Turkey 2014 – A lemonade salesman, a prisoner and a President

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Courtesy of OpenStreetMap

Recep Tayyip Erdogan started his life in Rize, which is near the Black Sea. Later on, he moved back to Istanbul (he was born there). At one point he sold lemonade and sesame buns. He had wanted to be a professional footballer, but his father prevented it. This enterprising and competitive spirit led him into politics. He was initially involved with an anti communist group. In 1994, he became the Mayor of Istanbul and eventually won awards for his work. Before his time as Prime Minister of Turkey, he was imprisoned for poetry (well, it was classed as inciting religious or racial hatred). In 2001, he established the Justice and Development Party (a centre-right party believing in social conservatism – and a member of the ECR alliance in the European Parliament) and won a landslide election to become Prime Minister in 2002. He presided over the election of the last Turkish President not to be chosen by the people.

Turkey is well known for having periods of instability and religious troubles. There are frequent demonstrations and threats of terrorism. Erdogan is a controversial figure and the target of some protests due to his authoritarian leadership style and control of the media. Some say that the latter helped him to be elected as President (announced on August 10th). Other issues which didn’t seem to prevent his victory include a corruption scandal, a mining disaster and protests over a redevelopment project.

The OSCE suggested he improperly used his position as PM to get elected and made media coverage extremely biased. However, they did say that candidates were allowed to campaign freely.

He was constitutionally barred from getting re-elected as PM.

He has stated that he wants to increase the powers of his new job and claims to have a mandate (which is true).

Why you should care

Many of you like the country (2.5m Brits go there every year). However, you might not be bothered by the politics too much. However, I think you should be.

I know that only a few of you voted in the European elections, but many of you are concerned about EU expansion and related immigration issues. Turkey is currently not a member of the European Union, but it is a ‘candidate country‘. This means it’s in the process of integration some EU laws and regulations (not presently part of the Schengen Area though, which affects immigration). One day, they might become a full member, which will have an economic impact.

We (the UK) don’t have much of a history of giving aid to the country (only two projects and they are in the ‘post completion’ stage), but we do have some active trade relations.

If you are an advocate of the internet, or use any of the services on it, you will be interested in knowing that it was Erdogan who put a ban on sites such as YouTube and Twitter, because of some content. That (of course) show a fundamental lack of knowledge as there were ways around it. There are VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) and numerous alternative websites.

There’s also the recent (and much publicised) history of British citizens being murdered (examples here and here).


To win in this election, Erdogan needed an absolute majority, or over 50% (otherwise known as 50%+1). The following table and chart shows you that he didn’t get very far beyond that mark, but the other candidates didn’t really get close. Erdogan even got over 50% when you include the Invalid Votes figure.

Candidate Votes Valid Share (%) Total Share (%)
Recep Tayyip Erdogan 21,000,260 51.79 50.87
Selahattİn Demİrtaş 3,958,510 9.76 9.59
Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu 15,587,132 38.44 37.76
Invalid Votes 737,871 1.79
Total (Valid) 40,545,902 100.00
Total (Overall) 41,283,773 100.00

Using official figures from the Election Commission in Turkey

Another way of showing you the dominance of Erdogan’s victory is the vote share:

Using the same set of official figures that were used for the previous chart

There was no need for additional rounds – the victory was that convincing. Although the other candidates had no chance, at least they both got much more than the total for ‘Invalid Votes’. It has happened to some people in other elections around the world and it’s always embarrasing when that happens. Interestingly, the other two contenders got a lot of votes in the east and west.


In 2013, Turkey had a population of 74,932,641. The current total of registered voters is 55,692,841. Using the official voting figures listed above, the turnout is 74.13%. This is very good when you compare it to some of the countries I have blogged about. It is difficult to compare this to the past in Turkey though, as Erdogan is the first democratically elected (by the people) President. However, using turnout figures for parliamentary elections from 1950 to 2011, this turnout figure is only better than three of them (1969, 1973, 1977). You would think that a first democratic election would generate a lot of interest – and it has. However, it might have been better if Erdogan hadn’t been considered so much of a ‘dead-cert’. Some have also suggested that heat and the holidays were a factor. Isn’t it always hot in Turkey though?

It also seems that the policy of mandatory voting hasn’t worked.

The state of the country

It’s always good to have a bit of context and background information, so you can work out what issues need to be addressed by the election winner.

This chart uses data from Transparency International. ‘GCB’ is the Global Corruption Barometer.

The interactive version of the above chart with the full set of figures used can be found here. As you can see, corruption in Turkey has decreased dramatically since it’s peak in 2004/5. It’s worth noting that Erdogan became Prime Minister in 2003, so these decreases have happened on his watch. Other figures from the Global Corruption Barometer show that there were only four areas felt to be corrupt or extremely corrupt by 50% or more of the respondents (Political Parties – 66%, Parliament/Legislature – 55%, Media – 56%, Business – 50%).

That is not the whole picture though. For example, it is reported that there is little enforcement of the OECD’s Anti-Bribery Convention. This is supported by the fact that 23% of GCB respondents stated they have paid a bribe to police. Bribes were also paid to people in other sectors. So, whilst there are countries with worse corruption levels at the moment, it doesn’t mean the problem is eliminated.

There are other issues too. The levels of press freedom have gotten worse over the years, but they have never been good anyway. Back in 2012, they were ranked 148th, but they have been 154th for this year and the last.

The Global Competitiveness Index is produced by the World Economic Forum

The interactive version can be found here. It’s worth noting that with the above chart, it’s important to have the lowest possible number. The GCI has increased the number of countries it has surveyed over the years, with the present number being 148. That makes Turkey’s increases more impressive. 2012/13 was their best year, when they were ranked 43rd. It’s important to look at all the information from the report though. For example, the most problematic factors for doing business are tax rates, an inadequately educated workforce, inefficient government bureaucracy and poor access to financing. The report also has a series of ‘pillars’, that have rankings for a lot of things. The worst are:

  • Business cost of terrorism – 129
  • Inflation (annual %age change) – 125
  • Imports as a %age of GDP – 116
  • Women in the labour force (ratio compared to men) – 134
  • Exports as a %age of GDP – 123

As the report is produced by the World Economic Forum, you can understand why much of it is related to the economy and finances. The World Bank has more on this area, but their data shows things that are much more positive. The central government debt and surplus/deficit percentages have gone down (their latest figure is from 2012 though). Inflation has also gone down (again, the latest figure is from 2012). In all cases, the figures are better than the United Kingdom. The country’s credit rating isn’t too bad either (many B’s).

You’ll note the low ranking for women in the labour force. The parliament is not much different. 14% of the seats are held by women (despite almost half of their population being women), in comparison to the relatively healthy 23% for the UK. Of course, there are a number of things to consider hear. Whilst it could be partly because of sexism and maybe even some traditionalist Muslim views, it could also be partly that there’s nothing that specifically encourages women to enter politics. It could even be that the female candidates simply aren’t as good. Remember, candidates should be chosen because of their quality and not because of their gender (yes, I am against all-female shortlists).

It’s also worth looking at the World Governance Indicators. It’s best indicator is for Regulatory Quality (66 out of 100), which is interesting as the aforementioned GCI report notes that one of the most problematic factors for conducting business is inefficient government bureaucracy. Something must have changed since the last compilation (2012). 66 isn’t the highest score in the world either. In comparison to the Europe and Central Asia region, Turkey isn’t as good in every area (and never has been). It’s worst indicator is ‘political stability and absence of violence/terrorism’ (13 in 2012).

Here are some of the transnational issues:

“key transit route for Southwest Asian heroin to Western Europe and, to a lesser extent, the US – via air, land, and sea routes; major Turkish and other international trafficking organizations operate out of Istanbul; laboratories to convert imported morphine base into heroin exist in remote regions of Turkey and near Istanbul; government maintains strict controls over areas of legal opium poppy cultivation and over output of poppy straw concentrate; lax enforcement of money-laundering controls”


After winning, Erdogan said:

“Today national will and democracy have prevailed again… Today, greater Turkey has prevailed again… With the president being elected by popular vote, obstacles between Cankaya [the presidential palace] and the public have been lifted”

There is change. Change that Erdogan wanted. He has more centralised control and is shifting the political landscape. Will the country as a whole change for the better though. The role of President can fit an authoritarian style and he could easily appoint a puppet as a Prime Minister. His tight grip on the media will continue, so don’t expect any great changes to that press freedom ranking.

If he makes no changes to security and policing, the problems with terrorism and violent will continue. In the case of protests, you have to think why they happen though. Many oppose him and his style. Many want more freedoms. Many want corruption to be reduced. Many will now be disappointed.

The second place candidate was reported as being more passive and favouring the status quo, so he wouldn’t want many changes to the powers of the President. However, what’s the point of having a popular vote if the post is nothing more than ceremonial?

Expect Turkey to remain relatively competitive in an economic sense. Expect the country to have more of a link to the EU. Expect more public dissatisfaction with the person who’s now leader, even though they chose him.

So, what do you think?

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