Chilly Western reactions to Erdogan’s win

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan greets to his supporters during an election campaign rally of Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in Istanbul, Turkey, 23 June 2018. [Erdem Sahin/EPA/EFE]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan yesterday (26 June) celebrated winning sweeping new powers in a decisive election victory, as his main rival accepted the outcome despite complaints over an unequal campaign that alarmed the EU.

Asked by a journalist about the EU’s reaction, Commission chief spokesperson Margaritis Schinas said that there would be a separate assessment from the Council meeting in Luxembourg on the fairness of the election process, taking into account the observers’ reports.

International observers have highlighted among other things the unfair media environment in which Erdoğan’s AKP party obtained blanket coverage. One of the candidates for the election campaigned from prison.

“We hope under President Erdoğan’s leadership, Turkey will remain a committed partner for the European Union on major issues of common interest, such as migration, security, regional stability and fight against terrorism”, Schinas said. He didn’t mention Turkey’s status as candidate country to join the EU.

A statement by the EU’s diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini and enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn from Luxembourg echoed the assessment of the international observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

“As the election observation mission by OSCE/ODIHR assesses, the voters had a genuine choice, but the conditions for campaigning were not equal,” the joint statement said, referring to the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

“In addition, the restrictive legal framework and powers granted under the ongoing state of emergency restricted the freedoms of assembly and expression, including in the media.”

The EU has been critical of the massive crackdown launched by Erdoğan in the wake of a failed coup against him in 2016 which has seen tens of thousands of people arrested under a state of emergency.

In their statement, Mogherini and Hahn said Turkey “would benefit from urgently addressing key shortcomings regarding the rule of law and fundamental rights” and warned the new presidential system has “far reaching implications for Turkish democracy”.

The EU opened accession talks in Turkey in 2005 in a much better bilateral climate. Negotiations are at present stalled. The European Commission’s long-term budget proposal for the 2021-2027 period includes a Western Balkan Strategy for further enlargement, but omits Turkey, thus treating it as a neighbouring country rather than a candidate.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she looked forward to working with Turkey, especially with “a stable and pluralist Turkey in which democratic participation and rights are reinforced.”

Berlin’s ties with Erdoğan have been fraught but Merkel noted Turkey’s importance in solving Europe’s migration crisis and “a longstanding friendship”.

British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday congratulated Erdoğan and said she hoped the two countries could continue to work together on security, trade and the situation in Syria.

“The Prime Minister reiterated the importance of the bilateral relationship … and expressed her desire to continue working in partnership with President Erdoğan and his government on our shared priorities, including security cooperation, trade and investment, the situation in Syria and supporting a political settlement in Cyprus,” a statement said.

Cyprus, a former British colony where the UK has military bases, is a divided island since Turkey invaded its northern part in 1974. Only Turkey recognizes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, while there is broad recognition that the ongoing military presence constitutes occupation of territories that belong to the Republic of Cyprus.

Greece, a country whose military are under constant pressure from Turkish violations of Greek airspace, appeared to see at least one positive aspect from Erdoğan’ re-election. In an exclusive interview for EURACTIV, Greek foreign minister Nikos Kotzias said Athens hoped that after his victory, Erdoğan will be “less nervous”.

The United States greeted Erdoğan’s re-election with little enthusiasm yesterday, calling for measures to strengthen the country’s democracy.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said President Donald Trump had not yet found time to talk to Erdoğan, after a win that granted the Turkish leader sweeping new powers.

“We’re working to set up a call between the president and the president of Turkey to reaffirm our strong bond,” she said.

“We encourage Turkey to take steps to strengthen democracy and continue progress toward resolving issues in the bilateral relationship,” Sanders told reporters.

Washington and Ankara are long-standing NATO allies but relations have grown tense and Erdoğan and his supporters employed anti-American rhetoric during the campaign.

Turkey objects to US military support for the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria, and has demanded Washington extradite cleric Fethullah Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania and is accused by Ankara of fomenting a failed coup.

The United States, in turn, has called for the release of US citizens and mission employees held in Turkey’s jails on what US officials deem trumped up “terrorism” charges.

“We respect the decision of Turkish voters and look forward to a constructive relationship with President Erdoğan as we jointly confront common challenges,” the State Department said.

“We encourage all of Turkey’s elected representatives, including President Erdoğan, to represent the diverse views of all of Turkey’s citizens and to strengthen Turkey’s democracy.”

Contrasting reactions

In contrast, congratulations for Erdoğan flooded in from Turkey’s partners in the Islamic world and allies who also have tetchy relations with the West, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin who praised Erdoğan’s “great political authority”.

The Kremlin statement even noted the “mass support of the course conducted under his leadership”.

Others congratulating Erdoğan included Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Hungary’s nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Hamas chief Ismail Haniya.

According to results published by the state news agency Anadolu, Erdoğan won 52.6% of the vote, with his main contender Muharrem Ince from the secular CHP party on 30.6%.

Erdoğan, who enjoys sky-high support in parts of the Anatolian heart of the country, improved on his 51.8% score from 2014.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) candidate Selahattin Demirtas came third with 8.4% a performance all the more remarkable given he has been jailed since November 2016, on the charge that he has links to Kurdish militants .

With Turkey holding parliamentary and presidential elections on the same day for the first time, Erdoğan was also able to obtain an overall majority in parliament with the help of his allies from the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

The AKP won 295 seats in the 600 MP chamber but the MHP did far better than expected, winning 49 seats and giving their alliance a clear majority, according to results published by Anadolu.

The HDP easily broke through the 10% minimum vote threshold to pick up 67 seats, sparking wild celebrations in its Kurdish-majority stronghold of Diyarbakir.

In a tweet, Demirtas hailed a “great victory” despite suffering “the biggest injustice of the campaign”.

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