To all those who believed that the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) is past its sell-by date, the outcome of the latest general election in Turkey is a big disappointment.
To start with, the party’s record in the life of the previous parliament was not a bright one by any standards. Domestically, it divided the nation as never before since the military coup of 1960. In foreign policy, the story was one of picking quarrels with almost everyone, propelling Turkey into uncharted waters.
At the same time, AKP did not offer a credible, let alone attractive, programme for the new term. Its election campaign was designed to vilify the opposition, spread conspiracy tales and frighten the urban middle classes with the prospect of chaos or even civil war.
So, AKP did win. But it didn’t win in a good way. In other words it did catch the bus under which it could have fallen but only by the skin of its teeth. And, in that, there is some good news.
The first is that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan didn’t get the two-thirds majority needed for playing fast and loose with the Constitution, the scenario which he has been cooking for the past three to four years. With that scenario no longer credible he has to find another use for his victory. And there are plenty such uses to which we shall return.
The second item of good news is that Turkey didn’t get a hung parliament which would have meant either prolonged constitutional crisis, followed by another election, or coalition-building and horse-trading under dubious circumstances.
The third item of good news is that the new political landscape provides an opportunity for a reconfiguration of the democratic opposition.
Neither the People’s Republican Party (CHP), the party of Atatürk, nor the new rising star of Turkish politics , the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) managed to fully project the profile of alternative governments. Now they have a chance to do so, either singularly or in close collaboration. At any rate, even those who desired different results, and there are many, would be excused to breathe a sigh of relief.
At a time when the Middle East is plunged into multiple crises, the thought of Turkey being sucked into their vortex isn’t a pleasant one. If the election can help prevent Turkey from destabilization, not to mention civil war as the state-owned media in Tehran ominously suggests, Turkish democracy could well tolerate another few years of a corrupt and authoritarian regime.
The important thing is what Erdogan means to do with his victory.
He could just waste it on seeking personal revenge on real or imagined opponents and providing the coterie around him with fresh opportunities to line their pockets.
An early sign came just a day after the election when Erdogan announced what amounts to a purge of the Turkish army and police on what looks like a set of spurious charges. There are also reports of a fresh purge of the civil service and the judiciary, indicating a penchant for promoting one-party politics.
Erdogan initially built his successful tenure as the longest serving prime minister in the history of the Turkish republic on three achievements.
The first was to defuse the conflict with the ethnic Kurdish minority through a mixture of long overdue reforms. The second was a remarkable turnaround of the Turkish economy from a moribund Third World concoction to a modern developing one. The third was the uprooting of corrupt ruling elites that had treated the republic as a milking cow for decades.
Sadly, 13 years later, Erdogan could no longer be identified with those successes.
Partly thanks to Ankara’s arrogance and ineptitude, the Kurdish issue is back with a vengeance with partisans of violence on both sides making a comeback centre stage.
At the same time, the Turkish economy is on a downward spiral with stagflation raising its ugly head once again as the lira plummets.
Finally, the AK (white) party has become “grey”, sullied by massive corruption at all levels. The extent of the corruption is such that only an ancient Turkic word “ilghar” meaning “pillage ”, a tactic used by the Central Asian hordes during their invasion of Anatolia in medieval times.
In other words, Turkey is in disrepair with its domestic politics, its economy and the ethical standards of its governing elite in need of urgent reform.
However, domestic problems represent only half of the challenge that AKP now faces. The other half concerns foreign policy. The tactic of playing on all tables with few chips here and there has failed. Turkey needs to make its position clear on at least three urgent issues.
The first concerns Syria where it opposes President Bashar al-Assad while at the same time it is helping him with underhand relations with ISIS, promoting the myth that the two represent the sole choices in that war-torn country.
Turkey must also end its ambiguous position on Iran’s regional ambitions. Correct relations with Iran have been a pillar of Turkish policy for at least 200 years and must be maintained. But this does not mean turning a blind eye to blatant intervention by the Islamic Republic in the affairs of other countries, including Turkey itself.
Finally, Turkey needs to review its European strategy with membership of the EU as the ultimate goal. If that goal is deemed to be still valid it is essential to re-energise the stalling talks with Brussels. If not, both sides need to look for a new form of association and cooperation because Europe cannot ignore Turkey and Turkey cannot turn its back to EU.
One cannot have a democracy without elections. However, there are cases in which you have elections without democracy. This is the situation in Turkey today, although we are far from the despotic system that Erdogan’s opponents claim he is trying to build. With last Sunday’s election, Turkey arrived at a crossroads between a return to democracy and a plunge into despotism. We will say which way Erdogan would try to lead his nation.