When the ballot box is good (and when it’s bad)

When the ballot box is good (and when it’s bad)

Orson Wells was at least partly right when he said: “Popularity should be no scale for the election of politicians. If it would depend on popularity, Donald Duck and The Muppets would take seats in the Senate.” Unfortunately, we don’t yet have a better instrument for democracy than the ballot box.

It was briefly relieving that the man who designs Turkey’s foreign policy seems to be distracted from more noble and potentially less-damaging subjects than the rebuilding of an empire that collapsed a century ago, creating the emerging empire’s satellite states on the basis of Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas ideology, or “liberating Jerusalem.” Ahmet Davutoğlu recently stated that Turkey would open a center in Tanzania to protect albinos from being marginalized and oppressed. Protecting Tanzanian albinos from attacks sounds like a more attainable - and potentially less damaging - foreign policy goal.

But during his absence from the Turkish capital, his ministry was busy telling Europeans why their elections went wrong: “We are concerned at the increase in seats held by political parties [in the European Parliament elections] that are xenophobic, anti-immigration and critical of the EU project.”

So, when the Turks (or Egyptians) vote for the Islamists, it’s the “will of the nation,” but the European elections are worrying: Respect my elections, but I don’t like yours. But of course, the Foreign Ministry also “welcomed the election of Turkish-origin members to the European Parliament.” So only the votes for the Turks were the will of the nation. Nice.

Xenophobia could be a problem in Europe, but the country concerned by this should not be the one where, according to a poll, 82 percent of people have negative opinions of Christians and only 4 percent have positive opinions of Jews. (The most recent study by the Anti-Defamation League found 69 percent of Turks to be anti-Semitic vs. 56 percent in Iran).

Amusingly, it is the same country where the prime minister has just said that its membership in the European Union would serve as an antidote to racism and anti-Semitism in Europe. According to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, “The European Parliament elections have shown that Turkey’s long-expressed concerns about racism and increasing racist attacks in Europe are legitimate and correct.”

Mr. Erdoğan’s war on racism and anti-Semitism may look entertaining, but it is real. In a sense: We don’t like racism when it’s committed in Europe and especially against Muslims. But here in the Crescent and Star, it’s fine.

This is not the first time Mr. Erdoğan has defended and criticized ballot box results at the same time, depending on who wins and who loses.

Mr. Erdoğan’s man in Cairo, Mohamed Morsi, won only 25 percent of the national vote in Egypt’s presidential elections in 2012, in which voter turnout was 46 percent: A total of 11.5 percent of the electorate. Eleven point five percent! In the second round, Mr. Morsi was elected with 51.7 percent of the vote, on a turnout of 52 percent: A total of 26.88 percent of the electorate. That was enough to make the man a hero of democracy for Mr. Erdoğan.

Mr. Morsi’s undemocratic rule was undemocratically terminated by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi last July (in a “military takeover,” not a “coup,” as I remain loyal to the Foreign Ministry’s chosen language when it referred to the recent coup in Thailand), creating Mr. Erdoğan’s third regional nemesis after Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu. The Egyptians recently went to the ballot box to elect their president and Mr. al-Sisi won the elections by garnering 96.7 percent with a voter turnout of 47 percent. The EU declared the elections “legitimate,” probably to Mr. Erdoğan’s deep dislike.

 The turnout came very close to the polls that had elected Mr. Morsi as president. But support for the general was 45.6 percent of the nationwide vote, or 18.7 percent points higher than what Mr. Morsi got in 2012. The will of the nation? It depends on who is the winner and who is the loser.