After a surprisingly close race, President Recep Erdogan of Turkey declared victory in the 2018 presidential election. Anxiously eager to calm critics of the regime he declared in his victory speech:
“With a voter participation of near 90 percent, Turkey has taught the world a lesson in democracy. I hope no-one will try to cast a shadow over the results and harm democracy in an attempt to hide their own flaws”
Both the opposition and international observers are concerned about the legitimacy of the election. Only a week before the election, polls showed a much tighter race between Erdogan and his main rival Muharrem Ince. However, with a sudden surge in popularity at the voting booths, Erdogan was able to secure a majority, thereby avoiding a second election round.
Ince secured around 30% of the vote, which is surprisingly high considering that almost no airtime was given to any Erdogan rival on state television. By Western standards, Turkey is not a proper democracy although the regime is trying very hard to give that impression.
The Kurdish joker
Erdogan did better in the presidential election than his party did in the parallel parliamentary election. However, much of the excitement was focused on whether the Kurdish party HDP would achieve 10%, which is the cutoff for congressional representation: they finished just shy of 8%.
The Kurds have been fighting for independence from Turkey for decades which has been a source of civil war and unrest.
To most casual observers, Turkey is a remote Middle Eastern Islamic country of no concern to them. However, few know that Turkey is partly in Europe and was once the seat of Christianity and Western civilization.
Christian Turkey, known as the Byzantine Empire, was taken over by the Muslim Ottoman Turks in 1453. As late as the mid-19th century, nearly half of the population was Christian, but this steadily declined under Islamic rule.
During World War I, the final purge of Christians began with the Armenian genocide (about 1.5 million killed) and the Greek genocide (450-750,000 deaths). Today, less than 1% of Turkey is Christian.
In reaction to the horrors during World War I, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded modern-day Turkey as a secular state with the military as the protector of the secular constitution. The liberal secular state enjoyed massive popular support in the cities.
Gradually though, the religious provincial people demographically replaced the liberal supporters of the secular state. Those who support the authoritarian Islamic Erdogan belong to this religious voter base, whereas those who voted for Ince, mainly live in the cities.
Thus, even though the popular support for Erdogan has eroded, he has demographics on his side.
Turkey provides a wealth of lessons for anyone who cares to listen. Do not assume that your nation is invulnerable just because it is strong. Pay attention to demographics, because in the long run, elections tend to be determined more by immigration and birth rates than by arguments.