Democracy in action: An American sees the Turkish election

by | Jun 5, 2023 | English

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By Bruce Anderson, Ledger Columnist,

It’s been six years since I’ve been in Turkey. Crete intervened, then the pandemic, then life, and it was high time I went back. The Presidential election runoff was in the works – but that antedated my planning, and the Turkey I wanted to see, and its politics, were those of about 3,000 years ago.

I flew into Izmir from Berlin after dropping my Germany students with their trip partner at the airport for their journey home, but then my entire planning was almost derailed from the start. I was ascending an escalator when a fellow passenger bumped me hard, and my luggage (and me) made an amazing trip down the steel stairs.

An ugly line of stitches and the wonderful care of the Turkish emergency health system put me back on my feet, sort of, so all was not lost.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been President of Turkey for 20 years and was facing his first serious challenge. A clutch of vaguely leftist and labor parties had come together in a weird bedmate arrangement to oppose his reelection and had forced the runoff. The coalition had been behind the incumbent by a few points, but Mr. Erdogan was unable to hit the 50%+1 mark and thus the runoff.

I’ll admit that I was a bit nervous about election day. I picked up some mineral water, and headed south to Didim, a coastal beach and fishing village near Miletus – one of my several ancient destinations. The Department of State contributed their special source of high anxiety nonsense by sending me an email outlining who to contact if trouble started, warning me that people would likely fire guns into the air when the thing was settled, and so on.

And it was nonsense.

My little corner of Turkey was quiet – no guns, no oddball banana republic silliness. Turkey is a modern, industrial economy, and has been a successful democracy since its founder, Mustapha Kemal Ataturk (Ghazi Mustapha Kemal from 1921 until 1934) laid down the parameters for government back in the early 1920s. There have been free elections throughout, though there have also been some bumps in the road.

Turkey is a longtime member of NATO and should have long ago been a member of the EU. It is a forthrightly European nation and had earned the right but has been forced to go it on their own.  But Turkey is not without problems. They shouldered the brunt of the influx of immigration from the Syrian civil war, and although they have been supported in doing so it’s still a major strain on the local populations.

Recently, horrendous earthquakes shook the east, killing 51,000 people and rendering millions homeless. Turkey also occupies the unenviable position of being the only honest broker between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. The winner of this election has serious domestic and international challenges.

Mr. Erdogan won by a few percentage points. His parliamentary party already had a majority, so he’ll have a free reign on policy for the next five years. His opponents called to congratulate him, and here, in an area that had largely supported the opposition, folks shrugged and moved on with their lives.

No screeching from the losing side, no attempted occupation of the House of Parliament or other government buildings, no need for military intervention, no gabbling about false ballots or election rigging.  A simple message from the President’s opponent that “the voters have spoken.”

A few months back, when I was planning the trip, I bought a couple of pairs of nice wool Norwegian style socks.  I love them, though they have limited usage this summer in Florida, one assumes. The inside label, though, told me they were made in Söke, Turkey.

Bruce Anderson is the Dr. Sarah D. and L. Kirk McKay Jr. Endowed Chair in American History, Government, and Civics and Miller Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Florida Southern College.  He is also a columnist for The Ledger.

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