Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after his election victory (Photo: Yasin Bulbul/Getty Images)
The result of the 1 November election in Turkey is clear but the country's future is not.
The character of the new government, its treatment of Turkey's Kurdish minority, and its relations with Europe will be key indicators of where President Erdogan will take the country.
There is no question regarding Erdogan's victory. He gambled on a rerun of the inconclusive June election and won a majority. It's not the supermajority required to change the constitution and make him an all-powerful president, but it's a return to rule for his AKP party which can govern in its own right, as it did for 13 years up to June.
Erdogan came out on top because he successfully presented the election as a choice between stability and chaos. He also did his undemocratic best between the two elections to stack the deck in his party’s favour by muzzling opposition media and exploiting popular fears in the wake of three terrorist attacks. This was noted by the official observers of the weekend's election, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, who said the process was hindered by a challenging security environment, violent incidents and media restrictions.
Whether Erdogan, satisfied with his victory, will focus on uniting the country (as promised on election night) and submits to the rule of law will set the tone for the years ahead. His actions will either tilt Turkey back towards its Western, democratic and secular Kemalist identity, or push it further along the path more recently trod towards Middle Eastern strongman rule.
This holds particularly true with regard to Turkey’s Kurds. Their party, HDP, led by the charismatic Selahattin Demirtas (nicknamed the Turkish Obama) has kept its place in parliament, despite some loss of seats compared to June.
Demirtas will thus enjoy parliamentary immunity against flimsy charges of ‘aiding terrorists’ (a reference to his brother who is a prominent member of the once militant PKK,) brought by the AKP-dominated justice system ahead of the election. Demirtas' immediate future will be closely watched by many, including the Western alliance against ISIS which has relied on Kurds in Iraq and in Syria to fight the self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate.
Another key focus for the emboldened Erdogan will be Turkey’s actions toward Europe. Right now, thanks to the Europe-wide migrant crisis, Erdogan is in the driver’s seat. Brussels desperately needs Turkey to secure its borders. In return, Erdogan has won promises to improve Turkish access to Europe, and a pledge to re-open EU-membership negotiations.
However it is a safe bet that Erdogan’s Turkey of this past summer will never seriously be considered a potential EU member. The migrant crisis will abate at some point, unlike Turkey’s clear and enduring dependence on Europe’s capital, job markets and know-how. Then Ankara will be judged on democratic governance and adherence to the rule of law. How Turkey will measure up under those criteria is up to Erdogan.