Turkey Elections: Erdogan And Rival Ince Face Off

Jun 24, 2018
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now to Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared victory in his re-election bid. If the results are confirmed, and he's taken more than half the vote, he will avoid a runoff. But Erdogan's party appears to be in danger of losing its outright majority in Parliament. NPR's Peter Kenyon has been following the vote from Istanbul.

Peter, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: Is this a surprise?

KENYON: Well, certainly no surprise that Erdogan got the most votes. I mean, after 15 years in power, he's still Turkey's dominant politician. But the opposition had hoped to keep him below 50 percent because if they could have done that, they would have set up a two-person runoff next month against the second-place vote-getter, a man named Muharrem Ince of the main secular opposition party.

But once these results - if they're certified by the Election Commission, Erdogan gets another five years in office. Now, he's already served longer than Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. That's the founder of the Turkish Republic. And, in his remarks tonight, Erdogan said, this victory is a victory for the nation. And he warned against anyone trying to dispute or, as he put it, cast shadows on these results.

MARTIN: Well, what about that? Is the opposition accepting the results?

KENYON: Well, the opposition has been disputing a lot about this vote, including the number of votes that were counted. The spokesman for Ince's party said millions of ballots were still to be added to the totals. So some of that remains a bit of a confusion at the moment. If past votes are any guide, we can expect demonstrations. And it was a tough race for the opposition. One candidate, Selahattin Demirtas from a pro-Kurdish party - he had to run from a jail cell. The government says the vote was perfectly free, fair and secure, but there's a lot of suspicion about that among the opposition. And so we'll have to see how that plays out.

MARTIN: Now, this election marks the start of a new presidential system in Turkey that will give more power to the president. Can you tell us more about that?

KENYON: Yeah, that's right. Erdogan gains the executive powers that have been held by the prime minister. The prime minister job just goes away. The current prime minister hopes he'll be named the vice president. Erdogan's new powers are going to include the ability to do things like rule by decree, dissolve parliament. Supporters say this will be a more efficient, workable government with Erdogan freer to enact his agenda. Critics say this pushes Turkey closer to one-man rule, and they had been promising to overturn this new presidential system if they came to power.

MARTIN: Yeah. But we also mentioned that Erdogan's ruling party could lose its outright majority in parliament. What does that mean?

KENYON: Well, that is the only disappointment on the night for the ruling AK party in these elections. They're not a big fan of coalition governments, but it looks like they did not get the 301-seat majority they need to rule on their own. Now, as a practical matter, they ran as part of an alliance with a nationalist party known as the MHP. And, if they form a government together, then they would have a pretty comfortable majority.

Now, whether that coalition would be quite as supportive of Erdogan's agenda is something we'd have to watch. But the good news for Erdogan is he was spared the problem of having to face a parliament actually led by the opposition.

MARTIN: So, Peter, before we let you go, what is Erdogan likely to do in his new term?

KENYON: Well, I think he'll be quite busy. Many people will be watching to see if he makes good on one particular campaign promise, and that's lifting the state of emergency that's been in place here since a failed coup in 2016. Tens of thousands of people face charges, 150,000 lost their jobs. And other people wonder if Erdogan will begin thinking about his legacy. He's wanted to be in charge through 2023, the centenary of the Republic, and now he will be if he serves out this next term. Megaprojects are probably in the offing. But, as things stand, this might not even be the end. In five years, we could be seeing Erdogan standing for re-election again for another five-year term.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Peter, thank you.

KENYON: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.