New Delhi: The autocratic presidents of Sri Lanka and Turkey have become the biggest enemies of their own countries. And they serve as warnings to electorates especially in Asia not to be swept along by emotions to bring strongmen to power because, sooner or later, they will reveal their spots.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has turned his country from a progressive secular state to an Islamist one. With the aid of rigged referendums, he has centralized powers to his executive presidency. Press freedoms are unheard of in Turkey. Secular sections of the judiciary, military and police have been purged.

Straining under his yoke, the people of Istanbul voted for the opposition candidate in the mayoral election of 31 March. Erdogan compelled the equivalent of the Indian election commission, the supreme electoral council, to order another poll, due on 23 June. It is critical for Erdogan’s candidate to win because Istanbul makes national leaders like him and he fears he may not survive another defeat in the city. The people, however, have turned against him in masses.

An existential crisis also dogs the Sri Lankan president, Maithripala Sirisena, who has brought government to a standstill in the country. Fearing that a parliamentary inquiry into the Easter Sunday bombings could indict him for ignoring intelligence of impending serial attacks on Christian places of worship, he has banned security officials from testifying before a legislative panel. To spite the cabinet government of Ranil Wickremesinghe which is spearheading the parliamentary inquiry, Sirisena has also abandoned the weekly administrative meetings for Sri Lanka.

Some months ago, Sirisena attempted to dislodge Wickremesinghe as prime minister by swearing in his rival and indeed Sirisena’s own, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to Wickremesinghe’s office. After uproar and weeks of standoff, the Supreme Court reinstated Wickremesinghe and directed the president to remain within constitutional bounds.

Although Sirisena came to office saying he would only remain for a term, his ambitions would press him for a second, which he has no hope of winning without the support of Rajapaksa, a war criminal in the books of international human rights organizations. A joining of forces of Sirisena and Rajapaksa would throw the fragile communal equation in Sri Lanka into turmoil with fanatics from all sides of the religious divide stirring the pot. The majoritarianism of Buddhists is most to be feared for Sri Lanka and if the Islamic State and other Islamists join the fray, a second civil war may tear apart the island state.

Turkey is also delicately poised on the edge of destruction or salvation from the 23 June Istanbul mayoral vote. If Istanbul falls to the ruling party, strongman Erdogan will choke the last democratic breath out of Turkey, and such a denouement suits Russia.

As a NATO member, Turkey has been a thorn in Russia’s side. It shot down a Russian fighter jet at the height of the war in Syria claiming breach of Turkish airspace. It led to a chill in Turkey-Russia relations and the deployment of S-400s in Syria whose efficiency prompted the Turkish contract for them once Ankara-Moscow ties got even. Upset with the contract, the US is poised to cancel F-35 fighter jet sales to Turkey. This could also jeopardize Turkey’s future in NATO with US sanctions coming at its heels.

Playing for himself, Erdogan is not so concerned for the consequences for Turkey from deploying the S-400s. Wearying of the West which is opposed to his authoritarianism, a truck with authoritarian Russia or China would suit him fine. In such logic, Erdogan may not be alone. If Maithripala Sirisena finds the going hard in Sri Lanka, he might band with Mahinda Rajapaksa, exit balanced relations with India and China, and embrace Beijing in return for mountains of cash and zero questions. Chinese debt would not concern him much playing for himself.

Sri Lanka and Turkey show the dangers of an executive presidency becoming authoritarian paved with well-intentioned votes of a majority of people. With hyper-nationalism all the rage, voters may also be indoctrinated into electing a majority parliamentary government inadvertently opening roads to dictatorship. It would be Maithripala Sirisena or Recep Tayyip Erdogan with just another name. What’s in a name?