Erdogan win

By Editorial Board
May 31, 2023

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent victory in the Turkish presidential elections secured his third term in office and has extended his two-decade-long rule till 2028. Erdogan has been president since 2014 and, prior to that, served as the prime minister of Turkey since 2003. Widely recognized as Turkey’s most important, transformative – and also divisive – leader in recent history, Erdogan faced strong headwinds heading into the polls. Turkey is going through a severe economic crisis, reportedly the worst in a generation, and a formidable alliance had formed to take on the Turkish president and his conservative Justice and Development party. According to most observers, secular opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s coalition, including nationalists, religious conservatives and former Erdogan allies, would be his toughest opponents yet. Ultimately, Kilicdaroglu pushed Erdogan to a runoff, a historic first for the country, which he lost by fairly narrow margins, around four percentage points. Crucial to Erodgan’s victory was an endorsement he received from the leader of an ultra-nationalist party who came third in the first round of voting, blunting the impact of Kilicdaroglu’s rightwing, anti-immigrant messaging which was targeted at the nationalist vote.


However, more than his courting of the nationalist vote, the recent elections underscored Erdogan’s enduring popularity among his traditional base: the poorer and more rural regions of Turkey. Erdogan’s modernization of the Turkish heartland and emphasis on reviving Islamic identity and values has enabled him to amass a large amount of political capital among the residents of these regions, enough to overcome the economic crisis that he has presided over as president. However, while his loyal base may keep him in power, it will not make his job of governing the country any easier. Erdogan’s handling of the economy has been widely criticized in recent years, with his drive to keep interest rates low leading to a collapse in the Turkish lira’s value and an inflation rate that went up to 85 per cent last year. Erdogan has promised to double-down on these policies and even spent billions of dollars trying to prop up the lira ahead of the recent election. This course may ultimately end up jeopardizing all that Erdogan has done to revitalize Turkey’s poor and rural regions, tarnishing an otherwise impressive economic legacy.

In addition to these economic woes, according to some, Erdogan has pursued an increasingly autocratic style of rule in recent years. In the words of his critics, suppression of dissidents, criticism and media and online censorship have increased under his rule, enabling Erdogan to consolidate power. Furthermore, concerns have been mounting over Erdogan’s domestic and foreign policy among Western leaders, with relations with the US in particular going sour. While relations with Russia have survived the Ukraine war, this is unlikely to earn Erdogan any points with fellow Nato leaders who have taken a much more uncompromising stance towards Russia and its president Vladimir Putin. It is clear that as hard-fought as Erdogan’s latest victory has been, the toughest tests are still yet to come.