Is Turkey Still a Democracy? Erdogan Assumes Sweeping New Powers After Election Win

Turkey’s strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan has secured another term as the country’s president after winning a majority of votes in Sunday’s presidential election, according to Andalou Agency, the state-run news service of the Turkish government.

His main opponent—Muharrem Ince of the secularist Republican People's Party (CHP)—has  officially conceded, meaning Erdogan will assume the significantly expanded powers he narrowly secured in a referendum last year.

With 99 percent of the vote counted, Andalou Agency gave Erdogan 53 percent of the ballots, with Ince behind at 31 percent, despite enormous popular rallies and a seemingly galvanized opposition movement in the lead-up to election day. As results came in, Ince suggested that voting had not been conducted fairly. There were numerous allegations of electoral fraud and voter intimidation on Sunday, although turnout was high at 87 percent.

In a press conference on Monday, Ince said that although the election was not a fair race, he accepted the results.

RTS1TJOB Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets his supporters at the AKP headquarters in Ankara, Turkey on June 25. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Erdogan proudly addressed supporters from his Justice and Development Party's (AKP) headquarters in the capital city of Ankara early Monday morning, telling them: “The winner of this election is each and every individual among my 81 million citizens,” and lauding the “lessons in democracy” Turkey had given to the rest of the world. He added:  “I hope nobody will damage democracy by casting a shadow on this election and its results to hide their failure.”

Almost half the country voted against the new presidential powers Erdogan would now assume. The April 2017 referendum passed with a "Yes" vote of 51 percent, setting out a new level of presidential authority set to take hold after Sunday’s election.

The country’s parliamentary system will now become one focused on the office of the president. The post of the prime minister will be abolished, and its powers transferred to Erdogan, who will also have the ability to appoint senior judges, ministers and vice presidents, giving him full control of those who are tasked with checking his authority.

RTS1TASM A woman passes by an election poster of Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, Turkey, on June 23. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

The president will also be allowed to intervene freely in the legal system and impose states of emergency. A state of emergency remains in place, following a failed coup against Erdogan in July 2016 that resulted in the deaths of 240 people.

Erdogan became president in 2014 after 11 years as prime minister. The new constitution will—under certain conditions—allow Erdogan, who is 64, to run for a third term in 2023, potentially leaving him in power until 2028.

Critics say the new powers give too much authority to a single person and remove the checks and balances vital to ensure a balanced and representative democracy. But for Erdogan and his supporters, the new constitution is needed to secure economic growth and address security threats ranging from Kurdish insurgents to pro-coup opponents—about 40,000 of whom have been arrested and 120,000 fired from their jobs since the attempted coup.

20180625_Erdogan Erdogan will now serve a second term as president of Turkey. He previously served as the country's prime minister for 11 years. Statista

Erdogan also claimed the AKP had won a majority in the 600-seat chamber in a separate parliamentary vote. Andalou said the party had won 42 percent of the votes with 99 percent counted, projecting a total of 293 seats. Its partner party—the far-right Nationalist Movement Party—secured around 11 percent of the vote and 50 seats. Ince’s CHP was projected to win 23 percent of the vote and 146 seats.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) posted a strong showing, passing the 10 percent threshold required to enter parliament and securing 67 seats. This success came despite the fact that leader Selahattin Demirtas has been detained on terrorism charges for alleged links to Kurdish insurgents, accusations he denies. Demirtas received 8.4 percent of the presidential vote, according to Andalou Agency.

Erdogan exercised his tight grip on the country’s media in the run up to the vote, with coverage of him dwarfing that of his rivals. According to figures produced by opposition members of Turkey’s media watchdog in May, Andalou gave Erdogan 68 hours of airtime compared with  seven hours for Ince.

Updated | This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Muharrem Ince has conceded the election.