Voters in Turkey call halt to Erdogan’s march

President’s hubris has brought Justice and Development Party to defeat in elections he believed would give him a super-majority he needed to turn Turkey into a US-style presidential republic

There is a Shakespearean quality to the hubris that drives Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – a "vaulting ambition that o'erleaps itself". Erdogan's drive and charisma propelled his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to power and to more than a decade of successful, largely popular government. Erdogan was a three-time prime minister in power since 2002, and his ambition to fashion a moderate Islamic counterpart to Europe's Christian democracy was seen as a model for a reconciliation of Islam and democracy. His pro-European, modernising instincts were expected to breathe new life into Turkish politics and its economy and remake Turkey as a regional power.

However his extravagant newly built, 1,000-room presidential palace has the whiff of an Emperor Bokassa or a Ceausescu. Increasing powers, authoritarianism and corrupt associations also betray a man whose Turkish vision has become more a vision about self, a paranoid self who sees conspiracies at every turn – in the power politics of the west, at home among Istanbul’s secular intellectuals, or in the supposed subversion of erstwhile ally Fethullah Gulen.

Erdogan's hubris has now brought the AKP to defeat in parliamentary elections that he confidently believed would give him the super-majority he needed to turn Turkey into a US-style presidential republic. The AKP, its vote down from 50 per cent in 2011 to 41, has lost its overall majority. Building a new coalition will be difficult, with some commentators predicting another election.

The uncertainty has triggered a sharp sell-off in shares, reviving for some memories of fractious, short-lived coalitions that battered the Turkish economy in the 1990s and triggered a string of army coups in the second half of the last century.


The secularist Republican People's Party remained the second biggest group in parliament with about a quarter of the vote. But it is ideologically opposed to the AKP and has ruled out any prospect of a coalition with it. So have both other major parties, the right-wing MHP, and Sunday's big winner, the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, which successfully embraced liberals, women and other opposition forces. The latter crossed a 10 per cent threshold to enter parliament for the first time and its charismatic co-leader, Selahattin Demirtas, insists the election has put an end to talk of the stronger presidential powers championed by Erdogan.

Is it also the beginning of the end of Erdogan's extrordinary sway over Turkish society and his own party? An end to what was virtually one-man rule, to voters being taken for granted? The results must also raise questions about the political future of prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who moved to that position from the foreign ministry last year and was seen as a loyal acolyte of Erdogan's.