According to the official results, the coalition led by the ruling AKP has secured a parliamentary majority, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan remains president following the first ever simultaneous parliamentary and presidential election on June 24. Below are some takeaways from Turkey’s historic election:
- Erdoğan was not built in a day, and neither will be Ince. Erdoğan was elected mayor of Istanbul in 1994 and undertook many practical reforms involving infrastructural improvements. He bided his time until 2002, when he led the AKP to power. Under his mayoral watch, the municipal water system was improved, metro lines were built, trash was picked up regularly, and a political machine was built slowly thanks to the support of small business owners and conservative migrants from Anatolia. Whether these improvements were truly the result of Erdoğan’s policies remains contested, but they helped to build Erdoğan’s image as someone who gets things done. On the other hand, Muharrem Ince has enjoyed somewhat of a late rise to prominence. His story, a former physics teacher turned politician, presented him as anything but elitist or part of the establishment (though he has been a parliamentarian since 2002). For Ince, the difficulty was to build name recognition and a reputation as an executive, who reliably delivers on promises, in three months of campaigning.
- Safety first.Turks, especially those over the age of 40, remember all too clearly the instability an upheaval between the hanging of Adnan Menderes in 1960 and the soft coup of 1997. Thus, when someone comes along and provides relative stability for 16 years, voters are not willing to cast that aside for a fresh face, because such shakeup might end up creating a devastating earthquake. In conversations, AKP supporters often quoted past darker days – breadlines, few business opportunities, poor infrastructure, etc. – as reasons why, despite not having been the reality for more than two decades, they supported Erdoğan and the AKP again this time.
- Winning social media doesn’t mean winning elections. Many of Muharrem’s tweets garnered vast numbers of likes and retweets in a matter of hours. He dominated social media and his support seemed overwhelming compared to Erdoğan’s. But the amcas (uncles) who live in Anatolia hang out in traditional teahouses, not on Twitter. Turkey’s dozens of TV news channels remain the main source of news for most of this demographic. Roughly 90 percent of these are controlled by the ruling AKP party, which means pro-government messages, especially in those gazeteler, which are written in simpler language, have been ubiquitous.
- Neither do rallies. Perhaps as many as one million supporters turned out for Muharrem Ince’s last rally in the Maltepe district of Istanbul. This rally not only provided impressive images, but dovetailed with the narrative of an opposition giving Erdoğan a run for his money. However impressive the mobilization of Ince supporters, it was just that. The ones in attendance were the most ardent supporters energized by their bombastic, charismatic candidate rather than the curious, on-the-fence voters who were ready to be convinced. The largely silent majority had already made up their minds, and voted for Erdoğan and the AKP once more.
- Minorities retain their voice. HDP, the left-wing party often accused of being PKK sympathizers, again cleared the 10 percent minimum threshold required in Turkish parliamentary voting to have representation in the legislative body, despite their leader, Selahattin Demirtaş, remaining in prison on dubious charges. Had HDP not cleared the 10 percent mark nationwide, the AKP, as the second place party in most of the provinces that HDP won, would have received nearly all the parliamentarians awarded to HDP (67), further boosting AKP representation.
- The aftermath is peaceful. After the election’s results became known, no shots have been fired and no mass protests have taken place, which might have given pretext for further authoritarian crackdowns. While many people are upset and have taken to venting on social media, and, there were initial reports about some irregularities at the voting booths, Muharrem Ince made a statement following the election that he accepts the results. As bitterly disappointing as his supporters might be, unfortunately, mass protests would likely have much more bitter consequences for the opposition than accepting the reelection of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for now and continuing to contest his power peacefully.
It probably will take major mismanagement of the nation – likely a major economic crisis – to upend Erdogan. Bill Clinton was called the Teflon president, because no accusations could “stick.” Erdoğan has withstood purported wire taps, bombings of peaceful protests, fighting with the PKK, and, a shaky economy, with nothing “sticking” in terms of substantially undermining his support. In a hybrid authoritarian regime that’s becoming increasingly so, it will take something quite monumental to loosen Erdogan’s grip on power. As last Sunday’s elections reveal, roughly half of Turkey continue to place their confidence in him and his party.