Even with his new powers, Erdogan will still have to address the Kurdish issue, a possible quagmire in Syria, tensions with the West and a frail economy. He will have to think hard about why he lost the vote in all of Turkey’s major cities and industrial centers. Polls indicate that as education and income levels rise, so does the number of naysayers — and no leader can be entirely happy about being disowned by the best and brightest. Erdogan will also have to live with another uncomfortable fact: Even though he imprisoned the co-leaders of Turkey’s largest pro-Kurdish party, along with about a dozen of its elected deputies and roughly 85 of its elected mayors, most Kurds — who constitute a fifth of the population — still showed up at voting booths in heavily militarized zones and opted to vote “No.”
Friends say I’m delusional for searching for a “silver lining” in all of this — and maybe I am. But the truth is, even under an increasingly authoritarian regime, there are limits to Erdogan’s power (and corresponding potential for new leaders to emerge). Just think of this fact alone: In every Turkish election, the Turkish president has to go door to door, campaign around the clock and spend an extraordinary amount of energy just to renew his mandate. Russia’s Vladimir Putin or Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sissi don’t have to campaign day and night, mobilizing religious coalitions and distributing economic benefits to secure enough votes. They always win.