Turkey’s Democratic Push Toward Dictatorship

Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has likely cemented his control over Turkey for the next decade by cruising to victory in Sunday’s parliamentary and presidential elections. The victory culminates a 15-year transformation of Turkish politics, overseen and largely orchestrated by Erdoğan himself.

What does Erdoğan’s victory say about the state of Turkish democracy as well as the state of the world at large?

Sunday’s election was the first time that Turks went to the polls since constitutional changes were made last year.

While the constitutional reforms narrowly passed the 2017 referendum, Sunday’s vote to install Erdoğan as president, with all the powers granted by that referendum, was far more emphatic.

Erdoğan won the presidential election with 52.4 percent of the vote. His nearest challenger received 30.6 percent of the vote.

Given that a whopping 88 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the election, this means that 13 million more Turks voted for Erdoğan than the nearest contender.

While not all elections are free and fair in Turkey—and indeed, controlling the national press on the lead-up to an election can certainly tilt the scales—the fact remains that a majority of Turks want Erdoğan as their leader.

Now new executive powers will be transferred to Erdoğan as a result of a 2017 change in the Constitution, which he pushed, making Turkey an executive presidency. Erdoğan will be able to run for possibly two more terms, likely extending his rule to 2029.

The tandem of parliamentary control combined with the new presidential powers gives the president unmatched power in the modern era of Turkey.

And it all happened rather democratically.

As Erdoğan himself said in his acceptance speech, “Turkey has given a lesson in democracy to the entire world.”

I don’t want to carpet over Erdoğan’s human-rights abuses and the silencing of dissent that has characterized his rule. In the two years since the failed coup attempt to remove him from power, Erdoğan has jailed around 160,000 people who, he says, were complicit in the attempt.

Nevertheless, the Turkish strongman is popular for a number of reasons.

Many in the population favor Erdoğan because he believes in more acknowledgement and integration of Islam into the national dialogue.

While modern Turkey was founded on the separation of Islam from politics, Erdoğan has gradually pushed Islam back into the limelight beginning with his time as mayor of Istanbul, when he called himself the imam of Istanbul.

Given that about 95 percent of Turks are Muslim, this resonates with many in the population.

We have frequently reported on this return of a version of political Islam in Turkey. With Erdoğan’s reelection, we believe this trend will continue.

However, it is more than just Erdoğan’s Islamist leanings that garnered the votes.

The president has framed the narrative that it is in these uncertain times that a strong leader, capable of acting decisively without the constraints of a large bureaucracy, is just what Turkey needs.

And the people of Turkey agree with him.

This transformation in Turkey is not a rare fluke. As Trumpet managing editor Joel Hilliker recently wrote:

It is part of a trend that is affecting other major nations. For nearly two centuries, democratic, free societies—led by the British Empire and the United States—have flourished. But modern, sophisticated, wealthy and well-armed nations are now reverting to authoritarianism.

In Asia, Vladimir Putin is dominating Russia, Xi Jinping is dominating China, Shinzō Abe is reviving militarism and nationalism in Japan, and Rodrigo Duterte is bluntly, unapologetically and vulgarly scorning the rule of law in the Philippines. In Europe, record numbers of voters are electing nationalists: Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Sebastian Kurz in Austria, Andrej Babiš in the Czech Republic. In the Middle East, the flash of optimism during the Arab Spring is over, and the region has emerged even less democratic and free—ruled by autocrats, riven by tribalism and violent turf wars.

By several measures, looked at globally, the power of governments and individual leaders is growing, and the freedoms of people are eroding. People are recognizing that the world is getting more aggressive and more dangerous. People are looking for security and protection. And strongmen are promising to provide it.

In Turkey, that man is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

What just happened in Turkey is simply another indicator of this global trend.

And he now has more power than any leader since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

If you would like to learn more about this global movement, and how it falls precisely in line with the Bible’s description of the state of the world in our time, please read the January issue of the Philadelphia Trumpet. In this special report, we cover region after region of the world to show how the trend toward nationalistic strongmen is dominating global politics. Again, please download or request the January 2018 Trumpet.