The Turkish Elections: A Pyrrhic Victory For Everyone

SANLIURFA, TURKEY - MARCH 9: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan greets the crowd during a local election rally organ
SANLIURFA, TURKEY - MARCH 9: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan greets the crowd during a local election rally organized by the Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Sanliurfa, Turkey, on March 9, 2014. (Photo by Kayhan Ozer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

ISTANBUL -- He started his "victory speech" on March 30 and ended it on March 31. Turkey's embattled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose image had been tarnished by riots at Istanbul's central Gezi park in the beginning of the summer of 2013 and who has weathered alleged corruption charges since the end of last year, used his great skills of oration to celebrate his election victory.

And the victory was really more his than that of his Justice and Development Party (AKP), which won the controversial local elections with a comfortable margin of support.

Turkey's electorate across the country, from west to east and north to south, gave 45 percent support to the AKP -- nearly 5 percent below the votes in the last parliamentary elections of 2011, but more than 6 percent compared to the last local elections of 2009.

The Turkish prime minister further rejoiced in not losing the two main urban centers, Istanbul and the capital city of Ankara, where the contest was very close.

The highly charged election campaign was more of a one-man show than a party effort. Since Erdogan's survival was at stake, the election results are thus considered a personal triumph for him. He, more or less, single-handedly won despite all the odds against him.


Therefore, he had much to celebrate. And, he did it very defiantly. He appeared at the long balcony of his party's headquarters around midnight before a delirious crowd waving flags and cheering under a sky lit bright with fireworks. Next to him stood his son, daughter and daughter-in-law who have been implicated in the corruption probe, and a former minister who was obliged to resign from his post because of corruption allegations. With this display of friends and family, Erdogan was signaling that the solid support he received from the Turkey's electorate means he, his families and allies ought to be absolved.

Moreover, his victory emboldened his bid for presidency. There is a widespread conviction now that Erdogan's presidential bid and nomination is likelier than ever.


However, irrespective of electorate's endorsement of his valiant resistance and the survival of his ambitions for the future, the road in front of him has not been totally cleared.

Despite the local election results, Turkey appears to be moving into an uncertain period as it will go to the ballot box twice, for the presidential election at the end of the summer and parliamentary elections next year.

This ceaseless election campaigning in a dangerously polarized country with very little space for reconciliation does not bode well for a comfortable and triumphant march for Erdogan to attain his aims.

As much as they were a victory for Erdogan,the latest local elections added to that polarization. Against Erdogan's 45 percent stands a dedicated 55 percent who opposed him and which might block his election chances for the presidency.

This suggests that the elections results are a "Pyrrhic victory for everyone." In a sense, Turkey as a whole has lost because it is so divided at home and, because of Erdogan's actions in the campaign, tarnished abroad.

This sense was captured in an article in the New York Times international edition titled "The Ottoman Revival is Over," which argued that, despite his victory at the polls, Erdogan has destroyed Turkey's international reputation.

The post-March 30 Turkey may not only be lost as an international player but may be a loser in terms of being, though imperfect, the sole democratic entity in a very turbulent neighborhood.


Tayyip Erdogan resorted to increasingly undemocratic means in order to tackle the challenges to his power. It led him to ban Twitter and YouTube, since they have been the main tools to disseminate the tape recordings that served as solid evidence of allegations over his wrongdoings.

Such bans put Turkey on par with countries like China, North Korea and Syria in terms of fighting the new globalist social media. His actions drew stern criticisms from democratic allies ranging from the European Union to the United States. Yet, Tayyip Erdogan will most probably see the election results as a vindication for these policies.

In the year ahead he will focus even more on domestic politics and will care less for international criticism over curtailing freedom of expression in order to consolidate his base further for the presidential election.

Though the Turks' voting patterns would need more research to bear this out, at first blush it appears Turkey's electorate displayed a typical Third-World characteristic: corruption scandals do not turn a base that benefits from those in power away from the governing party.

As a matter of fact, since Erdogan was not compelled by the election results to undertake a volte face, there is no reason for him to act now as a pioneer of democratic rights in Turkey. If he did not do so before the election, he will certainly not change course now.

The election results also indicate that since the other elements of Erdogan's strategy worked, he is not likely to change course in the two upcoming elections. That strategy consisted of creating tension between the countryside and the urban suburbs -- where his electoral base resides -- and the globally-linked urban metropolises and coastal zones, where his entrenched opposition lives.

Along with the external tensions created by Turkey's policy over Syria, the solid electoral based he has created by fomenting internal tensions has become Erdogan's main pillar of legitimacy. To shift back to a more open democratic discourse, replete which with transparency and accountability, would only undercut the consolidation of his position just ratified by the elections.

Yes, Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the elections. But that hardly means Turkey is now back on a democratic path.