Turkey Elections: The Risk Of Escalation Has Multiplied
Both Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his challenger, Kamel Kilicdaroglu, have cast doubt on the first round results. Heading into the second round on May 28, recalling recent examples, in the U.S. and Brazil, we may again see what happens when a populist is faced with giving up power.
On the one hand, Turkey's 90% voter turnout is enough to make tired European and American democracies green with envy. Yet this desire to participate, to have a voice — the very hallmarks of citizenship — has not prevented an instant crisis in confidence following the first round of Turkish national elections.
Already Sunday evening, when the early results were announced, both sides launched accusations, and mistrust had taken hold.
It was bound to happen, with the same party and the same man, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ruling the country for two decades. He considers the state his property, and has instilled the idea that he is indispensable, the only person who can govern legitimately.
Meanwhile, his opposition has finally united around a strong candidate, Kamel Kilicdaroglu. And they too, feeling the winds of change rising, have convinced themselves that only fraud could prevent their party from winning.
In the end, after hours of suspense, tension and emotions, a second round seems to be the only option. Erdogan himself even admitted it, after trying to proclaim himself winner of the first round. The next two weeks will be fraught in the divided country, which must make a very real choice between two distinct political paths and individuals. The risk of escalation is immense.
There are two risks: firstly, manipulations or violence during the next two weeks of campaigning between the two rounds, after a relatively uneventful first round. Secondly, there is the risk that the final results will be contested, as is increasingly the case around the world.
When did electoral processes — not only in Turkey, alas — enter this age of suspicion? Obviously, the role of Donald Trump and his supporters was immense, with their legal guerrilla warfare and the subsequent assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6 2021 in order to prevent the ratification of Joe Biden's election.
Democracy is not so diminished.
When the departing President of the world's leading power sets a bad example, is it any surprise that others follow?Look at Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.
Erdogan now falls into this same new category of countries where elections are conducted well and under reasonable conditions; but where the result is contested if they are not in favor of the incumbent populist leader.
Nevertheless, democracy is not so diminished. Democratic safeguards were ultimately effective in both the United States and Brazil. But the threat remains.
May 14, 2023: People cast their ballots at a polling station during the Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections in Istanbul.
There are in fact 50 different kinds of democracy in the world. Some are fictitious: Vladimir Putin gets elected and re-elected, his opposition prisoners and the press muzzled.
Systems like Narendra Modi's in India or Erdogan's in Turkey have undeniable elements of authoritarianism, but have not — or have not yet — completely shut down the electoral process. In India, for example, the Prime Minister's party has just failed to win a state with a population of 65 million, Karnakata.
This in-between period allows for democratic breakthroughs, so long as political parties remain strong and civil society vigilant. Despite the relentless repression following the 2016 coup attempt, this is still the case in Turkey.
We have learned from the first round that Erdogan certainly has a solid electoral base and can still win. But he must also accept that he may lose. Thus if there's resilience of what remains of Turkish democracy, it will be found in the hands of the loser.
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