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Erdoğan Wins Turkish Presidency Again

Should Honor Campaign Pledge to Lift State of Emergency, Strengthen Rule of Law

Election posters in Kadıköy, Istanbul, June 2018. © 2018 Human Rights Watch

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has secured another election win, and this term will have even greater presidential powers than before. His June 24 win brings fully into force constitutional changes that introduce a presidential system of governance, eliminate the role of prime minister, and weaken parliamentary and judicial oversight.

Erdoğan won the presidency with nearly 53 percent of the vote. His Justice and Development party won a reduced majority in separate parliamentary elections, making it reliant on its alliance with the far-right Nationalist Movement party.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported that the elections were free, as voters could choose from many parties, but not fair.

Government control or influence over Turkey’s media meant that most television channels, loyal to the president and his party, devoted far more coverage to their campaigning and speeches than all opposition parties combined.

The past two years have seen a steep increase in courts jailing reporters, government critics, and political opponents, including elected members of parliament and human rights defenders. That control of Turkey’s judiciary deepened when the president last year assumed a greater say in top judicial appointments.

Since the failed July 2016 military coup, Erdoğan and his cabinet have kept the country under a state of emergency, giving them an enormous advantage over opponents. Ruling by decree they changed hundreds of laws overnight without parliamentary debate or scrutiny. Parliament’s role was severely diminished even before the constitutional changes brought in following a referendum in April 2017. Some of the presidency’s new powers are similar to those enjoyed under the state of emergency.

During the election, Erdoğan pledged to lift the state of emergency. Doing so would be the right thing for the country. It would be an important first step to demonstrate to the 47 percent who voted for other presidential candidates that he intends to govern for the whole population and protect their rights.

Many more steps are also urgently needed. One such step should focus on restoring public confidence in the courts and mending Turkey’s broken justice system. Bold measures to secure the release of journalists, human rights defenders, politicians, public officials, judges, prosecutors, and thousands of ordinary people wrongfully jailed would be a start.

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