Erdogan hails new era for Turkey as opposition vows to fight 'one-man rule'

President promises domestic reforms and more military action in Syria after winning new term

Kim Sengupta
Istanbul
Monday 25 June 2018 17:02
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President Erdogan’s supporters celebrate outside AKP headquarters
President Erdogan’s supporters celebrate outside AKP headquarters

The first day of Turkey’s new future under an imperial presidency began with a nation deeply divided and a triumphant Recep Tayyip Erdogan describing plans for social and economic measures at home and a forceful foreign policy abroad.

Mr Erdogan, who will have unprecedented power as head of state under a new constitution, offered little by way of reconciliation to his opponents who had been left dismayed and dejected after failing in the election, despite running a spirited campaign which had brought forecasts of them gaining control over parliament and forcing a second round run-off for the presidency.

The main rival candidate to Mr Erdogan, Muharrem Ince of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), who had refused to concede defeat until Monday morning, deplored the “unjust” conditions imposed on the polls which had been “stained with blood”. He warned that the country was entering a dangerous period of one-man rule which has “severed ties with democratic values”.

Mr Ince dismissed rumours sweeping social media that he had been coerced into accepting defeat, rumours partly fuelled by his absence from the public eye since mid-evening on the day of the poll.

Drawing 31 per cent of the votes, compared to Mr Erdogan’s 52.5 per cent, Mr Ince could offer little more than a vow to continue the struggle in a democratic opposition and urge the president to be an inclusive leader of all the people, not just those who had supported him.

International election observers criticised the “uneven” playing field for the campaign pointing out that there was saturation media coverage of Mr Erdogan while the opposition was effectively barred from the airwaves. An existing state of emergency, they stressed, also limited freedom of expression and assembly for political parties.

The delegation from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) complained that some monitors were obstructed in carrying out their work. Ignacio Sanchez Amor, the group’s special coordinator, said it was “utterly unacceptable” that two members of the team were denied entry into the country.

Mr Erdogan described the election process as “an example to the rest of the world”. In his victory speech he returned to a recurring theme in his campaign: that he was the leader to stand up for Turkey against western powers. “We never bow down in front of anyone except God, you have given a lesson to those who want for Turkey to kneel,” he told his cheering followers. “We will fight even more with the strength you provided us with this election.”

Foreign interference and sabotage had been blamed by Mr Erdogan and his supporters for a range of the country’s ills, including the plummeting national currency, the Lira. The president, who had said he would play a key role in forming economic policy in his new administration, declared that vast infrastructure developments being undertaken will lead to massive boosts in employment and growth. The projects include Kanal Istanbul, a 45 kilometre channel linking the Black and Marmara seas and the airport to replace Istanbul’s Ataturk, provisionally named the New Istanbul Airport, but, it is claimed in local media, which may end up being called Erdogan Airport.

The conflicts against Kurdish militants home and abroad are set to continue, with new operations planned. The mission was to “fight terrorist organisations” and “to continue the fight to make Syrian grounds freer”, Mr Erdogan said. Fresh offensives are also expected to be launched against Kurdish fighters in the southeast of the country. “Our flag will flutter more freely, the peace of every citizen will be advanced,” the president said. “One nation, one flag, one country, one state.”

Recep Erdogan proclaimed winner of Turkey's presidential election

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) broke through the 10 per cent barrier in the elections and so will have a significant number of MPs in parliament. Nine of its newly elected MPs, including the leader, Selahattin Demirtas, have been imprisoned. The HDP gains were expected to make the opposition groups the majority in parliament, but Mr Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party did better than expected as did its allies, the far-right Nationalist Action Party who secured double the support polls had forecast. This means the ruling coalition will keep control.

The election wins keep 64-year-old Mr Erdogan in office until 2023, the centenary of the founding of the Turkish Republic. He can then, under the new constitution, run for another term as president, and one more if he were to call an early election. Thus allowing him to stay president, theoretically, until 2032, easily surpassing the tenure of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.

During the election campaign Mr Erdogan had mooted that the state of emergency, brought in following the failed coup blamed on exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, would be lifted. More than 50,000 people remain in prison and another 140,000 have been suspended or fired from their jobs.

The president has not given a timeframe for the easing of the punitive measures or any indication on whether they would be lifted totally. His new powers, in any event, allow him to impose draconian measures with minimal interference from the judiciary.

There were some among opposition supporters who would rather not wait to see whether there would be an outbreak of benevolence from the president after his victory.

Adem Bulent, a 20-year-old student and CHP supporter, said he has begun to explore whether he can finish his studies abroad. It was not just the defeat which disappointed him, but the way the political parties accepted it. “They talked about how unfair it was, they talked about vote rigging, then this happens against all the expectations, and then – nothing,” he said, waving his arms in exasperation. “I think the chance has come and gone, there is no point in pretending otherwise.”

The extent of the gloom felt by those who expected change was expressed by an academic staring into his coffee on Monday morning at a cafe in Istanbul’s fashionable Nisantasi district. Suleiman had stayed up most of the night in front of the television with the forlorn hope of the figures changing. “Just how bad was it? Well let’s say for us it was Trump and Brexit rolled into one, that’s how bad it was,” was his damning verdict.

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