What Erdoğan’s re-election means for Turkey and the West

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed victory in the presidential election on Sunday, extending his rule into a third decade.

With 99% of ballot boxes counted, Erdoğan has secured 52% of the vote putting him well ahead of rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s 48%, according to state-owned news agency Anadolu.

The election has been seen as one of the most consequential in Turkey’s recent history, with the opposition believing it had a good chance of unseating Erdoğan who presided over a bruising cost-of-living crisis.

But what impact will his victory have on Turkey and the West? 

Erdoğan could tighten his grip on power even further

Already the longest-serving leader in the history of the Turkish Republic, Erdoğan has consolidated power during his time in office, establishing a presidential system for himself.

Critics say the 69-year-old has shifted Turkey away from its democratic foundations towards authoritarian rule. 

He crushed anti-government protests and evaded a corruption investigation into his inner circle.

Erdoğan has taken control of most of Turkey’s institutions and sidelined liberals and critics. In its World Report 2022, Human Rights Watch said Erdoğan’s AK party (AKP has set back Turkey’s human rights record by decades.

Ilke Toygür, professor of European Geopolitics at the University Carlos III of Madrid said a victory could see Erdoğan buckle down even more.

“I would even expect the more frightening attitudes when it comes to democracy and when it comes to foreign policy,” she told Euronews in May.  

Islamic influence may grow

Erdoğan is popular among conservative and religious voters. 

He has defended the rights of conservative Muslims after decades of a resolutely secular regime, allowing women to wear the headscarf in public buildings, such as universities and civil service, where they were banned. 

Erdoğan may pursue a more radical policy in the coming period as he broadened his alliance with Islamist groups, such as Hüda Par and Yeniden Refah before the elections.

His government may come under pressure from these parties to pursue more Islamist policies.

Cost-of-living crisis

The election came amid a damaging economic crisis, worsened by the devastating earthquakes in February.

Economists say Erdoğan’s unorthodox policy of low interest rates despite surging prices drove inflation to 85% last year, with the lira plummeting to one-tenth of its value against the dollar over the last decade.

Analysts predict Erdoğan’s first priority will be to fix the economy, but no major changes are expected in the economic model ahead of local elections in 2024.

“There are lots of economic problems in Turkey. So this is the weakest point of the Erdoğan regime,” economist Arda Tunca told Euronews.

Last week, it was reported that divisions were growing among the AKP on future economic policies, with some seeking an alternative to Erdoğan’s controversial programme. 

After the devastating earthquake in February, opponents thought voters would punish him over the state’s initially slow response.

But in the first round of voting on May 14, which included parliamentary elections, the AKP emerged top in 10 of the 11 provinces hit by the earthquakes, helping it secure a parliamentary majority along with its allies.

Although Erdoğan has used nationalism to maintain his popularity, the economic crises are unlikely to be resolved quickly.

On foreign affairs

The defeat of Kılıçdaroğlu, who promised to set the country on a more democratic and collaborative path, will likely be cheered in Moscow. 

However, it could be mourned in Western capitals as Turkey has taken a more confrontational and independent stance in foreign affairs.

Under Erdoğan, Turkey has flexed military power in the Middle East and beyond, forging closer ties with Russia. Meanwhile, relations with the European Union and the United States become increasingly strained.

He has conducted a diplomatic “balancing act” since Russia invaded Ukraine, opposing Western sanctions on Russia, while at the same time sending drones to Kyiv.

According to experts,  Erdoğan does not want to completely break with the West, he just wants to do things his own way.

He will probably continue to have a contentious and quarrelsome relationship with the West.

“Turkey is breaking away from the West, although it is a NATO member spiritually, Turkey is not a part of NATO anymore,” said economist Arda Tunca.

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