Global Implications of Erdogan’s Historic Win
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Global Implications of Erdogan’s Historic Win


APLN member Rakesh Sood writes: Despite a weak economy, a disastrous earthquake, first time a united Opposition candidate; Erdogan still scores with his polarising blend of Islamism, popularism and nationalism. Read the original article here.

Last month, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won his second term in the most contested election in the last two decades, and cemented his place in Turkish history by becoming its longest-serving ruler. So far, that distinction belonged to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish republic and its first president from 1923 till his death in 1938.

The 2023 election took place against two negative developments. First, a weak economy, with inflation running at over 40% and a weakening lira that has depreciated by 80% since 2018. The second was the devastating earthquake in February this year that claimed 50000 lives and exposed that building codes had been violated with impunity by the contractors and builders because of widespread corruption.

For the first time, six Opposition parties came together determined to end to Erdogan’s autocratic rule. The emerging opposition front led by the Republican Peoples Party (CHP) evidently rattled Erdogan, and the government revived an old case against Ekrem Imamoglu, the popular mayor of Istanbul.

After considerable political manoeuvrings, 74-year-old Kemal Kilicdaroglu, became the Opposition candidate. A soft-spoken former civil servant who entered politics in 1999, he made it clear that his goal was to transition Turkey to a parliamentary system and restore independence and integrity of institutions like the central bank and the judiciary.

In the run-up to the elections, opinion polls gave a slight edge to Kilicdaroglu. But in the first round on May 14, Erdogan led with 49.4% of the vote with Kilicdaroglu trailing at 45%. Since Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) coalition retained its majority in parliament, Erdogan made it clear a Kilicdaroglu victory would only lead to political paralysis. In the run-off on May 28, Erdogan maintained his lead, obtaining 52.2% of the vote.

Even though Erdogan controls 90% of the print and audio-visual media, leaving the opposition to rely on social media, Kilicdaroglu was able to push Erdogan to a second round for the first time in the last twenty years. His votes came from the major urban areas, the developed coastal areas in the south and the west and the Kurdish areas in the east. His open acknowledgement that he is an Alevi and fighting on a liberal platform failed to make a dent in the rural majority Sunni heartland that remained Erdogan’s stronghold. The result is a polarised country with deep divides, on issues of Western influence and traditional culture, religion and secularism, values and identity, manifest in growing nationalism.

Erdogan’s nimble foreign policy during in recent years helped him establish an image as a nationalist. Even as he expanded Turkey’s influence in the areas that were once part of the Ottoman empire, he balanced concerns with his North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) allies, with traditional rivals like Russia and Iran, while seeking a pole position in the Islamic world. It required brinkmanship but that appeals to the nationalist sentiment that cuts across the political spectrum.

Erdogan is closer to China and applied to join SCO but also criticised its treatment of Uighurs; is a member of NATO but bought the Russian S-400 missile defence system; seeks to improve ties with Russia but opposes it in the conflicts in Libya and Armenia-Azerbaijan; created an Organisation of Turkic States reflecting shades of neo-Ottomanism; maintains close ties with Qatar and after a downturn in ties with Saudi Arabia on the Adnan Khashoggi murder, successfully restored ties with the Arab world.

The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have bailed him out by providing $5 billion each to the central bank and Russia postponed a gas payment of $600 million to 2024 while agreeing to fund a $10 billion Akkuyu nuclear power plant.

Now that Syrian President Assad has beaten back resistance and is there to stay, Erdogan’s major diplomatic challenge is to reconcile with him. However, his real challenge is to stabilise the economy that has been rocked by his upside-down policies. To tackle inflation, he has been lowering interest rates and pumping in dollars to lower the Lira’s decline but reserves are trending into negative territory. He appears confident of Western support since he managed to broker the Black Sea grain export deal between Ukraine and Russia and curbed the flow of refugees into Europe.

Historically, relations with India have been low-key, with Turkey sympathetic to Pakistan on Kashmir, and countering UN Security Council expansion in the permanent category by proposing an expansion only of the non-permanent category. Despite the personal empathy between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Erdogan, borne out shared experiences of their struggle to get to the top, their recourse to nationalism and invoking a grand past, a deep religiosity and exceptional communication skills, given each leader’s current challenges, the bilateral relationship is likely to remain low-key.

Image: Erdogan’s nimble foreign policy in recent years helped him establish an image as a nationalist. (REUTERS)