First Turkish Elections for President: Driving Turkey Into A Ditch
Last Sunday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the long serving Turkish Prime Minister, led candidates in Turkey’s first ever election for President. Previously a ceremonial position, the Presidency will be Erdogan’s platform to consolidate power. Barred from a fourth term as Prime Minister, Erdogan will continue Turkey on a path to Islamic rule.
Not long ago, other nations looked at Turkey with envy. The eastern anchor of NATO, its economy was booming; membership in the EU seemed possible; it had a solid relationship with other Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. It scrupulously maintained a secular tradition, arising from the leadership of Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk), who built a modern nation to replace the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire.
Much has changed. Erdogan’s Turkey is departing from Ataturk’s vision. The economy is in a downward spiral. Islamists are on the rise and secularists are in retreat. EU membership is inconceivable. Old alliances are strained. The notion of Turkey as a secular bridge between the Islamic world and the West has been discredited.
It has been replaced by Erdogan’s apparent desire to create a new Ottoman Empire spanning the Balkans, Central Asia and the Middle East. He backed Morsi in Egypt. He supported radical Sunni rebels, including jihadists, in the war in Syria. He neutered the Turkish army, which was a stalwart defender of Ataturk traditions, and he greatly damaged his country’s long and mutually beneficial relationship with Israel.
Nonetheless, Erdogan did well in the election against a fragmented opposition. He is without rival the dominant political force in Turkey. Like Putin in Russia, Erdogan has manipulated his constitution to maintain a grip on power. Erdogan’s win is Turkey’s loss and further complicates American foreign policy in the region.