Why the West should worry about Turkey

November 2, 2015
People wave flags and hold a portrait of Turkish President Erdogan as they wait for the arrival of Prime Minister Davutoglu in Ankara

People wave flags and hold a portrait of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan as they wait for the arrival of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Ankara, Turkey November 2, 2015. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appears to have beaten down his opponents and returned his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AK Party) to a fourth term of single-party rule over the country. In doing so, he has cemented his own already-firm control over the country, and is a large step closer to becoming the most influential figure in Turkish politics since Ataturk himself. The consequences of the AK Party’s victory are likely to be enormous, for Turkey, the region, and possibly for Europe, Russia and the United States as well.

After Sunday’s parliamentary election, it is now possible that the secular Turkish republic — as it has been established since 1923 — will eventually become something unrecognizable to its founders. In his early years in power, Erdogan and his AK Party were hailed by Western governments as pragmatic reformers, and proof that political Islam could be democratic and pluralistic. Turkey was moving closer to serious consideration for EU membership, opening up to foreign investment and growing economically.

But since the 2008 financial crisis, and especially since the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul, during which Erdogan cracked down on perceived opponents in full view of the world, he has become increasingly autocratic. Indeed, Erdogan called for Sunday’s elections after the AK Party failed to gain the majority of votes in June elections and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was unable to form a coalition with the three opposition parties in parliament. Many Turkey analysts believe that Erdogan had no intention of letting the talks succeed in the first place, and may have pressured Davutoglu to allow them to fail.

Erdogan’s unwillingness to accept a legitimate, democratic election result, and his desire to politicize an office that is nominally non-partisan — the presidency — are just two of many signs that he is tightening his grip on power.

Sunday’s results will likely make Erdogan more autocratic, as the former prime minister has been vocal about his desire to convert the parliamentary republic into one headed by a president, which, conveniently for him, is the office he already holds. And while the results don’t give the AK Party sufficient power to amend the constitution on its own, Erdogan’s party has a history of following his orders regardless of what the constitution says.

Erdogan’s relationship with the liberal and secular Turkish Kurds, damaged by his divisive rhetoric and political tactics, is likely to deteriorate further under the new AKP government. Indeed, it was because of the Kurds’ success in the June elections that Erdogan’s AK Party was denied a majority, compelling him to call for Sunday’s election.

On Sunday the Kurds were successful enough that they denied Erdogan his longed-for supermajority. And Erdogan is unlikely to forget. The possibility that the Kurds and the Turkish government will resume conflict in the Kurdish regions is no longer that farfetched.

All of this, of course, comes amid a rapidly worsening security situation in Turkey’s backyard, much of which involves Kurds in Iraq and Syria. Additional instability in this already very unstable region worries Europe and the United States, as well as other Middle Eastern countries.

But the same instability that troubles these countries also prevents them from being able to do much about Turkey’s commitment to democracy in the near-term. Turkey’s location, combined with its NATO membership, makes it an indispensable partner in dealing with Russian activity in the region, Islamic State, the Syrian civil war and the unfolding migrant crisis. Dealing with Erdogan is now, for his Western partners, much like holding a wolf by the ears: risky, but the alternative seems much worse.

Sunday’s results don’t end the political and social divides that threaten Turkey. They merely reset the stage for continued struggle: the AK Party against the secular cosmopolitan elite; Erdogan against the Kurds; Islamic State against Turkey and the region; and Europe, the United States and even Russia standing by nervously, assessing the potential impact on their regional interests. Erdogan has the means, motive and opportunity to exploit this moment of authority, and his recent political behavior suggests he will.






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He gets zero respect from me for what the government did to the press and the opposition groups resulting in a fixed election. He makes Assad look like a Saint. He has and continues to support The Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda and Isis. He has committed war crimes by bombing Turkish citizens including innocent men, woman and children. The Government arrested all reporters who supported other parties claiming they committed crimes and arrested 100’s of individuals who were supporting other parties who were campaigning for them. Moreover, the alleged winning party went around smashing the headquarters of other parties and threatening anybody who vocally supported them with death and violence.

Posted by RonMolina | Report as abusive

It’s always been the gateway to Europe. If Turkey falls to the extremists, they will learn what Charles Martell learned back in 732.

Posted by UgoneHearMe | Report as abusive

Not such a bad thing a wolf at the edge of the property of Europe. After all if you had IS living next door to you would sleep much better with a scary fierce dog guarding you, wouldn’t you !
Erdogan has little choice but to pursue the course of action/politics he is; he believes in a safe and prosperous Turkey. Autocratic leadership is required in dangerous times where there is little room for error as is the case in Turkey today. Having just returned from Turkey most people I spoke to supported Erdogan and are very alarmed about the IS threat. NATO and Russia should work together with Erdogan enable him to deal effectively with the threats Turkey faces. Not try to give him a slagging through maudlin opinions like this.

Posted by kaise7 | Report as abusive

a pure nonsense propaganda

Posted by sam841 | Report as abusive

What a rotten piece of news, I have had a headache since Monday morning. We are living in the age of idiocy.

Posted by Lepetit | Report as abusive

Erdogan’s unwillingness to accept a legitimate, democratic election result, strange comment I heard a BBC correspondent in Turkey last night inform the world that an extra 5 million voters turned out in this election. Now either these are fictitious voters or possibly democracy.

Posted by Moties001 | Report as abusive

“Why the West should worry about Turkey”

Turkey is more “Western” than all of Eastern Europe, but if you ask ignorant people like this writer, Turks are orientals, and Armenia is European (since they are Christian). So, the definition of “Western” has turned to Christian.

Posted by theox | Report as abusive

Worry about Islam in general. It is a whacked and ignorant patriarchal religion. Like Christianity. Choose reason over religion.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

The Khazar will do what the Khazars do best destroy the country .

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

ignorant writer
unfortunately, western master plan didn’t materialized here, so just cry fool

Posted by sam841 | Report as abusive

It doesn’t matter if the fundamentalism is Islamic, Christian or Jewish, fundamentalism is autocratic and crazy.

Posted by emm305 | Report as abusive

It doesn’t matter if the fundamentalism is Islamic, Christian or Jewish, fundamentalism is autocratic and crazy.

Posted by emm305 | Report as abusive

It doesn’t matter if the fundamentalism is Islamic, Christian or Jewish, fundamentalism is autocratic and loony.

Posted by emm305 | Report as abusive