Recep Tayyip Erdoğan tightens grip on power but leftist, pro-Kurdish HDP party passes 10% of vote share, enough to deny president a ‘supermajority’
Turkey’s strongman president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has tightened his grip on power decisively after his ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) swept back to single-party government with an unexpectedly convincing win in national elections.
The high-stakes vote, Turkey’s second in five months, took place in a climate of mounting tension and violence following an inconclusive June poll in which the conservative, Islamic-leaning AKP failed to secure an outright majority for the first time since coming to power in 2002.
The result could exacerbate divisions in a country deeply polarised along both ethnic and sectarian lines; Erdoğan is adored by supporters who hail him as a transformative figure who has modernised the country, but loathed by critics who see see him as an increasingly autocratic, even despotic leader.
In a statement, Erdoğan said the election result showed people chose and environment of stability and confidence.
But in characteristically pugnacious form in Istanbul on Monday, he also attacked the global media and its criticism of him.
“Is this your understanding of democracy?” he said. “Now a party with some 50% in Turkey has attained power … This should be respected by the whole world, but I have not seen such maturity.”
The AKP took just shy of 50% of the votes on Sunday, final but unofficial results showed, comfortably enough to control 316 of the 550 seats in parliament and form a government on its own, and a far higher margin of victory than even party insiders had expected.
The prime minister and AKP leader Ahmet Davutoğlu tweeted simply “Elhamdulillah,” or “Thanks be to God,” before emerging from his family home in the central Anatolian city of Konya to tell crowds of cheering supporters that the win was “a victory for our democracy, and our people”.
Describing the results as a disaster, the main secularist CHP opposition saw its share of the vote slip to 25.4%, 134 seats, while support for the nationalist MHP party fell sharply to 12% or 41 seats, compared to 80 in June’s election.
The leftist, pro-Kurdish HDP party gained a small crumb of comfort from passing the 10% threshold it needed to secure seats as a party in the new parliament – less than the 13% it scored in June, but enough to deny the AKP a so-called supermajority, the 330 MPs a ruling party needs to be able to call a referendum on changes to the country’s constitution.
A crowd of several thousand ecstatic supporters gathered outside the AKP headquarters in the capital, Ankara, to celebrate victory as resounding as it was unexpected, chanting Erdoğan’s name, waving Turkish and AKP flags, shouting “God is great,” distributing sweets and singing party songs.
“It’s hard for me to express my feelings because of my excitement,” said Unal Cakmak, a voter who arrived to celebrate. “AKP winning means a win for … the whole Middle East and the Muslim world. Erdoğan took Turkey 100 years forward and changed it for the better; he brought peace. We are fed up with Europe. Our leader is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.”
In the mainly Kurdish south-eastern city of Diyarbakır, however, violence erupted as AKP’s victory was confirmed, with Kurdish protesters setting fire to rubbish bins and throwing stones at police, who used water cannon to disperse the crowds.
Disappointment reigned in a small teahouse close to the party headquarters as a small crowd of men silently watched the election result being counted on television. “I can’t believe this,” said a retired teacher of 59. “I feel heartbroken. [The AKP] steal and kill, they put pressure on everyone, they muzzle the press, but they still win. I have lost faith in this democracy.”
A group of women who had stood watch at ballot boxes throughout the day expressed their anger. “We all knew they would win again,” said Hatice, 50. “Why else did Erdoğan insist despite everything on snap elections? Now we are afraid that the pressure will increase.”
Another was worried about the possibility that Erdoğan would now enjoy the uncritical backing of the European Union. “In the past, us Kurds put all our hopes into the help and the support of Europe. Who will stand by us if they abandon us now to stand only behind Erdogan?” asked Türkan, a 37-year-old housewife.
The AKP victory was a resounding vindication of Erdoğan’s snap election gamble, as well as his strategy of persuading Turkey’s 54 million voters that they faced a stark choice between “me, or chaos”. The party he founded in 2001 won over 3m more votes than it did in June.
The country is suffering some of its worst bloodshed in decades. Hundreds of people have been killed in renewed fighting between the security forces and rebels in the mainly Kurdish south-east, while two huge suicide bombings – apparently carried out by an Islamic State cell – claimed more than 130 lives at pro-Kurdish gatherings.
Turkey’s once booming economy has also slowed sharply, with the Turkish lira plummeting more than 25% to new lows in recent months.
Turkey’s western allies hope the poll will deliver the stability necessary for the country, currently hosting more than 2 million Syrian refugees, to play a critical role in helping to resolve Europe’s burgeoning migration crisis and combating Isis.
Both Erdoğan, 61, and Davutoğlu had urged voters to choose stability by handing the AKP a clear majority. The president’s many critics, however, saw a coalition with one of the main opposition parties as the best way to unite the divided country, and rein in what they see as his alarmingly authoritarian ambitions.
While he lacks the supermajority that would allow him to push through constitutional change, expanding his powers into a US-style executive presidency, Erdoğan will now be able to reassert his influence over parliament.
A series of high-profile pre-election raids against media groups considered hostile to the president and the jailing of several critical journalists were criticised both in and outside the country as an ugly sign of things to come.
His supporters, naturally, do not see things that way. “The world should realise the value of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the entire world,” said Hatice Tapan, an AKP voter in front of the party’s headquarters. “If only they knew him in person.”
Orhan Ozsari, another supporter, said: “Turkey today has decided to take charge of its fate and its future. We aren’t thinking just of Turkey but the whole world. Turkey fights for the oppressed. The world is full of cruelty and Turkey will change that.”
AKP voters said the win was a powerful response to the president’s critics, adding that they had confidence the AKP would be able to solve the country’s recent security problems, deal with terrorism, and secure Turkey’s role as a regional power.
Murat Savas, sporting a scarf bearing Erdoğan’s portrait, said he had backed the AKP “for Syria, for Palestine, for Egypt, for the little babies drowning in the Aegean sea”.
With around 385,000 police and gendarmes mobilised nationwide, voting at about 175,000 polling stations around the country was mostly peaceful, though police used pepper spray to break up fighting between AKP and HDP supporters in north-eastern Kocaeli province.
Erdoğan called the election after the HDP cleared the 10% threshold needed for parliamentary representation as a party for the first time in June, denying the AKP its majority, and Davutoğlu subsequently failed to form a coalition with any of the opposition parties.