It seems that every other day, some or the other elderly authoritarian strongman strengthens his grip on power. A particularly egregious example is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, or as some sections of the Internet might call him, Gollum.
Gollum Erdogan has come a long way – from footballer to moderate democrat to neo-Ottoman and world-famous misogynist. He has overseen an increasingly hardline and nationalist foreign policy, shifting from pro-EU and pro-Kurdish peace to notably combative stances with both. He has also turned from Bashar Al-Assad’s “brother” to a deadly rival, supporting rebel forces in the Syrian Civil War. Finally, under his watch, Turkey has adopted a much more belligerent attitude towards Greece, with vessels clashing in the Aegean Sea and no peace deal in sight for Cyprus.
Domestically, Erdogan has crushed dissent and the free press, shifted Turkey from a parliamentary to a Presidential style of government, and adopted rather conservative social policies. He’s also made a name for himself internationally with a string of misogynistic statements, claiming that working women are “deficient” and insisting (on International Women’s Day, no less) that a woman is “above all else a mother“.
It’s quite interesting, therefore, that one of his rivals in the June 24 snap election is Meral Aksener, a veteran politician whose supporters describe her as a “she-wolf” and “iron lady”. Aksener has pulled no punches in her campaign, lampooning Erdogan for his misadventures in Syria, and has sworn to restore Turkey’s “malfunctioning democracy”.
Aksener, however, also has somewhat of a dark past. In the late 90s, as Interior Minister, she presided over a string of deep-state atrocities. She also comes from an unabashedly hard-right background, but is expected to attract secularist votes from parties disgruntled with the relatively Islamist Erdogan.
In order for Aksener to win, Erdogan will need to fail to capture an absolute majority in the first round of elections, in which six candidates are in the fray. If she gets through to the runoff, a consolidation of opposition voters could push her over the top and end his 15-year grip on power.
Whether that will result in Turkey becoming more liberal or democratic, however, remains to be seen.