Erdogan returns

Turkey’s strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been serving as the president of the country since 2014, and before that was prime minister for a decade, has declared victory in the country’s hotly-contested presidential election. Mr Erdogan now has unprecedented amounts of power. His party, the Justice and Development Party or AKP, has a majority in the legislature, and Turkey’s laws have been changed to expand the executive power of the presidency. Following an abortive coup, Mr Erdogan held a controversial referendum last year to enshrine these changes in the country's constitution. He has also used the coup to root out those in the judiciary and civil society whom he saw as dissenters. Over 100,000 have been removed from government service and many have been jailed. In fact, Turkey is now the world’s largest jailer of journalists, according to watchdog groups. Turkey's army, once seen as the last line of defence against Islamisation of politics and society, has also been eviscerated under the same pretext.

These elections may have been free but few can argue they were fair. Turkey's media has been muzzled and a state of emergency prevails that minimises the ability of the Opposition to mobilise or propagate alternative views. In spite of that, Mr Erdogan won only 53 per cent of the vote, indicating that his position is not as strong as his powers would imply. The economy has tanked under Mr Erdogan, and his erratic statements about economic policy — and indeed about economic theory itself — have given investors pause. He has suggested that central bank independence may be curtailed, even as Turkey struggles with high inflation — the most recent data print suggested prices were rising at over 12 per cent annually, and the Turkish lira has hit record lows against the dollar. It is hard to see an economic recovery, even if that is what Mr Erdogan's voters have sought to ensure through his re-election. 

Turkey’s trajectory over the past two decades has been one of the great tragedies of this century. Since Kemal Ataturk, the great moderniser, seized power a century ago, it has been hoped that Turkey would serve as an exemplar of secularism in an predominantly Muslim society. Even Mr Erdogan's rise, although he was unapologetically Islamist in his political background, was initially hailed as indicating a place for “moderate” religiosity in public life. However, those early hopes, and Mr Erdogan's own claims to respect Turkey's unique constitutional balance, have been belied. The consequences for the rest of the Muslim world will be dire — it is no longer possible to argue using the Turkish example that prosperity, religion, democracy and secularism can be balanced. It is clear that the current penchant for democratically-elected strongmen across the world cannot be seen as being held in check by institutions or by historical precedents. Over time, they arrogate more power to themselves and hamstring those institutions that might hold them in check or permit fair elections. As the history of appeasement of Mr Erdogan shows, liberals might seek to compromise with such authoritarians — but it will not change their behaviour in the long run.

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