The prime minister governs a polarised nation, its vulnerable social fabric torn apart – and some of the people are angry.
Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, passed a very critical test on Sunday with a sweeping victory in the municipal elections, which were really about the country's political direction and existential choice.
If the results were seen as sort of a dress rehearsal for next year's general elections, the Justice and Development party (AKP), which has ruled the country for 12 years, proves once more that it still lacks a formidable foe, and feels even more encouraged to enhance its power.
But this election went beyond a party test; it was about whether or not Erdogan's constantly toughening administrative policies, his moves to erode the separation of powers and curb basic freedoms, and his fierce battle for survival has mass approval.
It does. More than 45% of the voters said yes, higher than most predictions. Erdogan constructed his survival strategy with a simple calculation: would the middle class and those below, to which his party presented a prosperity no other predecessor managed, give up what they see as economic gains? Would they choose to abandon stability by shifting to two other parties who were not at all convincing?
The AKP segment showed loyalty and sent a clear message: it does not care as much about freedom, internet bans, de facto suspension of the rule of law, defiance of the corruption investigations, intolerance to all dissent, and violence against those who want to exercise their right to demonstrate. Voters shrugged en masse and collectively signalled that the journey ahead for this fully fledged democracy was doomed to pass over a dense minefield. The result also displayed the resistance of patriarchalism and the approval for nepotism and cronyism.
For all those who thought the worst outcome was a strong vote for Erdogan, who won both the Ankara and Istanbul mayoral races, the last straw was the family snapshot on the balcony of the AKP headquarters late on 30 March. A self-confident prime minister saluted the crowds together with family members, some of whom figured in the leaked audio recording of officials discussing possible military action in Syria. Also present were some ministers implicated in the corruption probe.
It was as if Erdogan stood ready to use the powerful vote to proceed to a model favoured in some central Asian republics. Without a doubt, this is a nightmarish prospect for all those who voted differently. The votes that went to opposition parties in key cities were based on a notion of a referendum, endorsed by Erdogan himself, that the local elections were also a dress rehearsal for the presidential elections due in August this year. If the prime minister has a 50% barrier to pass, as he will in thepolls in August, he should be disappointed.
In this context, he has unleashed a debate about whether or not he is legitimate. His critics have already declared that he has lost, or more realistically, that he has won a pyrrhic victory.
Erdogan will continue to face immense pressure to abide by the rule of law, and accept that he, his family and some ministers must be made accountable sooner rather than later. But if his actions since the demonstrations in Gezi Park and the 17 December graft probe are anything to go by, we should be extremely worried.
Erdogan's way has torn apart Turkey's vulnerable social fabric; society is more polarised than ever with a level of hostility that slowly turns it into a powder keg.
Erdogan clearly forgot his pledge in 2007 that he "would be a uniting force for the nation". As of 31 March, Turkey is divided into not two but three camps, more remote from each other. Kurdish voters solidified further the PKK's political line in mainly Kurdish provinces, de facto closing in on a self-rule, with or without any peace negotiations. The lack of any consensus-building means the Kurdish issue now proceeds on its own, without a supportive legal basis. This should ring serious alarm bells because it means the second camp, the Turkish voters against the AKP, will remain to be convinced, increasingly furious.
Erdogan may have come out as a winner, but he will find Turkey much less governable than before. He should have given serious thought as to why Miguel de Unamuno, the great Basque existentialist philosopher, told the Falangist general Milan Astray in a heated meeting in 1936, "Venceréis, pero no convenceréis" – you may win, but you will not convince.
This election should be taken as the first round of three. Turkey may end up lucky: if Erdogan pushes the boundaries of people's patience too far, voters have the chance to reconsider – two more times.
Originally published: www.theguardian.com
Yavuz Baydar is one of the founding members of Platform24 (P24), an initiative to support media independence in Turkey (P24 is a close partner of www.mymedia.org.ua).