Recep Tayyip Erdoğan remains “Invictus” (Latin for unconquered or unbeatable). Once again he has come out on top after hotly contested elections, this time for the presidency. Nearly 52 percent voted for him in Turkey’s first direct election for president.
The result was a foregone conclusion but some will argue it is still less than Erdoğan and his supporters expected. There were times when these expectations soared as high as 60 percent. But the significant vote Erdoğan got cannot be belittled. An analysis of voting patterns shows, however, that Turkey is a divided country.
As in the March local elections, he did not win the more liberal and secular Aegean and Mediterranean coastline. His base remains in the conservative central and eastern Anatolian heartland, as well as the Black Sea
Had his victory been more of a patchwork rather than displaying this neat division his argument about being the elected leader of the nation would have been more credible. It is his political ambitions, however, which undermine this argument.
If his intention was to be a president within the framework of the current Constitution, there would be no problem. Just like Abdullah Gul, who was largely respected – even by people who did not vote for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) – Erdoğan would also be respected as the head of state.
The only difference would be that he was popularly elected, unlike previous presidents who were elected by Parliament. But Erdoğan has declared his intention to be more than just a head of state as foreseen by today’s Constitution. He wants to exercise powers that this Constitution does not grant him.
Erdoğan also wants to ensure that he in unencumbered when exercising these powers.
He is relying on the judiciary, which is largely under his control today, to help him fulfill this ambition. He also expects support from a media that has been brought largely under government control.
Meanwhile, the AKP remains strong in Parliament.
Most of all, however, Erdoğan will use his ballot box victory to legitimize the way he intends to rule. This is why he keeps referring to the “sanctity of the ballot box.” He remains a “majoritarian” and not a “pluralist.” Because of all of this he will not be accepted by many in Turkey as the “leader of the nation.”
He will be seen instead as the leader of only the 52 percent that elected him. The first statements from the opposition, after the results of the elections became clear on Sunday night, also show that he will continue to face harsh criticism from his political rivals and opponents.
Given his by now well-known angry demeanor he will no doubt respond in kind, blasting at his critics, whether they are in Parliament, in the media or abroad, which will also ensure that political tensions remain high.
Erdoğan’s populism, tinged with heavy doses of bellicosity and self-righteous fury, has always worked for him among Anatolia’s devout masses. It got him elected president this time. In other words he has “arrived at his station.” One would assume, therefore, that he does not need his acrimonious ways anymore.
But Erdoğan needs a Constitution that will allow him to provide what amounts to one-man rule in Turkey. This is why his mission will not be complete until the AKP gets enough votes in the next parliamentary elections so that he can tailor a Constitution to fit his needs. This means Turkey is in for more political acrimony and social unrest for the foreseeable future.
There is of course another possibility. Namely that Erdoğan decides to change his divisive ways to become a truly democratic leader who can genuinely unify the country and take it forward to new heights in economic and social terms.
This is the impression he tried to give in his victory speech on Sunday night. But not many people will be betting on that possibility today, having listened to too many such victory speeches by him in the past.