Turkey election: Authoritarianism with a democratic face

Erdogan's convincing victory on Sunday has grave implications within Turkey and far beyond

In this photo taken late Sunday, June 24, 2018, a supporter of Turkey's President and ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, chants slogans during celebrations outside the party headquarters in Istanbul. According to unofficial results, Erdogan won 52.6 percent of the votes in the presidential race, avoiding a second-round runoff vote. His ruling Justice and Development Party garnered 42.5 percent of the parliamentary vote. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
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"A lesson in democracy for the rest of the world". It is with that triumphalism that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described Sunday's election, which saw him secure another five-year term and with it, sweeping new powers. But make no mistake: this is authoritarianism with a democratic face.

State media put Mr Erdogan's tally at 53 per cent, with 99 per cent of votes counted, while he will retain control over parliament in coalition with the nationalist MHP. Jubilant supporters of the belligerent president spilled onto the streets, waving Turkish flags and sounding their car horns.

Yet Mr Erdogan’s victory fails to reflect a hard-fought campaign characterised by a unified opposition and sparking concerns over the vote’s fairness. Indeed, there have been reports of violence and even ballot stuffing in the Kurdish-majority south east, while Kurdish candidate Selhattin Demirtas contested the election from his prison cell.

In addition, a member of television watchdog RTUK said on Friday that Mr Erdogan and his allies received 181 hours of air time on state news channels, compared with less than 16 hours for his opponents.

These tactics, employed in the name of democracy, are accompanied by a sense of foreboding.

Within Turkey, the result hands Mr Erdogan a host of new powers guaranteed by last year's referendum, which removed the post of prime minister and could keep Mr Erdogan in power until 2028. Sunday’s victory completes the largest constitutional overhaul since the founding of the modern Turkish republic in 1923, in which there is but one winner – Mr Erdogan.

Since a failed coup in July 2016, he has jailed more than 50,000 people and dismissed 107,000 civil servants from their posts. Now that his grip has tightened still further, he is likely to continue his crackdown on dissent at the expense of civil liberties.

Meanwhile, Mr Erdogan has vowed to intervene more in monetary policy, sparking fears for central bank independence. This year the Turkish lira has tanked while inflation and unemployment are lingering at around 11 per cent. Although Mr Erdogan has overseen impressive growth in recent years, his eccentric economic outlook might deter foreign investors, on whom the Turkish economy depends.

Mr Erdogan’s electoral victory also has significant and worrying implications for Turkey's foreign policy.

Declaring victory, a jubilant Mr Erdogan promised to continue to "liberate Syrian lands", following a recent unilateral offensive against Kurdish fighters in Afrin.

Turkey has dismayed international partners and Nato allies with its foreign excursions and its overtures to Russia and Iran, while its proposed purchase of a Russian S-400 missile system is incompatible with Nato's defence protocol.

Meanwhile, the country's decades-long attempt to join the European Union is looking increasingly implausible.

As Mr Erdogan's supporters celebrate, the prospect for his opposition seems increasingly gloomy. And the president himself, now imbued with a mandate for his slide into authoritarianism, looks more powerful than ever.