The more the world changes, the more it remains the same. That is a statement Turkey’s electorate could easily make after having made sure that the administration they got used to since 2002 had the licence to perpetuate itself for another decade. They have elected Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the new president in Turkey’s first direct elections for the post. Mr Erdogan interprets the popular mandate as sanction for the beginning of a “new era” that he promises, but entirely different considerations may have motivated Turkey’s voters. They might have suddenly turned risk-averse, given the political uncertainty that has gripped the region recently. A leader who had ably steered the nation through several foreign-relations crises, established Turkey as a much sought after ally for both the West and Arab nations, and managed to preserve national security at a time the neighbourhood was collapsing under the assault of Sunni militias, definitely deserved a consideration. Voters might also have voted with the hope to see Turkey sustain its economic growth of recent years. Mr Erdogan’s victory might even be a reflection of the support he has come to enjoy among Turkey’s burgeoning middle class, now substantially made up of conservative Muslims who feel less alienated because of the tinge of Islamism that the Justice and Development Party has brought into the administration.
There hardly seems to be any doubt among voters that Mr Erdogan would not restrict himself to the ceremonial role that the Turkish Constitution, strictly speaking, recommends for the president. It is a given that he would play a dominant role in the government through a malleable prime minister, and this has angered many who also hold strong objections to the authoritarianism that has crept into the Erdogan administration. There is a palpable fear that Mr Erdogan would use the popular mandate to tinker with the Constitution, as Mohamed Morsi did in Egypt, and either establish an executive presidency or ring in more Islamism. The fear or anger has kept many away from the ballots. Mr Erdogan, aware of this constituency and its street power, has promised to represent all. Even if that may prove impossible, there is no doubt that he will have to keep the majority of the country happy by striking the right balance between too much and too little interference in the government and in his own party.