April 29, 2024

Turkey’s Democracy Is Down but Not Out

Last month’s local election results in Turkey delivered a harsh blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Just under a year since the presidential election, in which Erdogan won another five years in power, Turkey’s opposition party—the Republican People’s Party (CHP)—won big victories in the majority of the country’s largest cities, including Istanbul, the economic powerhouse of Turkey. Thirty-five provincial capitals (out of a total of 81) now have a CHP mayor, while the AKP-led People’s Alliance has just 24. The CHP also scraped past Erdogan’s party in the country overall, garnering 37.8 percent of the votes compared to 35.5 percent for the AKP.

The CHP’s victory is a hopeful signal of the resilience of Turkish democracy and its electoral system. After the CHP’s disappointing results in last year’s presidential election, where it only managed a little over 47 percent of the vote, its share of the national vote came as a shock to many experts. It was a surprising achievement, not least because nearly 90 percent of Turkey’s media is in the hands of the government or its supporters, granting the ruling party a lopsided advantage when campaigning.

Turkey has a long way to go before it can be considered a liberal democratic country. Its democracy has declined precipitously in the past 15 years; but this election signals that there are pockets of resilience.

For years, analysts have argued that Turkey has slid away from democracy and given way to authoritarian politics—with Erdogan leading the way. A single election does not erase years of calculated efforts to centralize power and remove checks and balances on the president. And yet, despite an uneven playing field, the opposition largely prevailed. Even Erdogan himself acknowledged that “regardless of the results, the winner of this election is primarily democracy.”

There may or may not be any real feeling behind the president’s statement. But the fact that he gave these conciliatory remarks on the night of the election is, in itself, surprising. Erdogan is not in immediate political peril himself. The next presidential elections will not take place until 2028. But it turns out that he has less space in which to maneuver than some analysts previously assumed.

Read the full article from Foreign Policy.

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