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Why Turks can’t get enough of Erdogan

Mahir Zeynalov

Published: Updated:

Hardly is there any politician in modern times who is as good as Turkish president at winning polls. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, again, declared victory on Sunday in a referendum that significantly expanded his powers.

Erdogan’s rise to power in the early 2000s followed years of devastating economic meltdown and unceasing political turmoil. Fed up with short-lived, incompetent and corrupt governments, Turks went to polls to vote for a strongman over and over. People didn’t want to return to dark old days in the 1990s and Erdogan was their invincible savior.

Throughout his rule in the 2000s, Erdogan was not another autocrat who crushed the opposition and secured pillars of his government through brute force. Instead, he fixed the ailing banking sector, lifted millions of people out of poverty, drove economic growth through massive infrastructure projects and made sweeping political reforms.

Economic and political stability has so far underpinned his 15-year rule – the longest in Turkey’s history. Sunday’s referendum paved the way for Erdogan to stay in power until 2029.

Given these circumstances, it is not surprising that people in Turkey want to see Erdogan stay in power. But bestowing him with more powers was a gift even many of his supporters thought was unnecessary.

For months, President Erdogan said voting for constitutional changes was the answer to a series of bomb attacks, sagging economy and post-coup turmoil. The changes will abolish the post of prime minister, weaken checks and balances, give the president an authority over judicial appointments, and bury the role of Parliament as the center of power. The European Union even said the constitutional changes would end Turkey’s membership bid.

The victory was not an easy one and the narrow margin of victory must have been a disappointment for the government. The referendum in Turkey, which has a proud history of holding free and fair elections since the 1950s, is marred by allegations of fraud.

There were reports of videos being posted on social media showing precinct officials stamping otherwise invalid ballots, or stamped “Yes” on numerous ballots.

Observers have long been scratching their heads to understand what type of regime Turkey had. Many Western nations called Turkey a Muslim ally that was democratic and modern. The referendum outcome may have significantly changed this equation

Mahir Zeynalov

Recount demand

The opposition said it would challenge the results and demanded a recount. No Western leader called President Erdogan to congratulate on the Referendum Day even though there were congratulatory messages received from elsewhere.

State-run news agency Anadolu was on the ground reporting the results while many questioned the accuracy of the entire process, with no rival news agency tracking the counting.

Will anything change? Hardly. Erdogan has already been ruling the country in ways that alarmed world rights groups and attracted criticisms from Western nations. Turks went to polls on Sunday just to give more powers to Erdogan. It seems, the country has just changed its 9-decade old regime to accommodate Erdogan’s dreams.

Observers have long been scratching their heads to understand what type of regime Turkey had. Many Western nations called Turkey a Muslim ally that was democratic and modern. The referendum outcome may have significantly changed this equation. Now Turkey officially appears to be moving toward a one-man rule.

On foreign policy, it will be business as usual. It was Erdogan who called the shots in the past anyway. His policies in Syria, Iraq and continued partnership with Russia will more likely stay intact.

Whichever way one looks at it, Turkey, it seems, cannot have enough of Erdogan even after so many years of him being in power.
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Mahir Zeynalov is a journalist with Turkish English-language daily Today’s Zaman. He was previously the managing editor of the Caucasus International magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @MahirZeynalov.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.