Turkey’s Erdogan – Friend or Foe to the West? Part 1

Repudiation of Democracy

In Turkey’s local elections on March 31, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost control of two major cities – Ankara and Istanbul – and won little more than 51 percent of the overall vote. Now, President Erdogan has ordered new elections in Istanbul and voters will go to the polls again on June 23.

Deputy Chairman Onursal Adiguzel of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), which won in both cities, said it appeared “illegal” for the election panel to annul the result, writing on Twitter, "This system that overrules the will of the people and disregards the law is neither democratic nor legitimate. This is plain dictatorship." The CHP won in the capital Ankara and Istanbul for the first time in 25 years, in a major setback for President Erdogan, who served as Istanbul's mayor in the 1990s. Ekrem Imamoglu was declared the winner and has taken up office as mayor of Istanbul.

Additionally, following a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the consequences of Turkey's plans to deploy the Russian S-400 missile defence system are worrying and NATO would want to avoid conditions where allies impose sanctions on one another.


European Parliament member and rapporteur Kati Piri said the decision to hold new elections had been made under pressure from Erdogan’s party, which alleged voting irregularities, saying, “Erdogan does not accept defeat and goes against the will of the people. This ends the credibility of democratic transition of power through elections in Turkey.” In November 2018, Ms. Piri submitted a Commission Report on Turkey to the EU’s Committee on Foreign Affairs advising formal suspension of negotiations for Turkey to join the European Union.

In 1987, Turkey, which is a member of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), applied to become a member of the EU’s predecessor, the European Economic Community (EEC). Germany, France, and Austria admitted they did not support Turkey’s membership in the EU, citing concerns about the economic and cultural challenges of integrating a large, Muslim nation of 80 million people into the bloc. In 2003, Erdogan became Prime Minister and formal accession negotiations began in 2005. Since then, negotiations have stalled several times since 2010. In June 2018, the EU's General Affairs Council stated that "the Council notes that Turkey has been moving further away from the European Union. Turkey’s accession negotiations have therefore effectively come to a standstill and no further chapters can be considered for opening or closing and no further work towards the modernisation of the EU-Turkey Customs Union is foreseen." In consideration of Ms. Piri’s report, EU Parliament voted to suspend the accession negotiations in February 2019.

President Erdogan’s disavowal of democracy by demanding new elections reinforces the reasoning in Ms. Piri’s report. A state of emergency introduced following as failed coup in 2016 was extended seven times, eroding Turkey’s rule of law and the deterioration of human rights with the adoption of new legislative proposals that preserves many of the abusive powers granted to the President and the executive under the state of emergency. After the coup, more than 150,000 people were taken into custody in the post-coup crackdown and 78,000 arrested on terrorism charges. Those targeted were legitimate voices of dissent and members of the opposition. More than 50,000 people remain in jail today facing excessively lengthy pre-trial detention and judicial proceedings, though in several cases no indictment has yet been issued.

Since the introduction of the state of emergency more than 152,000 civil servants including teachers, doctors, academics, judges, and prosecutors have been dismissed from their professions. 125,000 people applied to the Inquiry Commission on the State of Emergency Measures (CoSEM), which reviews and decides within two years on complaints against measures taken under the state of emergency and related decrees, and 89,000 of them are still awaiting a decision. Ms. Piri notes the disproportionate and arbitrary measures curtailing freedom of expression, media freedom and access to information and condemns the closure of more than 160 media outlets and the large number of arrests of journalists in the aftermath of the coup attempt. During the state of emergency, a very large number of mayors and co-mayors in the South-East of the country, where the country’s largest minority of Kurds predominantly reside, were dismissed or arrested and that the Government appointed trustees to replace them.