Erdogan gets another five years

Published : 13 Jun 2023 08:34 PM

The dynamic of governance in Turkey is being monitored very carefully by the Western countries as well as those from Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has surprised his critics, pundits and pollsters by securing a third term and extending his 20-year rule for another five years. The president made the most of his victory, with an initial speech to supporters atop a bus in Turkey's biggest city Istanbul, followed after dark by a balcony address from his palace to an adoring crowd. "It is not just us who won, Turkey won," he declared, calling it one of the most important elections in Turkish history.

It was clear that Erdogan knew that it had been a near race and that is why he correctly remarked that “Today nobody has lost”. This was aimed to soothe the opposition who had fought the different electoral platforms so strongly and passionately. 

The elections, in which more than 64 million Turks at home and abroad were entitled to vote, took place against a background of a cost-of-living crisis that saw inflation peak at 85 percent in October and terrible earthquakes in February that killed more than 50,000 people. Erdogan, 69, who came to power in 2003, initially as prime minister, offered a vision of further development, promising to extend the improvements made by his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government. NATO member Turkey’s longest-serving leader was tested like never before in what was widely seen as most consequential in Turkey’s 100-year history as a post-Ottoman republic.

Katya Adler geo-strategic analyst indicated after the final result that Erdogan has gained in the election from the increase in Turkey's global strategic significance created by the Ukraine war. This has been reflected through the huge list of world leaders who rushed to congratulate Erdogan after his victory.

First out of the box was Russian President Vladimir Putin. He was keen “to stroke the ego of his Turkish counterpart and fellow strongman leader” so much so that “he did not even wait for the official results of the vote before singling out Mr Erdogan's-independent foreign policy as a reason for his victory”. K. Adler has assumed that the Turkish policy Russia is particularly fond of is Mr Erdogan's refusal to ostracise the Kremlin after its invasion of Ukraine, even as Turkey's allies in NATO imposed sanctions and slashed their energy reliance on Russia. Trade between Turkey and Russia has apparently even increased significantly since the start of the conflict in Ukraine.

After that, from within the international scenario came felicitations from US President Joe Biden and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron. This happened despite their disagreements with Erdogan over the manner in which he had been “cosying up to the Kremlin and his slashing of free speech and democratic norms at home during his first two decades in power”.

United States’ President Joe Biden and top diplomat Antony Blinken sent their congratulations to Erdogan for his victory. “I look forward to continuing to work together as NATO Allies on bilateral issues and shared global challenges,” Biden said in a tweet. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Turkey “a valued @NATO Ally and partner.” “I look forward to our continued work together with the government chosen by the Turkish people,” he said. Blinken also praised the high turnout rate and the country’s “long democratic tradition.”

Some strategists have since the victory of Erdogan pointed out that such a response was a reflection of Turkey being a crucial ally of the West and also because it was a key member of the NATO military alliance.  Interestingly Erdogan has been maintaining close ties with Russia - but also providing military aid to Ukraine. He interestingly brokered a deal whereby Russia ended a blockade on Ukraine grain supplies.

Erdogan has also conveyed his official approval of Russia’s neighbor Finland joining NATO.  The west will now look forward to his agreement over Sweden being part of NATO. Strategists believe that Sweden could then provide important Baltic Sea cover for the alliance against Russia. The West hopes the dire state of Turkey's economy - and the likelihood that Mr Erdogan will have to concentrate on stabilising finances and attracting foreign investment - could prove a soft spot to push for Sweden's NATO accession as a quid pro quo. Turkey and Hungary are the only NATO countries still blocking Stockholm's membership.

EU countries, particularly French President Macron has been worried for the last few years about illegal migration to the EU and now that Erdogan has won is hoping that Turkey will take necessary steps to stop this sensitive scenario of allowing people smugglers free reign to send boats of asylum seekers and other migrants over the Mediterranean into France and some other countries like Italy and Spain. It needs to be noted here that there has been growing dissatisfaction within Turkish voters about this scenario. The swelling numbers of Syrian refugees at home has proved extremely unpopular with Turkish voters. This was evident during the Presidential election process when every political party running in Turkey's parliamentary elections promised to take action to solve "the migrant issue" if they were elected to power. One anticipates that this will persuade Erdogan to take a firm stand on this issue. Any action that Turkey takes now will matter for the EU.

Many other countries who had lately been careful about which way Turkey was moving with Erdogan also congratulated his unique victory.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz noted how “deeply intertwined” the people and economies of both countries are, adding that “together we want to advance our common agenda with a fresh impetus!” Saudi Arabia’s King Salman congratulated Erdogan on his presidential win. EU Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen congratulated Erdogan on winning the election run-off and assured Erdogan that the EU looked forward to working with Turkey and wanted to deepen EU-TR relations in the years to come. It was also pointed out by the EU that “both EU and Turkey should work together on advancing their relationship for the benefit of our people ''. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak conveyed that he looked forward to continuing the “strong collaboration” between the UK and Turkey including “tackling security threats as NATO allies”. Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi called Erdogan’s re-election “a sign of continued valuable trust of Turkish people '' and hoped that their relationship with Turkey in the next stage would continue on the basis of good neighborliness and shared interests.

President Shahabuddin and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh have also congratulated the Turkish President on his historic victory. The Prime Minister expressed her happiness as the “people of Turkey had made the right choice “.  She reiterated that “the people of Bangladesh would remain steadfast in standing by the brotherly people of Turkey at any time of need, as they had done during the recent earthquake crisis in Turkey”. President Shahabuddin was also in Turkey during the swearing in ceremony of President Erdogan.

Analysts have also been scrutinizing carefully the electoral process and the other side of the coin. They have monitored the very narrow margin of victory and are wondering whether Turkey’s opposition will be able to overcome the challenges in the road ahead after another loss.

 Defeated presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu is also facing questions over his leadership of the CHP, having not won a national election since he became head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) in 2010. Many are now demanding a successor as Head of the CHP. Such an emerging view has also taken many of his followers by surprise as Kemal Kilicdaroglu received 47.84 percent share of the vote in the second-round of the presidential race against Erdogan. It may be noted that In Turkey’s two previous direct presidential elections, Erdogan’s challengers had failed to break through the 40 percent barrier.

 Analyst Andrew Wilks has in this regard pointed out that Erdogan clearly has a massive following but the Opposition CHP will now focus on local elections due in March next year.

Kilicdaroglu Republican People’s Party (CHP) will try to defend the gains made in 2019. It may be recalled that four years ago, the CHP, backed by other parties, took a clutch of major cities, including Istanbul and Ankara, which had been governed by Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party) or its predecessors for 25 years.

The setback of the CHP in the Presidential election is now urging the opposition politicians to try and convene a party congress before the end of the year, where they will in all likelihood raise questions over the leadership and strategy of the next spring’s campaign. Some of the opposition leadership has already started mentioning the name of Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu as a possible successor of Kilicdaroglu. However the current leader of the CHP has shown no sign of stepping down before next March’s local election. He has commented instead that “We will continue to be the vanguard of this struggle until real democracy comes to our country.”

One can only hope that despite the many difficulties that have overtaken our world due to conflicts, climate change, fundamentalism, communalism and terrorism- Turkey under the leadership of Erdogan will be able to overcome the many challenges facing Turkey and some of his neighboring regions. Analyst F. Altun has expressed the hope that Erdogan will continue not only to advocate reform and redistribution of power within global governing bodies to achieve equity within the international system but also resolve pressing bilateral, regional and global challenges such as climate change, food shortages, irregular migration and economic crises. One should remember his contribution over the past five years in improving connectivity, healthcare and education facilities for girls and women within his country. One is confident that he will deliver more development and a stronger Turkey. 

It would also be important to remember that President Erdogan over the last few years has played a crucial role in trying to solve the Rohingya repatriation problem and also the Palestinian issue. Bangladesh will always stand by his side.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance