Tough times push Turkey to support ‘strong man’

The victory of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party in recent elections was a surprise to some, but probably to the advantage of Turkey and the United States as its partner and NATO ally in an increasingly shaky Middle East.

Erdogan called for the election after his Justice and Development Party lost its majority in parliament in voting on June 7 and he failed to construct (to him, at least) an acceptable governing coalition. His party won 317 of 550 seats last week, improving its position significantly, and should be able to put together a strong government relatively easily.

What is disturbing about Erdogan is that he is not shy about asserting authority, and he is sometimes dictatorial in his approach to governing. That and the fact that he and his party are more Islamic than much of his Turkish opposition occasionally cause American leaders to pause in working with him.

At the same time, it is clear that Turkey is really under the gun in its region right now, which may have been the principal reason for voters to strengthen Erdogan’s mandate in spite of concerns over his anti-democratic tendencies.

Turkey has borders with eight countries, including Iran, Iraq and Syria, none of them easy neighbors. It hosts an estimated 3 million Syrian and other refugees and is in the direct path of the fearsome wave of migration toward Europe from war-torn areas of the Middle East.

The Kurds, a large and restive minority inside Turkey, are a particular burr under the country’s saddle. Their situation in the region is growing stronger, due in part to U.S. military support for them, ostensibly against the Islamic State.

Kurds in Turkey gained strength in the parliament in June but faded somewhat with Sunday’s voting.

The bottom line is that today’s Turkey needs strong leadership.

It is important to remember that Erdogan improved his and his party’s position through the ballot box. If he is to be considered dictatorial, it is strength he gained largely by democratic means.