The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

Turkey’s economic and political crisis is set to continue now that Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been re-elected.

After facing the toughest re-election campaign of his political career, Turkey’s embattled leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan was re-elected to a third term. Erdogan prevailed over Kemal Kilicdaroglu in a run-off election on May 28 after the first round of voting did not produce a clear winner.

Erdogan won with just over 52% of the vote, which clearly illustrates his declining popularity. Almost half the electorate in the deeply polarised country did not back his authoritarian vision for the country. For the first time in his political career, he failed to win in the first round and won by a smaller margin in the runoff. Compared to five years ago, despite millions of new voters, Erdogan’s personal vote margin increased by only 1.5 million votes. In addition, Erdogan’s AK Party also fared poorly at the polls.

While Erdogan may assume that the results were a stamp of approval for his domestic and foreign policies, he shouldn’t get overconfident. The country is deeply divided and though a slim majority of voters were swayed by his populist message, an economic reckoning looms on the horizon.

This was evident in the freefall of the Turkish lira after the final results were announced. The lira plunged to record lows, a sign that currency markets lack confidence in Turkey’s economic future. Over the last few years, Turkey has gone through one of the worst economic crises in its history. The cost of food, rent, and everyday goods have soared, exacerbated by Erdogan’s refusal to observe orthodox economic policies and raise interest rates. The lira has hit record lows against the dollar and the Turkish central bank has struggled to meet surging demand for foreign currency.

On the political front as well, things look worse. Over the last decade, Erdogan has taken Turkey down a more autocratic, one-man-rule style of governance. This has included restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, and free assembly. For the sizable portion of society that voted against him, Erdogan is seen as an authoritarian strongman. Erdogan has stacked the judiciary, demonized independent media, and jailed perceived opponents including journalists.

Erdogan is accused of allowing corruption to flourish, leading to shoddy, unregulated construction that contributed to thousands being killed during the devastating earthquake in February. He has replaced opposition mayors even though they won local elections. This approach undertaken by Erdogan is not new, but it became more pronounced over the last decade. In 2008, Turkey’s constitutional court ruled that Erdogan’s AK Party was guilty of seeking to undermine secularism and imposed a fine. Prosecutors had sought a ban on the party and its leading political figures including Erdogan.

Under Erdogan, Turkey has developed a neo-Ottoman foreign policy which is turning out to be a disaster for Ankara. This has involved interventions in Syria, support for Azerbaijan in its dispute with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, and support for government forces in Libya. There have also been increased tensions with Greece and Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean, notably over drilling rights.

Erdogan has also backed Turkish Cypriot leaders by rejecting a UN-backed model of a unified federal Cyprus in favour of a two-state solution. All of this has increased the country’s internal security threats and alienated itself geopolitically. In addition to direct military involvement, Erdogan has supported extremist groups across the region. Erdogan’s dubious and murky links with Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and others have been exposed by various intelligence agencies. Because of this, in 2021, Turkey was placed on the ‘grey list’ of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) which was deeply embarrassing for Ankara.

There is little reason to believe that a newly-emboldened Erdogan will reverse the trajectory of his disastrous policies. It is highly anticipated that the next few years will see higher inflation and skyrocketing unemployment that could easily turn into uncontrollable public anger against refugees who have fled to Turkey.

It’s a hard reality that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s vision of a modern and secular Turkey has been thrown out of the window by Erdogan. The country will lose a great deal if it allows Erdogan to carry out his flawed policies and destroy what makes Turkey a truly great country.

Manish Rai is a geopolitical analyst and columnist for the Middle East and Af-Pak region and the editor of geopolitical news agency ViewsAround (VA). He has done reporting from Jordon, Iran, and Afghanistan. His work has been quoted in the British Parliament.