In a stunning reversal of the June election results, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has >returned with an absolute majority in Turkey . With 49.4 per cent of the popular vote, the AKP has secured 316 seats in the 550-member Parliament, well past the 276 needed to form a government. More important, Mr. Erdogan is now closer to realising his ambition of rewriting the country’s Constitution so that his ceremonial presidency could be turned into an executive authority. Even though Mr. Erdogan was not in the electoral fray, the whole focus of the campaign was on the President. Despite his constitutional position that is supposed to be non-partisan, Mr. Erdogan was a regular presence in the campaign. His pitch was stability and security, which the AKP claimed only it could ensure. There were reports that Mr. Erdogan undermined efforts to build a coalition government with the support of smaller parties after the June election so that he could portray the AKP as the only option for a stable government. And he succeeded in making the case that the AKP should be given a stronger mandate.
Even if the >AKP has not got enough numbers to change the Constitution, Mr. Erdogan will remain the country’s most powerful political leader. But political victories cannot whitewash the damage done to Turkish democracy by his dictatorial tendencies, divisive politics and a foreign policy pinned on regional ambitions. As Prime Minister for 11 years, he not only imposed total control over the AKP, but also weakened institutions that could challenge his authority. Public criticism has not been tolerated. Newspapers have been brought under intense government pressure. The youth protests in Istanbul’s Gezi Park against the government were dealt with brutally. The period between the AKP’s June election defeat and the November victory is a case in point. Immediately after the electoral loss, Mr. Erdogan took a confrontational approach towards the Kurds. The peace process between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the government crumbled, while Mr. Erdogan often attacked the left-wing Kurdish political party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), as a proxy of the PKK. The bomb blasts and other violent incidents that occurred recently strengthened his narrative that Turkey needs strong hands to tackle its mounting security challenges — making it easier for the AKP to clinch the victory. The ball is now in Mr. Erdogan’s court. He can use the mandate to carve out more powers for himself, and thereby further damage the Turkish polity. He can also be mindful of the constitutional limits of the ceremonial presidency and guide the AKP-led government to strengthen democratic institutions and promote peace between the government and the rebels as well as different ethnic groups. The choice he makes will defineTurkey’s future.