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Turkey’s Electoral Dictatorship

In the run-up to Turkey’s municipal elections on March 30, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared that the vote would serve as a referendum on his scandal-plagued leadership. Following his party's overwhelming victory, institutional checks on his power are likely to be eroded further.

DURHAM – In the run-up to Turkey’s municipal elections on March 30, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared that the popular vote would serve as a referendum on his scandal-plagued leadership. With the help of his Justice and Development Party (AKP), which centered its campaigning on him, Erdoğan was able to redefine the elections. His opponents blindly played along, hoping that the polls would force him out. But, of course, diminishing Erdoğan’s power could never be so simple.

The main source of opposition to Erdoğan’s leadership is his increasingly dictatorial style. He seems to have interpreted a 50% vote in 2011 as a mandate to refashion the country according to his own values. His authoritarian streak, already evident in his leadership of the AKP, is now on constant display in both his speeches and his government’s policies.

Last summer, the Erdoğan government’s brutal response to popular protests in Istanbul’s Gezi Park made Turkey look like an intolerant one-party state, as did the polarizing speeches that Erdoğan delivered in defense of the crackdown. His incessant demonization of secular Turks fueled fears that an Islamic morality police was in the works.

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