Within a week, Turkey and Myanmar have both had elections at what amount to opposite ends of the Old World. While they may be seen as examples of democracy in action, they are also important to the Muslim world, even though there is a dispute among Muslims about whether Muslims are supposed to vote at all. This is because while the vote in Turkey was supposed to be by a Muslim people wanting to get into Europe, the Myanmar vote excluded the Muslim Rohingya population. The whole democratic and nationalistic project was undercut by the exclusion of the Rohingyas, because their classification (which both winners and losers agree on) as non-Myanmarese showed up the pitfalls in the system, quite apart from its contradicting the tenets of Islam, which is the main argument given for elections to be eschewed.

Apart from the evidence, provided by the Rohingyas, of how a section of the population, can be excluded from full citizenship, and thus the electorate, of a nation-state, there is also the question of the effectiveness of the OIC, of which Turkey is a leading member. The OIC has been involved in the Rohingya issue, but apart from sending a fact-finding mission , has done nothing. It bears examination why the Turkish electorate chose a party which is accused of being neo-Ottoman, of reviving the Ottoman foreign policy, which was pan-Islamist, and which rejected the idea of nation-states.

It did not do so because it wished to maintain the Ottoman Empire, but because the Ottoman Sultan was also the Caliph. The abolition of the Sultanate had also led to the abolition of the Caliphate, back in 1924. Looking after the Rohingyas would be a task for the Caliph of the Muslims, not the Sultan of Turkey.

One of the outstanding features of the last election was the emergence of the Kurds as a political force in Turkey. The Kurds probably did not mind not being a nation in the 19th century, when no muslim people had their own nation, but when nation-states emerged out of the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire, the Kurds became more active. They formed a minority throughout the region, in Iraq, Iran and Syria, but it was in Turkey that they faced the greatest attempts to suppress them, when they came up against the attempts of the Kemalist state that had succeeded the Ottoman sultanate. The winning of the AKP has meant that it had regained the majority it had enjoyed since the 2002 election, but has also meant the falling back of the pro-Kurdish HDP from 80 to 49 seats.

Racep Tayep Erdogan, who moved from the Prime Ministership to the Presidency only last year, now sees the opportunity to convert this latest ballot-box success into a strong executive Presidency. Erdogan has been roundly criticized for being a crypto-fundamentalist; the longstanding Western criticism is of his being authoritarian. However, he has tried to push all the right buttons: he has maintained Turkey’s application to become a member of the European Union; he has joined in the USA’s fight against ISIL, joining its bombing of it in Syria.

Syria was part of the Ottoman Caliphate until France occupied it under the Sykes-Picot Agreement after World War I. Apart from the period of rule, Turkey is also Syria’s northern neighbor. The naturally bristly Turkish reaction to the rise of ISIL coincided with Erdogan’s stint in power, causing accusations of ‘neo-Ottomanism’. That charge was based not just on Turkish Middle Eastern policy, but also its policy towards the Central Asian republics. Turkey is not the homeland of the Turkic people; Central Asia is. Therefore, it is only natural for Turkish nationalists to look to the Central Asian area as forming a cultural continuum. It must not be forgotten that the inclination to Central Asia dates back to the Ottoman era, when the conquest of this Muslim area by Czarist Russia was one of the many causes of friction between the two Empires. This link was continued under Kemal, something which Western powers encouraged in the Soviet era, because this was something that made Turkey oppose the USSR with greater resolve. After the collapse of the USSR, Turkey’s economic involvement in the Central Asian Republics has not just begun, but has increased.

The paradoxes involved in Turkey’s role in the Syrian crisis are perhaps illustrated by the government’s permission to the USA to use Incirlik air base against ISIL, while the country itself is a conduit for British and French citizens of origins in the Islamic world, to join ISIL.

Despite the Kemalist years, Turkey remains a deeply Muslim country, and Erdogan has to maintain a fine balance because of his constituency. While he would like to suppress the Kurds, they are seen by the USA as the ‘boots on the ground’ it needs for its air war.

Though it has finally inserted some ground forces, it still needs local allies, and in that role it sees the Kurds.

While Pakistanis have a natural cultural and religious affinity to the Turks, this election was also interesting for what it showed of the fate of Erdogan, who is not just a role model for Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif because of his longevity, but also because he represents a right wing that runs counter to the ‘political Islam’ that so exercises the West, and to which it proposes elections as a panacea. Both Pakistan and Turkey are large Muslim countries within the US ambit, both having been members of CENTO, apart from another US alliance (for Turkey, NATO; for Pakistan, SEATO). Also, when Gen Ziaul Haq ruled Pakistan, Gen Kenan Evren also ruled Turkey from 1980 to 1989. Both countries had women Prime Ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Tansu Ciller, at about the same time, and now while Turkey has Erdogan, Pakistan is seeking similar stability. Mian Nawaz would like to provide that, and would also like to learn how Erdogan tamed the military enough to send Evren to jail for his coup (he spent his last days in a military hospital, less than a year after being given a life sentence). However, Mian Nawaz has a different approach to the military: it is one of total complaisance.

However, the West sees Erdogan as a successful example of a right-wing politician who uses the electoral mechanism to cancel out political Islam. Mian Nawaz would do well to serve the same end. The problem with that is that such an approach forces both Erdogan and Nawaz to make economic progress their touchstones. Also, they are also polarizing, standing in for religious parties. Because both accept, rather embrace, the Western economic orthodoxy as well as the political, they are prevented from making the sort of radical changes their constituents really want. In fact, neither will ever help the Rohingyas get just treatment, even though one is supposed to be guilty of Neo-Ottomanism, which is another version of the Pan-Islamism the other is accused of.