Erdogan Wins; Does Democracy Lose?

Despite a corruption scandal and controversy over his crackdown on social media, the Turkish prime minister’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) won big in yesterday’s municipal elections, garnering over 45 percent of the vote over the main opposition party’s 28 percent. Piotr Zalewski previews the PM’s next move:

Erdogan has already made it clear that he intends to capitalize on his big win by settling accounts with his enemies, not least the Gulen movement, a powerful Islamic sect that he and many others in Turkey consider “a parallel state,” and the driving force behind the graft investigation.

“The time has come for the traitors to reckon with this country,” Erdogan said on Sunday, referring to the Gulenists. “Their plan was chaos. We will enter their caves. We will make them pay.”

The list of other potential traitors, fears Atilla Yesilada, a political analyst with Global Source Partners, might quickly grow longer. “The man who shuts down Twitter and YouTube is not going to stop at just that,” he says. A further clampdown on what Erdogan calls the “partisan media” might not be long in coming.

Mohammed Ayoob explains why Erdogan and the AKP remain so popular:

The AKP government, even if corrupt, has delivered on the economic front with a very visible rise in the income level and standard of living of the average Turkish citizen.

Furthermore, the benefits of the past decade’s economic growth have percolated down to the previously disadvantaged segments of society, the “Black” Turks, whose economic and political demands and requirements had been neglected by governments led by the Kemalist elites. They were, and continue to be, seen by many in the Anatolian heartland as representatives of the “White” Turks from the western seaboard who had ruled the republic for much of its first 80 years, and with whom the CHP is identified. There are, therefore, significant class and regional divisions between the AKP supporters and its opponents. The regional division has been clearly reflected in the local elections.

And A.Z. looks at the challenges ahead, noting that Erdogan, who is expected to run for president this summer, “cannot afford to be complacent”:

His increasingly authoritarian methods of stifling dissent (Twitter and YouTube have been blocked) may not cost him votes at home but they have tarnished his international image. Turkey’s Western friends are increasingly nervous about Mr Erdogan’s erratic ways. And though Turkey has managed to emerge largely unscathed from the global financial crisis, its economy is slowing down. AK may not be able to afford the big-ticket projects it is has promised to deliver, including building a third airport and third bridge over the Bosporus in Istanbul. AK’s strong showing is linked to its strong economic performance in the past. Markets reacted positively to the outcome. After months in the doldrums, the Turkish lira rallied against the dollar.

Recent Dish on Turkey here, here, and here.