THERE was something ominous about the percentage by which the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won his outright election victory this week. Commentators had been predicting that the man who has dominated politics in Turkey since 2002 might, at last, be about to be voted out of power. In the event, he secured a 52-per-cent majority.
That precise figure, you may recall, was the very same majority won in this country by those who wanted Britain to leave the European Union. Brexiteers are constantly telling us that “an overwhelming majority” of the British public voted Leave. It is rather an eccentric view of mathematics to interpret so marginal a majority as overwhelming.
The truth is that the kind of divisive politics which Brexit has spawned in this country, and which President Trump has brought to the United States, is what we are seeing at play in Turkey, a country whose behaviour is far more vital to British national interests than is often realised.
President Erdogan was ahead of the game when it came to divisiveness. Turkey is split down the middle between voters with a liberal pro-Western secular mindset and those who favour the conservative religious nationalism that the current President embodies.
The Erdogan era initially provided voters with improvements in everything from health care and roads to refuse-collection. But the strong economy that he built is now in crisis, with a plummeting currency, accelerating inflation. Turkish investors are sending their money abroad.
And his strongman regime has cracked down on opponents: 160,000 academics, lawyers, teachers, and journalists have been jailed for criticism of the man who is now a dictator in all but name. Now, he is to scrap the office of Prime Minister and arrogate to himself the power to appoint vice-presidents, ministers, and senior judges directly.
A broad coalition of opponents tried to unite against him. But they left it too late. Although President Erdogan now has only 41 per cent of the seats in parliament, he has made an alliance with a group of ultra-nationalists who are linked to right-wing paramilitaries and criminals. Turkey now faces the prospect of an extended period of one-man rule under a new constitution, which could keep him in power until 2028 — or even, if he calls another snap election, until 2032.
President Putin of Russia has welcomed his fellow strongman’s re-election, but the reaction of other countries has been, at best, ambivalent. Small wonder. His re-election will only re-embolden this dangerously unpredictable influence on the international scene.
Turkey is supposed to be an ally in the fight against Islamic jihadists, an important NATO partner, and a potential future member of the EU. Already, President Erdogan has announced that he will continue his policy of military incursions into Syria, Iraq, and Iran — under the guise of attacking Islamic State forces while really targeting Kurds who are struggling for independence.
In his election victory speech, he renewed his anti-EU rhetoric. And his response to moves by the US Senate to block sales of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey has been to buy advanced S-400 missiles from President Putin.
This victory, sadly, leaves the world a more unstable place.