Over 40 million Turkish voters went to the polls yesterday to elect their new president from among the three contenders. Erdoğan's well-deserved victory once again confirms his leadership and popularity. But this win has implications beyond Erdoğan's personal success story.
Political and economic stability has been the hallmark of successive AK Party governments since 2003. Under Erdoğan as prime minister, Turkey became the 17th largest economy of the world, which empowered the middle class, strengthened the country's infrastructure in all regions, started accession talks with the EU and opened up new foreign policy areas. The business-friendly environment and the new economic opportunities mobilized Turkish investors, and attracted foreign investment as well. Erdoğan's social welfare policies have expanded and sped up social mobilization across all segments of Turkish society.
Prime Minister Erdoğan has been able to contain the terrorist threat of the outlawed PKK, and started a new process to settle the Kurdish issue. He has also taken a number of historic steps to recognize the rights of religious minorities in Turkey. Last but not least, he has fought against military tutelage, and kept the Turkish army powerful as well as under the democratic control of the civilian authority. All these have helped create new opportunities for a wide range of democratic actors in Turkey.
Now as president, Erdoğan is set to continue with the policies of economic development, social mobility and political empowerment, supported by an active foreign policy. As he promised during his election campaign, Erdoğan will focus on resolving the Kurdish issue, accelerating the EU process, maintaining political stability and economic development, and preparing Turkey for the first centennial of the founding of the Turkish Republic. He is also likely to make an effort to draft a new constitution - a process that was stalled because of the disagreements between the government and the opposition parties.
Erdoğan made it clear that he will be an active, assertive and engaging president. He will strive to deliver on his promises as he will be directly accountable to the people who voted for him. But as president, he will also embrace those who did not vote for him.
No matter what he does, however, the opposition parties and other anti-Erdoğan groups will continue to oppose his policies. This should be accepted as an ordinary fact of democratic rule. Those who did not vote for Erdoğan are entitled to opposition and dissent, and they exercise this right through numerous means. But it is illogical to question Erdoğan's legitimacy because of those who did not vote for him. The fact that Obama was elected with 53 percent in 2008 and 51 percent in 2012 does not make him less of a president. The "other 50 percent" who did not vote for him does not approve of his policies, but this does not justify questioning his legitimacy as president.
Turkish politics is no exception to this basic rule.
This landmark presidential election handed the anti-Erdoğan camp one more loss. Now, they should drive serious lessons from it. The main opposition party CHP, the Turkish nationalist party MHP, the Kurdish nationalist party HDP, the Gülenists, the neo-nationalist, leftists and others ran an aggressive campaign whose main architecture was based on opposition to Erdoğan. This political positioning made their campaign weak, and paradoxically dependent on Erdoğan's personality and campaign strategy.
As a result, the CHP-MHP joint candidate failed to overcome the social, political and class differences between Kemalist secularists and the Alevis, who supported the CHP and Turkish nationalists, who supported the MHP. Their charge against Erdoğan as a divisive and polarizing figure was their main political message, but their own candidate fell far short of unifying even the CHP and MHP constituencies.
Given the polarizing nature of Turkey's big national issues including the Kurdish issue, the Alevis, religious minorities, the equal distribution of wealth and Turkey's strategic location in the region, the opposition parties are far from producing the kind of unifying and inclusive policies that they demanded from Erdoğan as prime minister. Their own ideological differences and political disputes are too great to create a reasonable modus vivendi for settling the most critical issues. Their weak leadership and inter-party bickering does not help their cause either.
This makes Erdoğan the main figure to move Turkey forward on these politically risky, emotionally charged and critical issues. As Turkey's first president elected by direct popular vote, Erdoğan will continue to challenge the domestic and regional status quo, and further establish Turkey as a political and economic powerhouse. Given the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East and the uncertainties in the global system, Turkey's political stability and economic growth should be protected and deepened. The new era under President Erdoğan promises to do that.
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