Erdogan must steer towards the middle as Turkey's president

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 August, 2014, 4:29am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 August, 2014, 8:33am

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shrugged off a year of protests and corruption scandals to win another term - this time as president after the first direct election for the post. Erdogan won an absolute majority of 52 per cent of the vote - the highest for him or his Islamist-rooted AK party in a decade of rule. This sets the stage for his stated intention of forging an executive, interventionist presidency of a strategically important country between the Middle East and Europe, when relations with the US and Europe are strained.

His vision of transforming and modernising Turkey's economy laid the foundations for his victory. It includes the country's first high-speed train network, a third bridge over the Bosphorous and a huge new airport in Istanbul. It is called Target 2023 after the centenary of the foundation of a secular modern Turkey by the great Ataturk.

Erdogan repeatedly paid tribute to Ataturk during his campaign, but critics accuse him of undermining the still revered leader's legacy. They expect more authoritarian government following a crackdown on protests against plans to build a shopping mall on one of the last green spaces in central Istanbul, the derailment of a corruption scandal that brought down some of his ministers, and an attempt to ban Twitter. Secular Turks who fear Erdogan has an Islamic agenda cite a recent ban on overnight sales of alcohol.

Having vowed to govern for all 77 million Turks, Erdogan needs to be mindful that while he carried the conservative religious heartland, the more liberal Aegean and Mediterranean coastal fringe voted heavily against him.

He has brought stability by finding a way to win the support of the military, which has staged coups in defence of a secular society. Only by maintaining a middle course and keeping religion out of politics can Erdogan hope to build harmoniously on his development achievements. Otherwise he risks more protests against hardline rule and social division that will diminish his legacy.