Middle EastNews

Turkey: Erdoğan Wins, But What Now?

The 60-year-old Turkish AK Party leader addressed his supporters in Istanbul in a victory speech after results showed him leading: “We all won today. The whole of Turkey won. Democracy and the will of the people won.”

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The 60-year-old Turkish AK Party leader addressed his supporters in Istanbul in a victory speech after results showed him leading: “We all won today. The whole of Turkey won. Democracy and the will of the people won.”

According to Turkey’s Supreme Election Council (YSK), Recep Erdoğan has been reelected in Turkey’s presidential run-off this Sunday.

President Erdoğan, in power for twenty years and whose AK Party has been Türkiye’s governing party since 2002, won 52.1% of the vote against 47.9% for his opponent Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, with more than 98% of the ballot boxes counted.

The 60-year-old Turkish AK Party leader addressed his supporters in Istanbul in a victory speech after results showed him leading: “We all won today. The whole of Turkey won. Democracy and the will of the people won.”

Erdoğan added, “We have opened the door of Turkey’s century without compromising our democracy, development, and our objectives”.

More than 60 million people were called to vote this Sunday, with 191,885 ballot boxes set up for voters nationwide. 

For the first time in the country’s political history, Turkish people went to the polls for the second round of the presidential election. Indeed, this year’s elections have been considered the most challenging moment for the country’s future, while the presidential camp wished for a landslide victory.

By contrast with earlier elections in which the president’s AK Party easily beat his secular rivals and obtained an absolute majority, his 2023’s performance elections put him five points ahead of his opponent Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu during the first round on 14 May.

However, despite Turkey’s economic challenges, such as a 43% inflation and a weak currency, Erdoğan’s victory highlights his ever-lasting grip on power. 

Analysts also believed Turkey’s latest devastating earthquake in February would also jeopardise his reelection. Victims criticised the Turkish government for its poor construction standards and slow response following the tragic incident. Despite these crucial issues, many world leaders, including Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin, congratulated Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on his reelection, which reflects the importance of Ankara’s role on the international scene.

Turkey plays a mediating role in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, and it was at the centre of discussions concerning the agreement on importing Ukrainian cereals by sea. A partner of Ukraine, to which it supplies combat drones, it is also close to Russia, on which it depends for its energy and wheat supplies. 

Despite Turkey’s criticism over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Ankara did not back Western sanctions on Moscow and chose to remain a close ally to Russia by maintaining trade, energy, and tourism ties.

Nevertheless, although Turkey is a longstanding North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) member, Erdoğan chose to adopt a very different foreign policy than its Western allies.

Most significantly, Turkey has been opposing Sweden’s NATO membership due to the Scandinavian country’s lax policies regarding organisations deemed terrorist by Ankara, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Without the approval of the 30 NATO members, no new country can be part of the US-led alliance. 

In an attempt to soften the deal, Joe Biden and Erdogan discussed this Monday F-16 fighter jets and Sweden’s NATO bid on a first call since the Turkish presidential election. According to the Turkish Presidency, the call aimed at enhancing cooperation in all aspects of their bilateral relations.

Turkey has aspired to buy $20 billion worth of F-16s from the United States, which the Biden administration has already approved. However, the foreign military sale was frozen by the US Congress over Ankara’s opposition to Sweden’s NATO membership.

“I spoke to Erdogan. I congratulated Erdogan. He still wants to work on something on the F-16s. I told him we wanted a deal with Sweden, so let’s get that done. And so we’ll be back in touch with one another,” Biden told reporters on Monday.

For Biden, Sweden’s NATO inclusion seems to be a top priority as the 30-leader summit is set to take place in mid-July in Lithuania.

Erdoğan’s Victory: A Major Blow for Europe?

President Erdoğan’s reelection will not likely restore peaceful relations with his European allies.

One of Erdoğan’s successful strategies is to make his country an actor in international relations rather than a bystander following Western guidelines. Instead, Turkey’s Erdogan has strengthened its influence in the Middle East by reducing American presence and maintaining a total absence of European policy. 

Erdoğan’s role in the region allowed Turkey to take a strategic place which continuously angers Europe. Consequently, over the next five years, Erdoğan is expected to reinforce his anti-western stance, which will de facto freeze the EU accession process. 

According to Western experts, the authoritarian turn taken by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan since the 2010s, such as repression of opposition and attacks on press freedoms and women’s rights, has played a crucial role in rejecting Turkey’s adhesion to the European Union. 

Turkey has been a candidate since 1987 to join the European Union, maintaining a complex relationship with the European Union – a status officially recognised by Europeans in 1999. 

Since then, the prospect of its integration has sparked lively debates related to the size and geographical position of the country, the weight of the Muslim religion in its society, and its position on the Cyprus issue. 

Indeed, since 1974, Cyprus has been an island divided between a southern, Greek-speaking and Orthodox, and a northern part, Turkish-speaking and Muslim, known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). The international community does not recognise the latter, except for Turkey, which militarily supports it.

In addition to these issues, the Toute l’Europe website states that Turkey “often used the agreement [on welcoming Syrian refugees] to put pressure on the European Union.”

Since 2016, Brussels has granted six billion euros to Turkey, which has stopped four million migrants on its territory in return. But, in 2019, Ankara threatened Europeans to open its borders and let millions of migrants reach Greece and Bulgaria after criticism of Turkey’s military operation in Syrian Kurdistan.

For political analysts, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s victory is another hard blow for Europe, weary of diplomatic crises and attacks against some of their leaders, such as France’s president Emmanuel Macron.

Erdoğan Reelected: What Does This Mean for Turkey?

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will also have to face several challenges nationally. One of his top priorities will undoubtedly be to relieve his Turkish population suffering from the high inflation. 

Inflation in Turkey is the fourth highest on the planet today, behind Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and Argentina, at 44% year on year last month. It hit a record 25-year-high of 85.51% in October, the highest for a quarter century.

According to the Statistical Institute of Turkey, Turkish consumers are particularly affected by increased transport prices, food, and housing, partly influenced by the global surge in energy prices. Consequently, Turkish people are constrained to spend less.

Very dependent on the import of energy, agricultural products and parts for its industry, the depreciation of its national currency, the Turkish lira, hits Turkey severely.

The Turkish lira has lost over half its value in two years and reached 20 pounds to the dollar this week. According to official data, Ankara spent 25 billion dollars a month supporting it. But its collapse seems inevitable, especially since foreign currency reserves have gone into the red for the first time since 2002.

However, between August 2022 and February 2023, the main key rate was lowered from 14% to 8.5%, cuts justified by the central bank’s desire to support “employment and industrial production”. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan asserts, contrary to classical economic theories, that high-interest rates encourage inflation, and he indicated during his campaign that he had no intention of raising them.

“We are designing an economy focused on investment and employment, with a finance management team that has an international reputation,” Erdoğan said on Monday in Ankara.

The other challenge awaiting Turkey’s President is the reconstruction of the regions affected by the earthquake that hit Turkey on 6 February.

Erdoğan has promised to rebuild 650,000 homes in the affected provinces as soon as possible. The disaster’s total damage cost is more than 100 billion dollars.

Ebru, a 27-year-old Turkish woman based in Europe, said, “During these elections, people mostly want to vote against Erdoğan and not for Kilicdaroglu, as they do not have any preferred candidates but want to see changes. So they vote for the candidate with higher chances to unseat Erdoğan.”

She added, “Especially when it comes to young voters, they mostly turn away from Erdoğan, as they believe the education system has collapsed and the unemployment rate has skyrocketed.”

As a European, Ebru noticed that the Turkish diaspora in Europe hadn’t changed their mind and would continue to support Erdoğan. However, she considers that Turks who live in Turkey think differently. “They want to see a new face as a leader,” she added.

As a result, Ebru believes that if Erdoğan has been reelected, it is because of the Turkish diaspora, which only comes to their home country during the holidays. For her, they cannot objectively judge if a government is doing a great job because they don’t face youth unemployment and are not affected by the rising prices in Turkey.

Unlike big businesses that have dodged inflation by holding foreign currency or buying tangible assets, average workers still struggle to pay their bills, leading them into debt. Super high inflation in Turkey and the devaluation of the Turkish lira have also triggered a brain drain, with the most qualified people seeing opportunities abroad.

For Suhaib, an Iraqi refugee who fled Iraq ten years ago, Erdoğan is the best option for Turkey. 

“Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has consistently expressed his intention to deport refugees once he assumes power,” he said. “Naturally, this prospect instills fear in me, as it raises concerns about the safety and security of both myself and my family,” Suhaib added.

Regardless of Erdoğan’s approach to governance and policies within the country, Suhaib perceives him as an individual who embodies numerous ideas and cultural values that resonate with his own beliefs as a Muslim and an Arab.