So much for Recep Tayyip Erdogan being beleaguered, as commentators have often styled the Turkish Prime Minister of late. At Sunday’s polls, the ruling Justice and Development party (AK) shrugged off high-profile corruption allegations and concerns about Mr Erdogan’s alarmingly authoritarian style to romp home with a thoroughly convincing 45 per cent of the vote. The main opposition, the Republican People’s Party, managed only a lacklustre 28 per cent.
The election may have been for municipal councils but it was also a referendum on the authority of Turkey’s longest-serving prime minister. Ahead of the ballot, there seemed a real possibility that Mr Erdogan might take a pasting. His government, his party and his family have all been implicated in a seemingly endless stream of allegations of dodgy dealings; in response he has fulminated against supposed plots, moved thousands of judges and police chiefs, and clamped down on the media. He even shut down Twitter and YouTube in an attempt to stem the leaks. Yet, despite all this, AK still dropped only five percentage points compared with the last general election, in 2011. Mr Erdogan’s traditional rural and blue-collar supporters are apparently not fazed by the past year’s upheavals.
No wonder yesterday’s victory speech was so triumphant. From the balcony of AK headquarters in Ankara, Mr Erdogan swore vengeance on his enemies (“We will enter their lair,” he colourfully promised). No less of a concern are the hints that he may either run for the presidency in August or, worse, rewrite the rules so that he can have an (unconstitutional) fourth term as prime minister.
All of which bodes badly for a country that was, until recently, the exemplar of the moderate, democratic, Muslim state. Between the internecine conflict tearing the government apart, the marked slow-down in economic growth, and waves of refugees and jihadists spilling over the border from the Syrian conflict, Turkey has to contend with some major challenges. Mr Erdogan may have passed last weekend’s test, but his antics have cost him his credibility. The last thing Turkey needs is more of the same.