A Divided Victory: Erdogan’s Third Term and its Consequences

    • By,
      Piyush Mittal – Executive Assistant to the Dean, Kautilya

In spite of the growing inflation, the worsening economy, and the public anger over the government’s response to the earthquake that hit Turkey in February, the results of the Turkish Elections saw a 3rd-time major victory for the AKP (Justice & Development Party). Winning the 52% of the vote, The President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in this victory speech that the entire nation of 85 million people won and that they need to unite at the same time he attacked the opposition by accusing them of being in league with the terrorists, i.e., the Kurdish Militia and the country’s LGBTQ community.

Erdogan, who first came to power as Prime Minister of Turkey in 2003 (a position he held for 11 years before becoming President in 2014), during his term as the Prime Minister of the country Turkey witnessed regression into authoritarianism. He has consolidated power through constitutional revisions, weakened democratic institutions including the courts and the media, and imprisoned opponents and critics. According to Sweden’s V-Dem Institute, his efforts have earned Turkey the distinction of one of the world’s top ten autocratic countries. Freedom House reduced the country’s status in 2018 from “partly free” to “not free.”

Recep Tayyip Erdogan believes he is the builder of modern-day Turkey. Erdogan envisions a world with multiple superpowers, Turkey being one of them. One of the first world leaders to congratulate Erdogan on his victory was President Putin. Under Erdogan’s leadership, the ties between Turkey and Russia have improved significantly. The purchase of the S-400 missile system by Sweden was sanctioned by the majority of Western countries, but Turkey blocked Sweden’s application to join NATO. Although independent analysts believe the most recent figure still hides how terrible the country’s cost-of-living issue is, Erdogan’s triumph comes with bigger hurdles, with inflation reaching 44%, the currency depreciating by 80% since 2018, and the country holding $151 million in negative foreign exchange reserves as of the end of May. As a result, Turkish citizens are facing difficulty in paying increasing rent and purchasing necessities. As time goes on, the government will have to choose between maintaining the low rates that Erdogan has pledged, gradually raising them, or combining tiny increases with other policies. According to Demiralp, all of these factors will result in an “unavoidable slowdown” of the Turkish economy and rising unemployment rates; the question is whether this slowdown would be gradual or come to an abrupt halt.

Despite accusations that the government’s response to the earthquake was sluggish and incompetent, Erdogan won by a wide margin in the provinces that were severely hit by the earthquake that occurred on February 6 and claimed about 50,000 lives. Voters supported the president in 9 out of the 11 provinces impacted by the earthquake, including the particularly hard-hit Hatay. Erdogan declared in his victory address that his government would prioritize rebuilding efforts. According to the World Bank, the earthquake resulted in “direct damages” of $34.2 billion, which is equal to 4% of Turkey’s GDP in 2021. According to it, the expenditures of recovery and restoration could reach twice that amount.

Erdogan is well aware of the deteriorating public opinion towards the 3.4 million Syrians who escaped the continuing civil war in Syria for Turkey, particularly in light of the nation’s current economic crisis. Erdogan’s administration unveiled plans to erect tens of thousands of housing units in northern Syria to allow the “voluntary” departure of at least a million citizens. Erdogan said in his victory speech that 600,000 refugees had already voluntarily returned to Syria, where his government is establishing so-called “safe zones” in the country’s controlled northern regions.

During this year’s election campaign, the rights and liberties of L.G.B.T.Q. people were a hot topic. To win over conservatives while facing the greatest electoral threat of his two decades in power, Erdogan frequently attacked his rivals (the opposition) for allegedly backing gay rights. Out of concern for losing some of its supporters, the anti-Erdogan opposition largely skirted the subject. Many LGBTQ persons were left feeling that no one in the country had their backs and worrying that the prejudice they have long endured from the government and conservative segments of society could increase. An LGBTQ advocacy group in Istanbul, stated that “people are afraid and thinking dystopian notions like, “Are we going to be cut or physically attacked in the middle of the street?” “People will conceal their identities, and that is bad enough,” said the speaker. Turkey, a country with a majority-Muslim population and a secular government, has anti-discrimination laws but does not criminalize homosexuality. In contrast, more than a dozen LGBTQ people claimed in recent interviews that they frequently battled to find employment, stable housing, access to high-quality healthcare, and acceptance from their friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers.

Today’s Turkey has the position to shape its foreign policy, given its stance on the Ukraine-Russia war, as well as given how strongly it supports the Belt and Road Initiative, Turkey will likewise not alter its stance with China either. Erdogan now has two main objectives: first, to establish a more assertive presence for Turkey in the world that is independent of its traditional Western nation, the United States, and second, to use Ankara’s membership in NATO and the EU to further his objective for the national interest. One of Erdogan’s primary challenges includes bringing stability to the lives of the millions of people in southwestern Turkey who are still living in shelter homes after the 2 devastating earthquakes that hit the country early this year.

By pursuing a nonaligned and assertive foreign policy, Erdogan has attempted to use Turkish influence in its immediate neighborhood and beyond. In order to demonstrate Turkey’s worldwide independence, Erdogan wants to expand the domestic defense sector. According to Asli Aydintaşbaş, a visiting fellow in the Centre on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, “Erdogan wants to see the birth of the Turkish Empire, the belief that Turkey is destined to be a hegemon, regionally but also a global power in the 21st century.” Erdogan is well aware of the difficulties he would encounter during his new term and, and he looks poised to cement Turkey’s position in world politics as a key player.

*The Kautilya School of Public Policy (KSPP) takes no institutional positions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or positions of KSPP.