Erdoğan Unexpectedly Wins Back Majority in Turkey

The veteran Turkish leader dumbfounds his opponents by retaking control of parliament.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan waves at supporters in Kırklareli, March 1, 2014
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan waves at supporters in Kırklareli, March 1, 2014 (AKP)

Turkey is set to return to single-party rule after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) won an unexpectedly strong mandate in Sunday’s election.

With nearly all the votes counted, the AKP was just shy of 50 percent support, the state broadcaster TRT reported: enough for an overall majority in the country’s 550-seat legislature.

The AKP quickly claimed victory while an official from the main opposition Republican People’s Party described the result as “simply a disaster.”

Erdoğan’s triumph defied preelection polls, which had predicted another hung parliament, and dumbfounded critics who struggled to believe that a majority of their countrymen could still support Erdoğan after months of upheaval.

The AKP lost its majority in June after more than a decade of absolute control. Erdoğan doomed subsequent coalition talks by demanding that the next government support his plan to make the presidency — nominally an apolitical post — more powerful. The three other parties that won seats, however, had run against the very proposal, seeing it as power grab that would weaken Turkey’s democracy.

The government also launched an assault on far-left and Kurdish “terrorists” — only some of them genuine — in the process exacerbating the divide between conservative AKP supporters and the rest of the country. The former are mainly ethic Turks and Sunni Muslims living outside the major coastal cities. The opposition includes Turkey’s pro-Western, secular elite, the Kurds and members of religious minorities.

Critics accused Erdoğan of deliberately stoking the flames of Turkey’s long ongoing civil war with the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in an attempt to depress support for the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP).

The HDP crossed the 10 percent election threshold for the first time in June. Together with stronger support for the far-right Nationalist Movement Party, this cost the AKP its majority.

The HDP has reported some two hundred attacks on its offices since the last election. 42 of its newly-elected mayors were either removed from office or arrested.

The government also moved and consolidated ballot boxes in the predominantly Kurdish southeast of the country in a brazen attempt to influence the outcome of the election on Sunday.

Turks elsewhere learned little of this. Two of the last remaining independent news channels were shut down just this week. Like the HDP, they were accused of ties with terrorists.

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