Erdogan Re-Elected, But It Wasn’t As Democratic As It Seems

The Turkish election is all but over, with over 97% of the vote having been counted. Once again, the nation has apparently elected strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan to lead the country forward, and we now have a large enough sample size to track where that direction will continue to head head.

Turkey will almost undoubtedly continue military provocations over a the uninhabited Aegean Islands, which have been formally declared as part of Greece since 1947. Flying jets repeatedly over the Aegean airspace has sparked dormant diplomatic tensions between the two nations, and it’s clear that Erdogan sees Turkey as a nation capable of taking what it wants, whether it is rightfully theirs to take or not.

The Turkish president has made this belief further apparent in his approach to Syria. At first, the Turks were seemingly only going to crush the Kurds in the city of Afrin. Designating Kurds as ‘terrorists’, President Erdogan was not shy in proclaiming his pride over the Kurdish deaths, vowing that more would come. Provocative as the move outside of Turkish borders to launch an offensive move was, Turkey also announced their intention to continue moving eastward, on a path that would put them on a collision course with American forces.

These military offensives under Erdogan seem inseparable from the overall tone that has been struck by his regime. He’s proven a strongman in every sense of the word, and his greatest target hasn’t been Kurds or Greece, but Turkish democracy and freedom.

He has established near-complete control of the country’s mainstream media, once liberal by regional standards. Now, those who have seen Erdogan use tenuous means to justify sweeping ends in consolidating his power believe that he is targeting one satellite preacher to begin a path towards completely stifling the free internet in Turkey.

The battle revolves around Adnan Oktar, whose show is broadcast on satellite television and the internet, and features a studio audience primarily of women dressed in Western-style clothing – skirts that rise above the knee and plunging necklines. For Erdogan, whose tenure has been marked by increasing religious restriction and a steady graduation towards hardline Islamic rule, this is the perfect foil for greater plans to consolidate control of the internet a la China, North Korea, and other Middle Eastern nations.

‘Just three days after the government announced its campaign against Mr. Oktar, it introduced an expansive set of new internet restrictions that would affect millions of Turks who use the internet and social media.

“With Master Adnan as an excuse, extensive censorship coming for internet media,” one news website headline warned.’ (NY Times)

Turks have come to know better than to take Erdogan at his word when it comes to what he says he wants to achieve and what he truly aims to achieve. Beginning with a failed coup in 2016 which some still question the legitimacy of, Erdogan has used every possible opportunity to consolidate his power.

The law restricting the media was conveniently passed in the months prior to this latest election, and it’s another way that Erdogan has forcefully muted his competition. Sure, it’s a less egregious means than, say, his slew of arrests of those in the military in 2013 who might threaten to usurp his rule. Or the arrests of the followers of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic leader who once helped Erdogan dismantle the army but had come to desire greater power from his goverment. More Gulen supporters were rounded up in 2016, including members of the Coast Guard and Navy, in the wake of the alleged coup. But the extent of Erdogan’s aggression against those who might criticize or oppose him is not reminiscent of the progressive nation that Turkey had once become.

‘So far, Mr. Erdogan has detained more than 60,000 people accused of being Gulen followers and purged or suspended 150,000 government employees. He also used the opportunity to round up academics, journalists and political opponents.’ (NYT)

So, while Erdogan has at times professed to be Democracy’s savior, and is credited for some of the economic high water marks that Turkey has experienced, it’s been proven to be a claim that is a stretch at, best, and an outright lie at worst. The economy hasn’t proven steady under Erdogan, and unsteady times breed dissent. Erdogan has made sure that he limits that dissent and remains in power, and democracy has not been how he has made such assurances.

It’s the reason why, despite no international condemnation of the latest elections, there remains a latent suspicion that it was not a level voting field. Whether direct rigging occurred – an allegation for which there is no evidence – or one justifiably contends that Erdogan’s jailing of critics and control of the media constitute election rigging in and of themselves, democracy is no longer truly democratic in Erdogan’s ever-radicalizing Turkey.

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