Election Results Have Dire Consequences for Turkey

1103_Turkey Elections
Justice and Development Party supporters wave flags following their election victory as they listen to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (not pictured) at Ataturk airport in Istanbul on Tuesday. The AKP victory confirms not democracy but rather dictatorship, the author argues. Murad Sezer

This article first appeared on the American Enterprise Institute site.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan crowed triumphant after the Sunday election victory of his Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish acronym, AKP), but the rest of the world should mourn. The AKP victory confirms not democracy but rather dictatorship.

The election was a farce. In any election, AKP cheating gives it an extra 5 percent or so bonus. That figure, cited privately by Turkish politicians, diplomats and veteran Turkish journalists, takes into account stuffed ballots, lost ballot boxes from opposition-held areas, voter suppression and—in the November 1 election—enough registered dead people to make a corrupt Chicago politician blush.

Erdogan long ago became the Turkish equivalent of corrupt Russian leader Vladimir Putin, minus the polonium tea (at least until he gets his hands on some polonium). He has sworn "to raise a religious generation," and he will now succeed.

Now he seeks to change the constitution to confirm his position as sultan-in-chief. Some diplomats comfort themselves with the fact that Erdogan's new parliamentary majority falls short of that needed to simply impose constitutional change and even short of that needed to call a referendum.

These analysts make the mistake of assuming that Erdogan respects institutions or plays by the rules. He is within easy bribery of the additional 15 votes he needs for a referendum and can fix any ballot to conform to his desired results. It's just a matter of time.

So what next for Turkey?

Prolonged Kurdish Conflict

Erdogan first legitimized Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan by opening negotiations with him and then undercut the Kurdish peace process for his own short-term political gain. Suppressing the Kurdish vote also convinced many Kurds that they had no democratic outlet; it is hard to blame Kurds for concluding they have no choice but fight.

Regardless, time is on the Kurds' side. Erdogan once benefited from the high birth rates of his followers, but now it's the Kurds' turn. Demography is on their side. That the Turkish army is a shadow of its former self and that many Turks don't want to send their children to die needlessly fighting the Kurds underscore the inevitable.

Terrorism Sponsorship

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry may believe themselves sophisticated for denying the obvious, but Turkey is a state sponsor of terrorism. It has become Pakistan on the Mediterranean.

Erdogan supports the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), Hamas, jihadi terrorism in Sudan and, to some extent at least, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Boko Haram. Erdogan is an ideologue, and he will not hesitate to kill people to promote hatred and intolerance.

Turkey as Terrorism Victim

Every country that has sponsored Islamist terrorism ultimately has suffered blowback. Saudi Arabia did not crack down seriously on Al-Qaeda until Bin Laden's minions turned on their former benefactors in the years immediately following 9/11. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad transformed his country into an underground railroad for foreign fighters seeking to wage jihad in Iraq, never recognizing they could just as easily turn on him.

Turkey's support for the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda affiliates inside Syria will, in the long term, claim the lives of thousands inside Turkey. The recent bombings in Ankara and beheading in southeastern Turkey should send chills down the spine of anyone betting on Turkish stability.

Gender Segregation

The chief victims of Erdogan's strengthened rule will be women. Erdogan has made clear his view that women should have three babies, and he has called birth control "treason" and systematically excluded women from government service. He has even declared a war on Caesarean sections, as they deny God's will.

Further Erosion of Press Freedom

Erdogan despises the press. He has not only transformed Turkey into "the world's largest prison for journalists," but has been increasingly shameless in his efforts, seizing opposition newspapers and shutting down independent television stations midbroadcast.

Many journalists will retire or flee; others make moral compromise. Cengiz Çandar, for example, a columnist for Radikal and a veteran of both the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the U.S. Institute of Peace, went so far as to endorse the arrests of his fellow journalists.

Turkey has already fallen behind Russia in press freedom—no easy feat; it is well on its way to falling behind Iran. How low it can go is anyone's guess, as Erdogan even turns to punishing thought-crimes.

The Economic Bubble Will Burst

The Turkish economy is on borrowed time, and perhaps a covert Qatari line of credit. When the Turkish economy imploded in 2000 to 2001, Turks turned to Erdogan, who promised an end to corruption and a technocratic fix.

This time around, they will have nowhere to turn. To invest in Turkey is akin to investing in Russia: Expect to lose money. The question for the world is, What might Erdogan do to distract from the looming disaster?

Obama at first embraced Erdogan and then chose to ignore him. The new U.S. president will not have such a luxury.

He or she will have to answer some very basic questions about the U.S. approach to Turkey. It's time to plan for a world where Turkey is an adversary and a catalyst for regional instability, not a pillar upon which to rely.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. A former Pentagon official, his major research areas are the Middle East, Turkey, Iran and diplomacy.