It’s hard to exaggerate the importance of Turkey’s election yesterday. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has run a one-man political show in Turkey for 13 years with his AK party dominating politics. It has now in the words of the BBC “has just taken a very big kick” and Turkey’s democracy will be the better for it.
While Turkey grew economically under Erdogan, he increasingly engaged in arbitrary measures, from curtailing judicial independence to trying to shut down social-media platforms like Twitter he didn’t like. He announced during the campaign he was hoping the AKP would win enough seats (367 are needed to change the constitution directly, 330 to call a referendum to change the system) to amend the constitution to give the job of president much more power.
Instead, Erdogan’s party lost almost ten percentage points, down to 41 percent. It will be 17 seats short of a majority in parliament, with a Kurdish-based party winning 80 seats and forming a strong third opposition party. It is the first time that Erdogan’s AK party has failed to win a majority in any national election since 2002.
Erdogan has acknowledged that he will either have to govern in coalition with another party or call early elections. Some elements of his own party may be privately happy the constitution won’t be changed. Just last month, I was in Istanbul when Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan expressed his concern over the deterioration of the rule of law in Turkey. He referred to Turkey when he told a conference:
Democracy can only survive with a solid legal system in place. A healthy democracy cannot be sustained in a state where you think “this country is democratic, but there are some problems with the rule of law.” If the rules are not clear and transparent, if they are not enforced on those who break the law, if the judiciary is not properly functioning, democracy will likely fail.
Babacan, who is widely seen as Turkey’s chief economic adviser, was able to speak out so boldly because term limits are forcing him to leave parliament. But enough voters apparently heard his message to make it possible to stop the arbitrary accumulation of power.