Washington Watch: Bad news for Erdogan is good news

Turkey’s steady march of the past dozen years toward an authoritarian Islamist regime ran into a wall of voters who want a return to secular democracy.

The sun sets over the Ottoman-era Suleymaniye mosque in Istanbul (photo credit: REUTERS)
The sun sets over the Ottoman-era Suleymaniye mosque in Istanbul
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Turkey’s steady march of the past dozen years toward an authoritarian Islamist regime ran into a wall of voters who want a return to secular democracy.
It’s too early to tell whether they’ll succeed, but Sunday’s vote dealt a serious setback to the Putinesque ambitions of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to rewrite the country’s constitution to give him virtually dictatorial powers.
He needed to boost his Islamic Justice and Development (AKP) party’s majority to two thirds of the 550-seat parliament or Grand National Assembly, but wound up with only 41 percent.
AKP is still the largest party but it will need to form a minority government or go into coalition with one of the other three parties. Turkish media report the others have ruled out a coalition with AKP, but that doesn’t mean they can form one of their own. If no new government is formed in 45 days there could be new elections, giving Erdogan another chance to regain his majority.
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Actually, Erdogan wasn’t supposed participate in the campaign in this election, but international election monitors said he consistently violated his constitutional oath of impartiality. Observers say his campaign tactics, including pressuring and intimidating media outlets and journalists critical of the government, turned the election into a referendum on Erdogan and contributed to AKP’s stinging defeat.
Erdogan was not on the ballot; he was elected to a fiveyear term in 2014.
Erdogan’s setback will be good for the United States and Israel even if doesn’t dampen his rabid anti-Semitism. If nothing else, it should halt and possibly reverse his drive to create a Turkish version of Iran, complete with Sharia law.
But don’t look for any change in his government’s attitude toward Israel as long as he is president.
Israeli journalist Ben-Dror Yemini wrote in Ynetnews.
com, “Erdogan, with his blatant anti-Semitic comments, succeeded in destroying a model which had been built over centuries. If Jews and Israel cannot live in peace with the leader of the only democratic Muslim country in the region – there is no chance that it will happen with other countries.”
Over the past 13 years he has taken the country from the modern, secular nation built by Mustafa Kamal Ataturk following World War I to the verge of an Iranian-style Islamic republic.
He was not only reshaping Turkey but also rewriting history. He claimed Muslims discovered America in 1178, about three centuries before Columbus, and built a mosque in Cuba.
His closest allies are Hamas, the Palestinian extremist group that the United States and Israel consider a terrorist organization, and the Muslim Brotherhood, banned by Egypt’s new government that overthrew Erdogan’s Brotherhood ally, Mohamed Morsi. He has given Hamas sanctuary in Turkey for its overseas operations, according to the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), providing the group diplomatic, financial and weapons support. His AKP has called Hamas “the legitimate government of the Palestinian people.”
Turkey, with the second largest army in NATO, is an increasingly unreliable ally. Erdogan’s relations with Western allies have deteriorated; they feel he is not doing enough to help in the war against Islamic State, including not allowing Turkish bases to be used for bombing missions.
His support for Islamist groups in Syria against the regime of his one-time friend Bashar Assad is blamed by many Turks for contributing to the rise of IS, which has reportedly been recruiting in Turkey and using it as a conduit for foreign fighters joining its forces in Syria and Iraq.
Many Turks feel Erdogan dragged the Syrian civil war into Turkish territory and are upset about the flood of refugees.
A big winner in Sunday’s election is the smallest and newest faction in parliament, the three-year-old Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). By passing the 10% threshold (it got 12%) it qualifies for the first time to sit in parliament. Its slate included women, gays, secularists, Kurds and other disaffected minorities, including some Muslims; its agenda was to curtail Erdogan’s power grabs.
Analysts said Turkish voters had Erdogan fatigue.
The country faced a sluggish economy, rising unemployment, restrictions on social media, arrests of AKP’s political opponents and offending journalists and a large corruption scandal encompassing many presidential allies.
One Turkish writer said voters had had enough of his “painting the opposition as terrorists, traitors and infidels, and throwing in Israel and the interest lobby and the big bad West.”
His intensely anti-Israel and anti-Semitic attitudes led Israel’s former president Shimon Peres to say, “Erdogan wanted to turn Turkey into Iran.”
The day before the election he launched another anti-Semitic attack. He charged “Jewish capital” was behind the attacks on him by The New York Times and The Guardian. A leading Turkish news outlet, Today’s Zaman, said the offending quote Erdogan cited “does not appear to exist.”
A Times editorial had accused him of being “increasingly hostile to truth-telling,” but what really seemed to set him off was a report – accurate – that he’d spent $615 million building himself a 1,150-room presidential palace, 30 times the size of the White House, in Ankara. He went ballistic and sued an opposition leader for saying the palace would have gold toilet fixtures.
“The anti-Semitism nurtured by Erdogan will not go away soon. But maybe, just maybe, it will start retreating, like the man who led it,” Ben-Dror Yemini wrote.