Trump Can’t Let Erdogan Get Away With This
On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a curious new plan for “strengthening our democracy”: Because the people of Istanbul had voted the wrong party into power, the city would be holding new elections.
Alleging fraud and irregularities, Erdogan’s AK Party scheduled a revote of the city’s municipal elections for next month, which the party lost in March to a coalition of opposition parties. It’s an untenable situation for Erdogan’s Islamist party, which relies on the patronage that comes from controlling local governments.
But a new election is untenable for much of the country, which erupted in protest after the announcement, and many Turks who had not previously been critical of Erdogan (including many celebrities) are taking the opposition’s side. Turkey’s former president and a co-founder of Erdogan’s party, Abdullah Gul, spoke out against the decision for a revote. Turkish media is reporting that Gul, along with former finance minister Ali Babacan, is planning to split from Erdogan and form a new party.
There has also been strong international censure of the decision, with condemnations from several European foreign ministers as well as the European Union.
Absent from this chorus thus far, however, is the Trump administration. Washington’s silence makes it seem as though the administration “wants Erdogan to stay in power forever,” says Ilhan Tanir, the executive editor of Ahval, a Turkish news site. “This is the time for the Trump administration to make a strong statement.”
The slow reaction from Washington may reflect the need to pay attention elsewhere. Since December, when President Donald Trump announced a U.S. withdrawal from Syria after a phone conversation with Erdogan, U.S. diplomats and generals have focused on getting Erdogan to promise not to attack the Syrian Kurds, who are a crucial U.S. ally in the fight against Islamic State. To this day, U.S. officials tell me, Erdogan has made no such pledge. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is engaged in a so-far-unsuccessfulcampaign to persuade Turkey not to go through with the purchase of a Russian air defense system.