Is Tayyip Erdoğan turning into a Turkish Vladimir Putin?
For myself who watched Russian elections under Putin as a foreign correspondent in Moscow, and now being in the same position in Istanbul, this is an interesting comparison. So Tayyip Erdoğan received almost 50 percent of the vote. For Vladimir Putin, this seems to be a weak result given the grip of his Yedinaya-Rossiya-Party over the political system and the comprehensive control of the state and state-owned companies over nation-wide media. For Turkey however, a 50 percent home run after nine years in power is an unprecedented victory by a freely elected party. No Turkish party before could expand the number of voters in their third term by more than 5 million. Unlike in Russia, vote-rigging, manipulations and media control are not the explanation. Despite the alarming pressure on journalists and publishing houses in Turkey a couple of months ago, these elections were on the whole free and fair. So why did the conservative AKP increase its electorate by almost one third? In a poll published by the secular daily newspaper Hurriyet, 72.8 percent of AKP voters explained their decision with the services and improvements of public infrastructure under Tayyip Erdoğan. The state of the economy and public spending played an important role. It seems to be performance rather than authoritarian pressure which helped Erdoğan.
It is not only AKP which enlarged its electorate. In fact, all significant parties represented in the 2007 parliament are winners. The nationalist, secularist CHP jumped from 21 to 26 percent. The pro Kurdish BDP increased its electorate by almost 50 percent. The extreme nationalist MHP which Erdoğan attacked so ferociously to keep it out of parliament lost seats in the house but still got more votes than in 2007. This is definitely a result Vladimir Putin would have never allowed to happen. His “polit-tekhnologi,” a group of spin-doctors, had meticulously worked out a fitting party system to prevent such mishaps of political life. They designed all parties represented in the Russian Duma except for the Communist Party, which is – most ironically – the last genuine party in the Western sense of the word. Things do not always work out as planned by Putin’s technologists but in most cases they do. As a general rule it is fair to say that the opposition does not “win” in Putin’s Russia. Most opposition parties of the 1990s disappeared since the ascent of Vladimir Putin to power in 2000.
There is one detail which would never occur to Putin that did to Tayyip Erdoğan. Due to the delicate distribution system of seats in the Turkish parliament and the fact that the MHP made it over the 10 percent threshold, the actual number of AKP deputies will decrease. The mind-boggling fact is that the AKP has the highest number of votes and the smallest number of deputies in their history since 2002. Erdoğan clearly does not like this but he will have to put up with this fact of Turkish democracy. For the first time, he lost the decisive majority to bring into parliament an amendment to the constitution and push it through by a referendum. He still could do so in the referendum of September 2010. From now on he will have to compromise with at least one opposition party to alter the constitution. He will have to work very hard to win over at least six deputies from another party for his amendments and make sure that all of the AKP deputies stand firmly behind him (which they never did in similar situations in the past). For all of Erdoğan’s more or less clearly pronounced constitutional projects such as a presidential system or a new “democratic basic law,” the leader of Turkey’s 50 percent party will have to compromise with his political opponents. This is a concept very alien to Vladimir Putin. It is true that Tayyip Erdoğan sometimes sounds like the Russian leader. His rigid style and his intimidation of journalists and political opponents can be worrisome. But he does not need to pretend to be somebody else. Turkey is not Russia, and Erdoğan cannot be Vladimir Putin.