Er­do­gan’s ugly win cre­ates big prob­lems

Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan’s ugly win in Sun­day’s ref­er­en­dum on a new, au­thor­i­tar­ian con­sti­tu­tion for Turkey cre­ates big prob­lems for the coun­try’s sec­u­lar demo­cratic forces and for Turkey’s Western al­lies - but also for Er­do­gan him­self.

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - FRONT PAGE -

Vic­tory was not con­vinc­ing, but tainted by the find­ing that the pre-elec­tion cam­paign was not free or fair.

His vic­tory was not con­vinc­ing, as he had hoped, but nar­row, con­tested and tainted by the find­ing of a Euro­pean ob­server mis­sion that the pre­elec­tion cam­paign was not free or fair. Turkey’s three big­gest cities voted against the wouldbe strong­man. The coun­try is not united be­hind him, but po­lar­ized - a po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity that even an em­pow­ered ruler will ig­nore at his peril.

To be sure, the Turk­ish pres­i­dent sounded de­fi­ant in the wake of his vic­tory, dis­miss­ing Western crit­ics for their “cru­sader men­tal­ity” and hint­ing that he would em­brace harsh new mea­sures, such as re­in­sti­tut­ing the death penalty some­thing that would surely rup­ture Turkey’s re­la­tions with Euro­pean Union lead­ers. As it is, Er­do­gan’s gov­ern­ment has purged some 130,000 peo­ple from their jobs and jailed more than 45,000 since a failed mil­i­tary coup last sum­mer. The new con­sti­tu­tion, which will take full ef­fect in 2019, could al­low him to re­main pres­i­dent un­til at least 2029, with only weak par­lia­men­tary checks and a ju­di­ciary he could shape with his own ap­point­ments.

Turkey, how­ever, has not yet reached the state of Egypt or Rus­sia, where elec­tions are grossly rigged and most op­po­si­tion has been crushed. Even Kur­dish towns that have been as­saulted by the mil­i­tary in the name of de­feat­ing ter­ror­ists turned out to vote against Er­do­gan, as did the large sec­u­lar pop­u­la­tions of Is­tan­bul, Ankara and Izmir. Pre­lim­i­nary re­sults showed 48.7 per­cent of the coun­try voted against the con­sti­tu­tion de­spite a one-sided cam­paign in which op­po­si­tion voices were sup­pressed. A con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion by elec­tion au­thor­i­ties to ac­cept bal­lots that lacked of­fi­cial stamps may have saved Er­do­gan from de­feat, but at the price of fur­ther un­der­min­ing his le­git­i­macy.

Er­do­gan would be wise to try to defuse some of the op­po­si­tion by reach­ing out to op­po­nents, as Western gov­ern­ments urged him to do. Un­til 2015 he pur­sued a peace set­tle­ment with the mil­i­tant Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Party; some ob­servers think he may re­turn to it. But Er­do­gan’s his­tory over 14 years in of­fice has re­flected an in­creas­ing hunger for power, matched by a grow­ing in­tol­er­ance of crit­i­cism. If that trend con­tin­ues, Turkey will face re­lent­less do­mes­tic strife.

All of this poses a dilemma for the United States and other NATO na­tions, which badly need Turkey as an an­chor of the al­liance on the bor­ders of the Mid­dle East but can­not eas­ily coun­te­nance its drift to­ward dic­ta­tor­ship. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion awk­wardly re­flected this ten­sion Mon­day as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump called Er­do­gan to of­fer con­grat­u­la­tions and dis­cuss Syria even as the State Depart­ment gin­gerly ad­dressed the elec­tion ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties and urged the gov­ern­ment to “pro­tect the fun­da­men­tal rights and free­doms of all its cit­i­zens.” In the near term, Western lead­ers can­not af­ford to break with Er­do­gan, but they must do their best to push him to­ward end­ing his do­mes­tic re­pres­sion. The mil­lions of Turks who still seek to pre­serve democ­racy and civil lib­er­ties will need al­lies, too.

To be sure, the Turk­ish pres­i­dent sounded de­fi­ant in the wake of his vic­tory, dis­miss­ing Western crit­ics for their “cru­sader men­tal­ity.”

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