need to be addressed. That particular possibility, should it come to reality, has the potential to disrupt the balance of power in Europe and the Middle East.
With the Easter Holiday coming to a close, and North Korea quite possibly calming down for a short period, the opportunity will be taken this week to discuss Turkey at length.