The past few days have sent several chills down the spines of critics of Recep Tayyip Erdogan who believe the authoritarian regime run by Turkey’s re-elected president is on the cusp of becoming even darker and more intolerant.
The first week after Erdogan’s victory at the polls is ending with an announcement from jailed Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas – who to many serves as a courageous symbol of the struggle against the strongman’s crushing of human rights – that he is withdrawing from active politics.
To some commentators Erdogan’s election win confounds logic – this is a man, after all, who has plunged his country into its worst economic crisis for more than two decades, so did millions of Turks just vote to be poorer? – but Demirtas’ immediate response to the shock victory was that the opposition bloc was up against a “huge operational force that has taken over the state”. More details on what Demirtas and other opposition figures mean by such comments may be relayed in the weeks and months to come as opponents of Erdogan pick up the fight to save Turkey from his “one-man rule”.
A presidential candidate in both 2014 and 2018 (the second run was from behind bars), Demirtas, a former co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), told media outlet Artigercek from Edirne prison in northwest Turkey: "While I will maintain my struggle with resistance from prison like all my comrades, I'm withdrawing from active politics at this stage."
Demirtas has withdrawn from active politics "at this stage" (Credit: VoA).
Demirtas, who has more than 2mn Twitter followers, said he had told the HDP leadership prior to the election that he was willing to run for president again, but his offer was turned down. "My candidacy would have increased our votes... But I still don't know why it was refused," he added.
Erdogan, who has ignored European Court of Human Rights rulings that Demirtas, 49, must be freed, showed no magnanimity towards him in victory, saying that releasing Demirtas would not be possible under his rule and repeating his accusation that he is a "terrorist".
Attempting to associate the opposition with Kurdish terrorist groups was a key feature of the brutalising and demonising nationalist campaign run by Erdogan. At one point, he even admitted using a fake video at an election rally to that end. All of Erdogan’s allegations about terrorist links have been denied by those accused and no evidence has been presented to back up the claims.
On June 1, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the challenger for the presidency defeated 52% to 48% by Erdogan, described the result of the election as having “no moral legitimacy” because his opponent conducted an election campaign based on lies and slander, Halk TV news website reported.
“The YSK [Supreme Election Board] has confirmed the election result, but it has no moral legitimacy,” the leader of Turkey’s main opposition and secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) said.
In his first interview following his defeat in the May 28 run-off election, Kilicdaroglu said Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP’s) election campaign was based on lies, slander and doctored videos.
“Can there be a president who lies to his people? The government and their election campaign should be questioned in this regard,” he said, adding that politicians could exaggerate things about each other but that there was no place for lies, slander and fraud in politics.
As to whether he will resign from the position of CHP chairman following his failure to win the presidency, Kilicdaroglu said a decision would be taken by his party after intra-party talks and assessments.
Although Turkey’s media have been largely taken over by Erdogan loyalists – a much cited fact in the final week of the election campaigning was that 32 hours of national television coverage had been devoted to covering Erdogan rallies, while Kilicdaroglu’s rallies were covered for 32 minutes – the relentless Erdogan regime, specifically the broadcasting watchdog, on May 30 launched an inquiry into six opposition TV channels for "insulting the public" with their coverage of the run-off. It did not detail what the alleged insults were.
"The government's censorship device is at work," Tele 1, one of the channels being investigated, responded.
Also on May 30, researchers were reported by Nature as saying they feared that the re-election of Erdogan would mean more restrictions on academic freedom. Erdogan’s previous administrations during his two decades in power have sacked thousands of university staff members, appointed unelected university rectors and curbed academic freedom and university autonomy.
bne IntelliNews last week reported on how the sight of Erdogan heading for another five years in his 1,200-room Ankara palace would be enough to trigger another brain drain from Turkey, and on June 1, Sozcu reported that statistics from the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) showed that over the past two weeks a record number of 144 physicians have applied for a certificate of good standing in advance of moving abroad.
Assessing the election outcome, political analyst Balki Begumhan Bayhan observed that Erdogan has been able to extend his rule by creating an alliance with ultranationalist parties. The new parliament will have a record number of nationalist lawmakers.
“A key aspect of the next term is likely to be a hardline conservative agenda. An agreement between the Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and his hardline Islamist New Welfare party (YRP) allies has pledged to re-evaluate existing laws to ‘protect the integrity of the family,’” wrote Bayhan in The Conversation.
He added: “Turkey’s LGBTQ+ community is likely to be a target. Erdogan and his allies ramped up anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric during the election campaign. This is by no means a new part of Erdogan’s programme, but it has intensified in the last few months. For instance, the AKP and coalition partner the YRP signed a declaration which suggested potential discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community could follow. The YRP has previously called for the closure of LGBTQ+ organisations.”
Women’s rights are also at risk, said Bayhan, noting: “The 6284 law, which aims to protect women, particularly from domestic violence, was introduced by the AKP government in 2012. Both radical Islamist parties within Erdogan’s coalition – YRP and Huda Par – have called for it to be repealed and made their support for Erdogan conditional on a pledge to amend this law.”
An increase in anti-Kurdish policies should also be expected, said Bayan. This could include further crackdowns on Kurdish organisations, in particular the possible closure of the HDP, he added.