The presidential election is over. As expected, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has secured a very comfortable victory in the first round and has been elected with nearly 52 percent of the vote. He will thus be referred to as "president-elect" for the next few weeks. The turnout for this election was much lower than expected, a mere 73 percent, which looks very poor in comparison to the 90 percent turnout of the last local elections that took place less than five months ago. Obviously, organizing the first direct presidential election in the middle of August is an aberration in itself. We Turks owe that anomaly to the very clever sabotaging of previous presidential elections, staged jointly by a Constitutional Court under pressure and by the main opposition party.
As a result, former President Ahmet Necdet Sezer had to keep his post for over two months before Abdullah Gül was elected by a renewed Parliament in 2007. It would be a very good idea to perhaps amend the Constitution to fix a more acceptable date to organize presidential elections in the future. The results have reserved some surprises though, especially taken into consideration that opinion polls gave Erdoğan a very large majority – close to 60 percent in some cases. The second surprise came from the very efficient campaign and the good result obtained by the third candidate and the outsider of this presidential campaign, a young Kurdish lawyer and co-chair of the People's Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtaş, who doubled the percentage of his party's votes. He received almost 10 percent of the votes cast, an unexpected result even for his loyal followers.
The election has shown that Turkish political divides are basically still holding strong. Despite all the allegations of corruption, biases and other accusations that have been levied through official investigations and vast social media campaigning, Erdoğan has been able almost single-handedly to secure his political career and his popular support. Since December 17 of last year, Erdoğan has been waging a difficult struggle for his own political career, and incidentally, that of his party. He had to fight a disparate front of very different political force, from very obscure confraternal religious movements to conventional political opposition parties and from international and powerful lobbies to official representatives of civil society. He won.
There is no doubt that he remains extremely popular with a sizeable part of society. This is not new; this "plebeian" part of society has never had a place in the sun under the Republic. They have always chosen popular heroes who looked like themselves, heroes who looked like Robin Hood, or the legendary Köroğlu of Turkish folklore. The popular hero who fights alone against the all-powerful central authority – Adnan Menderes, who they think represented Aegean landowners and the peasantry against the Ankara bureaucracy; Yılmaz Güney, as an actor and political militant figure; even Bülent Ecevit, a modest journalist who is not even a university graduate. Alongside with his very modest origins and his "self-made-man" career, Erdoğan has also brought to Turkish society a long-awaited steady economic development and political stability for almost 12 years. His followers owe him this important performance and are not likely to abandon him at the first crisis.
On the other hand, he has also been governing at a period when virtually all the taboos of modern Turkish society have been more and more openly questioned. This goes from the role of the military in Turkish governance to the solution of the Kurdish problem and from the mismanagement of public services to the reality of Armenian deportations. His force stems from the fact that he is capable of alternating to and from a variety of positions according to the political situation. He was the only leader in an overwhelmingly Muslim country to declare that "anti-Semitism is a crime against humanity." At the same time he is the most critical world leader against the policies of Israel. He is the first Turkish prime minister (or any Turkish official) to publish a very touching obituary on the occasion of April 24, the anniversary of the Armenian massacres. He is also capable of playing nationalist sensibilities by plainly declaring to a journalist: "Pardon me for saying this, but they said even uglier things. They called me an Armenian!" In the meantime, for the first time in history, he has played an instrumental role in giving back to the Turkish Armenian minority their confiscated real estate from the 1930s and 1950s.
He won the election based on his former performance, and the opposition lost. However, for a first time, the opposition could unite for a common candidate, who was neither close to the Republican People's Party (CHP) nor really to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). This bodes well for the future of political dialogue. On the other hand, Erdoğan's victory might not be complete enough to redesign the Turkish governance system. His new government, especially its economic policies, are being impatiently waited upon among international circles.
In a nutshell, Turkish people seem tired of the continuously tense atmosphere. The low turnout (both on the side of CHP and AK Party voters) shows this issue clearly. In the same vein, the support for Erdoğan remains very strong, but not wide enough to allow him to have a total monopoly of state, as it was put forward in very alarming analyses in Turkey and abroad. Last but not least, voters in Turkey are in need of a "different" opposition movement, as seen by the surprising accomplishment of Demirtaş.
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