Commencing another term of five years, Erdoğan occupies a prominent position that grants him the power to not only impact the democratic trajectory of Türkiye but also to mold the political environment of the whole region.
BY NAJLA M. SHAHWAN, Daily Sabah,
Millions of citizens went to the polls on May 28 for the second time in two weeks, playing a crucial role in determining the outcome of one of the most fiercely contested presidential elections in Türkiye’s recent history.
The powerful incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan faced off against the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) chair, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, in what many considered the most intense fight of Erdoğan’s political career. He won with 52.14% of votes, while Kılıçdaroğlu received 47.86%.
The first round of voting on May 14 failed to produce a clear winner. However, Erdoğan came out ahead of his main opponent Kılıçdaroğlu by 4.5% points, giving him an advantage ahead of Sunday’s vote and extending his time in office to a third decade. On the other hand, the president’s parliamentary bloc won most seats in the parliamentary race on the same day.
Erdoğan has been at the helm of Türkiye’s government, first as prime minister and then as president, and the election has been widely seen as a defining moment for the country.
His supporters see him as a modernizer who had elevated Türkiye’s presence on the global stage and advanced the country’s infrastructure and military capability while empowering the religious devote who were repressed when secular leaders were in power decades ago.
Kılıçdaroğlu, on the other hand, was backed by an opposition alliance ranging from secularists, religionists and nationalists who struggled with presenting himself as an alternative to Erdoğan, a charismatic unshakeable popular leader.
Erdoğan’s election campaign had to contend with economic problems such as high inflation, currently at 43.6%, and February’s devastating earthquake disaster, when the opposition criticized the government for lack of quick response.
Having secured another five years and facing many domestic challenges, Erdoğan promised that the government’s main priorities would be fighting inflation and healing the wounds from the catastrophic quakes that claimed more than 50,000 lives and caused extensive destruction across 11 provinces in Türkiye.
The cost of the Feb. 6 tremors has been estimated as more than $100 billion (TL 2.10 trillion) by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Erdoğan, backed by most of the region in the elections, said rebuilding efforts would be a top priority for his government and pledged to build 319,000 homes within a year.
In his victory speech on Sunday night, Erdoğan also highlighted inflation as the country’s primary problem. “Resolving the problems caused by the price increases and by inflation is the most urgent topic of the coming days,” he told supporters outside the Presidential Complex in Ankara.
“Solving them is not difficult for us. Weren’t we the ones who proved this during my time as prime minister?” he added, referring to his 11-year spell as premier before he became president in 2014.
Erdoğan vowed to double down on his unorthodox economic policies, stating that interest rates and inflation were “positively correlated.”
Two decades in power
A massive boom in construction has marked Erdoğan’s 21-year rule. Despite some criticism that the lax enforcement of building codes contributed to the deadliness of the quakes, many of his supporters believe he has shown that he can rebuild the region.
As for the Syrian refugee problem, Erdoğan noted that his government’s plans to build hundreds of thousands of homes in northern Syria would facilitate Syrian refugees’ voluntary return.
Erdoğan is deeply aware that public sentiment has soured regarding the 3.4 million Syrians who fled violence at home for Türkiye, especially as the country grapples with an economic downturn.
In his victory speech, Erdoğan said some 600,000 refugees had voluntarily returned to Syria, where the government is creating “safe zones” in northern areas. He also said an additional million would follow thanks to a joint resettlement program with Qatar.
Türkiye’s migration agency has said some 554,000 Syrians had returned, and Erdoğan said another million would go to Syria within a year as new housing is built.
Implications far beyond borders
Türkiye’s place as a critical NATO power at the junction of Europe and the Middle East has made the election one of the world’s most closely watched political contests this year. Erdoğan’s victory will have implications far beyond Türkiye’s borders.
Under President Erdoğan’s leadership, Turkey has adopted a balanced policy regarding the Russia-Ukraine conflict, choosing not to participate in Western sanctions against Moscow.
Furthermore, as the leader of NATO’s second-largest army, Erdoğan has held up the expansion of NATO by refusing to ratify Sweden’s membership. He accuses Sweden of harboring PKK terrorists and has made the extradition of wanted individuals a precondition for Stockholm’s accession.
In response, Sweden has rejected Türkiye’s longstanding requests for extradition.
On the other hand, since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Erdoğan has emerged as a key power broker, adopting a crucial balancing act between the two sides, widely known as “pro-Ukrainian neutrality.”
He also helped broker the Black Sea Grain Corridor Initiative. This key agreement unlocked millions of tons of wheat caught up in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, averting a global hunger crisis. The agreement was recently extended for another two months.
All these acts highlight Erdoğan’s impact and pivotal role in regional and international critical security issues.
Embarking on a third decade in power, President Erdoğan holds a significant position that enables him to exert influence not only on the democratic path of Türkiye’s 85 million people but also to shape the political landscape of the entire region.