What does Turkey’s presidential election reveal?

August 12, 2014, Tuesday/ 11:50:47/ AYDOĞAN VATANDAŞ
For someone who controls almost 60 percent of the Turkish media and uses the advantages provided by being in government, getting 51.7 percent of the vote in Sunday's presidential election is not an extraordinary success.

The most important message gleaned from the results of Sunday's presidential election is that Turkish society is polarized on the basis of the “pros and cons” of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's leadership in the near future.

By boycotting the election, the Kemalists, staunch opponents of Erdoğan and some segments of the Republican People's Party (CHP) electorate who considered that it was not even worth contributing to the election have helped Erdoğan win.

While 15 million registered voters did not vote for any candidate, Erdoğan obtained the support of 20.8 million voters, which corresponds to 51.7 percent of the entire votes. In March, Erdoğan got the support of 20.5 million voters, which corresponded to 45 percent of the voters.

However, Erdoğan and his crew expected between 58-60 percent of the votes. If this had happened, Erdoğan would feel more comfortable in determining the future of his party and Turkey. The results actually strengthened the position of President Abdullah Gül, who explicitly revealed yesterday that he has a strong ambition to return to his party. If President Gül claims the leadership of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) soon, this will definitely help bring him closer to those uncomfortable in the party because of the three-term rule that requires them to leave.

Another important revelation from the election on Sunday is that Turkish society has been polarized on the basis of ethnic and religious identity.

While calling Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu an Alevi and himself a Sunni, Erdoğan has actually called on the Turkish Sunni electorate not to vote for Kılıçdaroğlu's candidate, Professor Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu. Now Erdoğan's presidency will most likely represent Sunni Turks while Alevis and secular segments of society will feel left out and isolated. This will obviously not provide a peaceful environment for Turkish society in the near future.

By using anti-Western sentiments, recalling some old animosities in the subconscious of Turkish society, Erdoğan received the support of nationalist voters in Anatolia who actually tend to vote for the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). "I was called a Georgian. I apologize for this, but they said [something] even worse: They called me an Armenian," Erdoğan said during an interview with NTV.

Because of the settlement process with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Erdoğan also got the support of the Kurdish leadership. With his strong campaign, Selahattin Demirtaş won 9.8 percent of the vote. The percentage of Demirtaş's votes has actually revealed that he received at least 1-2 points from CHP voters, which were expected to go to Professor İhsanoğlu in the challenge against Erdoğan.

Many believe that Erdoğan promised a type of autonomy to the Kurds after he is elected president. But it is not crystal clear whether he will do it or not. Therefore, it seems that during his presidency it will not be very easy to simultaneously please both the Kurds and nationalist Turks.

By using neo-Ottomanism, Erdoğan claimed to be building a Great Turkey. However, the political developments in the region, especially in Syria and Iraq, emphasize that the tendency in the region is more likely to support divisions rather than inclusiveness. How Erdoğan can build a Great Turkey remains a big question when the Turkish society has been divided into three on the basis of ethnic and sectarian identities. How can Erdoğan create a Great Turkey while he has already waged a war against the Gülen movement, which promotes global peace and dialogue all around the world? As authoritarian leaders in the past, Erdoğan also portrayed himself as an active fighter who opposes a common, ideological enemy. For Erdoğan, it is the Gülen movement that his aggression has been directed at.

As other authoritarian leaders in history, Erdoğan invokes a myth of legitimization, reinforces a perception of crisis, claims to be revolutionary, successfully simplifies the issues, claims to promote a collective identity and uses polarizing language.

If Erdoğan wants a regime change in Turkey, he should remember regime change is also possible through civil war. This is the last thing that the Turkish public wants. If Erdoğan wants to be the president of the whole country, he should first respect the law, the Constitution and accept the limits of his power.

 *Aydoğan Vatandaş is an investigative journalist based in New York.
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