Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Turkish Voters Reject Authoritarianism and Embrace Democracy

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Turkish Voters Reject Authoritarianism and Embrace Democracy

Article excerpt

ELECTION HAS GLOBAL IMPORTANCE

The march of authoritarianism around the world has had different names over the past decade: "Neo-Ottomanism," "Putinism," "the Beijing Consensus." The shared premise has been that fragile democratic systems were no match for strong rulers who could impose top-down solutions.

This idea of the efficient despot got a sharp rebuff Sunday in Turkey's parliamentary elections. In a turnout of over 86 percent, voters denied President Recep Tayyip Erdogan the majority he wanted to rewrite the constitution and give himself more executive authority. The result affirmed the stabilizing power of democracy and the wisdom of an informed electorate.

Turkish commentators were jubilant. "Pax Erdogan is over," Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, the German Marshall Fund's representative in Ankara, told The New York Times, adding "Turkey has proved to be a self- correcting democracy." Bulent Aliriza of the Center for Strategic and International Studies likened the election to "a nuclear explosion in Turkish politics."

Why did Turkish voters reject authoritarianism at a time when its appeal still seems strong in other places? The answer surely begins with the relative strength of political institutions in Turkey. Secular democracy is nearly a century old there: It has survived hot wars, cold wars, military coups and religious extremists. Turks know they have something to lose if their system is hijacked.

Turkey also has a civic culture that can support democratic institutions. It has a vibrant free-market economy, a free press, a strong military and an independent legal system. These were the very parts of Turkish society that Erdogan was seen as trying to intimidate or repress in his bid for greater power. Journalists, generals and judges couldn't fight back effectively on their own; but voters together could do so.

Erdogan himself, ironically, helped encourage the Kurdish activism that was a potent factor in Sunday's elections. As leader of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, he has courted Kurdish votes by offering greater rights -- and even by making peace, for a time, with the extremist group known as the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

But on Sunday, the vehicle for Kurdish self-expression turned out to be the liberal People's Democratic Party, or HDP, headed by the charismatic Selahattin Demirtas. It won more than 13 percent to become the first explicitly Kurdish-oriented parliamentary party in Turkey's history. …

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