Turkey: The democratic path to autocracy?

Turkish head of state Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has won an absolute majority in the first round of the presidential election. However, his party lost its majority in parliament and must now rely on the far-right MHP for support. A number of media outlets comment on Turkey's special form of democracy.

Open/close all quotes
Al-Quds Al-Arabi (QA) /

The West is misjudging a lively democracy

Al-Quds Al-Arabi, a Palestinian daily based in London, is surprised not just by the president's clear victory but above all by the high turnout:

“The high voter turnout in Turkey, with levels Western democracies can only dream of, demonstrates that broad sections of the population support the constitutional amendments. ... It is lamentable that despite the lessons from these elections the majority of Western observers take a negative view of the Turkish experiment, choosing to ignore the facts. The question we must ask now is: Why does the West hate this lively democracy?”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

The club of authoritarian European leaders

Erdoğan is at the forefront of an anti-European trend, warns Jutarnji list:

“Erdoğan has distanced himself from the European norm but he is no longer alone in doing so. He is no longer a rare specimen of some poisonous, exotic platypus species amid tame ruminants, but the leader of a pack of authoritarian rulers like Viktor Orbán and ambitious young beasts like Matteo Salvini who are aggressively biting their way to the top. The key thing about this phenomenon is that none of them came to power through a coup but were all voted in by a democratic majority. Yes, this is democracy, but with corroded balancing mechanisms and a dictatorship of the majority. This explains why on election night Erdoğan quite rightly shouted: 'Long live democracy'.”

Phileleftheros (CY) /

Path to EU membership has been abandoned

With this election Turkey has cut itself off from the West, writes Phileleftheros:

“For some time now Erdoğan has been showing that his aim is not a secular but an Islamic Turkey. The elections on Sunday are the clearest indication so far of the transformation that the Turkish national identity has been undergoing. Islamic values are becoming integral to this identity. Turkey now belongs to the East, not to the West. This is why it has wandered off the path that leads to the European Union. ... Both sides have come across as trapped in a forced marriage of late. But even if they have never officially announced it, they are now going their separate ways. ”

The Irish Times (IE) /

Hard times for the opposition

Erdoğan's victory in the parliamentary elections and his new sweeping powers pose a challenge for democracy and those who want to stand up for it, warns the Irish Times in its editorial:

“Erdoğan has made himself immeasurably more powerful. Little wonder some call him a 'new Sultan' in the mould of the absolute rulers of the Ottoman empire. ...Turkey’s democrats face the fight of their lives. Erdoğan has long had an autocrat's instincts. Now he has an autocrat’s powers. The fear is that his efforts to close the space for free public debate is only beginning. His opponents' challenge is to work out how to make their voices heard in an increasingly authoritarian state.”

Wedomosti (RU) /

Erdoğan won't become a Turkish Putin

For all his power Erdoğan will have to take into account that his opponents enjoy considerable support, writes Vedomosti:

“A real opposition with a substantial voter base continues to exist in Turkey. And the traditional division of the country into the pro-European coastal region, the Kurdish south and the traditionalist central regions persists. ... Regardless of his success Erdoğan is not a 'Turkish Putin'. Even if he has now secured all the powers he desired, Erdoğan is unlikely to try to expand his personal power even further. He knows that this could provoke mass protests. Domestic policy will be moderate in this new term of office. And in his foreign policy Erdoğan will try to strike a balance between Russia and the US, for which Turkey, as Syria's neighbour and the largest country in the region, is important.”

Sabah (TR) /

AKP must learn from this election

In the Turkish elections on Sunday Erdoğan won 52.59 percent of the votes, his party the AKP, however, only won 42.59 percent. This should not be taken lightly, comments the regime-friendly Sabah.

“The rift between Erdoğan and the AKP cannot be allowed to widen. ... Otherwise the plan to weaken the AKP in order to strengthen Erdoğan for the 2019 municipal elections and beyond will become a permanent threat. ... This means that we should not regard the process of renewing the AKP, which started with the diagnosis of 'material fatigue' [as Erdoğan himself described the party's symptoms of tiredness], as a one-off step. ... We should not forget that aside from all the reforms, the AKP is still the only political institution that binds Kurdish citizens to Ankara and is capable of guaranteeing national unity and integrity.”

Ilta-Sanomat (FI) /

Promise of prosperity starting to wobble

The economy is President Erdoğan's Achilles heel, notes Ilta-Sanomat:

“The next big challenge comes from the debt-driven economy which, after a long boom period, is back in decline. The lira has dropped in value and inflation has reached double digits - the economy that supports more than 80 million inhabitants is on the brink of crisis. ... If there is an economic crisis the main message of the AKP, which is to bring prosperity to the people, will lose credibility. In a normal democracy that would cause problems for the leaders in parliament and mean defeat in the next elections, but Turkey is no normal democracy.”

Birgün (TR) /

An even tougher approach

The left-wing daily Birgün doesn't believe the situation in Turkey will improve now that the elections are over:

“An Erdoğan who was elected in the first round poses an even graver, more corrosive problem for Turkey in these difficult times. We shouldn't entertain any illusions: Erdoğan will continue as before - but with an even tougher approach. With perhaps one difference: from the balcony [from which the election victories are announced] he will talk about hatred and increasing pressure instead of democracy and tolerance. If he were to talk about democracy no one would believe him anyway.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Concentration of power

Turkey has been thrown back almost a hundred years, La Stampa laments:

“Erdoğan is now president and head of government. Binali Yıldırım, as he has already announced, will be the last prime minister in the history of modern Turkey. The president will appoint and dismiss ministers, form and disband governments and dissolve the parliament as he sees fit. ... The newspapers have already published infographics of the new institutional system: it resembles a Ptolemaic system, with the president at the centre, followed by other authorities directly under his control, including the judiciary, and finally, in an outer circle, the ministers. A concentration of power on this scale last existed under Sultan Mehmed VI, who was deposed in 1922 by Atatürk.”

The Daily Telegraph (GB) /

Erdoğan needn't worry about weakened AKP

According to the state-run agency Anadolu the AKP won 42.6 percent of the vote, considerably less than the 49.5 percent it won in the last election. But the president won't be overly concerned, The Daily Telegraph fears:

“A chastened President Erdoğan is hardly likely to change his style of rule. He has thrived on crisis. Many Turks’ desire for economic stability and less trouble on their borders with Syria and Iraq explains the surge in support for the opposition. It may not have toppled Mr Erdoğan but it indicates disenchantment which his dominance of the state and election system could not hide. If he is dependent for his majority in parliament on the nationalist MHP party .. he will be using its new, vastly enhanced powers from a much weaker parliamentary base.”

Tages-Anzeiger (CH) /

He who rules alone makes more mistakes

The election victory and the new presidential system will backfire on Erdoğan, the Tages-Anzeiger argues:

“Because in a system that lacks checks and balances or people are too afraid to tell the man in charge what they think, mistakes are made. Uncertainty will prevail, capital flight likewise, heads will go on rolling and the election result won't change any of this. The devaluation of the Turkish lira is not just self-inflicted, but political circumstances play a major role in people's trust in a currency. This has already pushed numerous companies to the brink of bankruptcy. And the state, too, has lived above its means, throwing money at the voters to keep them happy. This was an expensive electoral victory.”

tagesschau.de (DE) /

Don't abandon Turkey's democrats

Europe must show solidarity now, writes tagesschau.de:

“Europe must not forget that half of this nation wants a more democratic country. Europe must not lose its connection with this country. Many people here have fought for a more liberal Turkey. Now Europe should fight for them - not condemn them and, above all, not turn its back on them. Doing so makes an authoritarian regime even more authoritarian. Because we must not forget that there are plenty of people in Turkey who think democratically, live according to democratic values and hope that perhaps one day they will get their old Turkey back.”