The cards have been dealt and the dust has settled. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan not only won the presidential election but also swept the parliamentary elections with his AKP party in alliance with MHP. This is in stark contrast to what was being claimed by the Western observers that there will be a change of guard in Türkiye. The same observers are left rethinking their assumptions as President Erdoğan proved once again that the keys to the presidential palace in Ankara will stay with him till 2028. Thus, the piece will delve into the reasons highlighting Erdoğan’s victory and what is next for Türkiye.
There was mass hysteria that President Erdoğan will lose this election; that this will be the last of him.
It was claimed that the earthquake which devastated Türkiye coupled with a tanking economy, a sinking lira and President Erdoğan s politics of patronage will be the Achilles heel for his two-decade-long rule. All that ailed Türkiye under Erdoğan was to be replaced by the united opposition known as the Table of Six, headed by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. With Kilicdarouglu’s nationalist rhetoric and anti-immigration stance, it was prophesized that an opposition win would usher in a new era of democratic politics with Türkiye returning to a parliamentary form of governance.
USA and Europe certainly welcomed such a scenario where Türkiye’s leadership will finally change hands. Nothing of the sort happened and now Erdoğan is dubbed as the “Electoral Autocrat”
The burning question that follows is how did this come to pass? A multitude of causes can be identified for Erdoğan’s victory which should be viewed as a whole and not in isolation. First, the competition or the opposition was weak from the start. The opposition took a long time putting forth a united front against the behemoth that is Erdoğan and his party the AKP. The opposition was only united in their aim to dislodge Erdoğan, other than that the table of six as the opposition came to be known was fractured. Second, the opposition’s candidate Kılıçdaroğlu was a weak contender against President Erdoğan. Where President Erdoğan and his party the AKP have been in power for two decades and won all the elections, Kılıçdaroğlu and his party CHP did not win any signification electoral victory since that time. However, they did manage to get a decent representation in the parliament. The only exception was when CHP won the mayorship of Istanbul and Ankara in the local elections of 2019. As a corollary, the opposition did not have much progress to offer to the masses except promises and commitments in the 2023 elections. President Erdoğan on the other hand has transformed Türkiye into a regional power, expanding its economy and leading a proactive foreign policy since 2003. Thus, when it came to the candidates for the presidency, the opposition’s bet on a candidate with no record of victory was a non-starter. Last and most significant, it must be noted that people voted for Erdoğan. Not the presidential candidate, not the head of AKP, but Erdoğan as their leader. President Erdoğan’s appeal resonates with the masses on an ideological level. This link between the masses and the candidate was found wanting in the case of Kılıçdaroğlu and the opposition at large. Thus, Erdoğan gets to retain the presidency till 2028.
Now that the die has been cast, what lies in store for Türkiye in general and President Erdoğan in particular? It needs to be stated that President Erdoğan is now the longest-serving president of Türkiye, outshining Türkiye’s founder Kemal Ataturk who ruled as president for 18 years.
It will be under President Erdoğan’s rule that the republic will complete its 100 years since its inception further giving hype to annulling the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923.
These facts actually strengthen Erdoğan’s hand in domestic politics. Thus, if his balcony speech can be a guiding post for what lies ahead then it can be argued that President Erdoğan has set his eyes on the local elections 2024. Victory in the local elections is significant because President Erdoğan wants to retake two important cities-Istanbul and Ankara-the mayor ship of which his party lost to AKP. Only then will his control over Türkiye’s political landscape will give the semblance of control.
The second short-term challenge will be to manage the economy that is spiraling out of control. The lira has lost its value and inflation is soaring eating away at people’s purchasing power. News is circulating that President Erdoğan is looking to hire Mehmet Simsek, an economic expert to lead the economy. He carries vast experience and enjoys a good reputation in financial circles. His inclusion in the economic team will bring some confidence in Türkiye’s economy.
The third long-term challenge for Erdoğan will be to balance Türkiye’s foreign policy with the West. The EU has already prepared for “More of the Same” as Erdoğan is not expected to change course in his interactions with the EU. However, given the war in Ukraine, the EU and the USA are pushing for Türkiye’s nod for Sweden’s membership in NATO. So far Erdoğan has not budged from his earlier stance of resisting Sweden’s entry into NATO. And with five more years in power, it remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it will be a bone of contention between Türkiye and the West.
It was refreshing to see that Türkiye underwent an election exercise with a high voter turnout. And that opposition did their best to oust President Erdoğan.
However, it did not come to pass as Erdoğan has been at the helm of affairs for the past two decades and shares an ideological affinity with the masses. But these realities do not change the challenges facing Türkiye, that is upcoming local elections of 2024, an ailing economy, and an anti-Erdoğan West.