Turkey gets another 5 years of Erdogan

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will prolong his two-decade rule of the NATO country for another five years after prevailing over his rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu in Sunday’s runoff elections with 52.1% to 47.9%.

In the first round of elections on May 14, Erdogan secured 49.5% of the votes, while his main opponent Kilicdaroglu garnered 44.9%.

Backed by a six-party coalition, Kilicdaroglu was left with a bitter taste, as this was the closest the opposition had come to ousting Erdogan since 2002 when he first came to power.

The opposition hoped for a decline in Erdogan’s popularity following the devastating earthquake on February 6, which claimed the lives of more than 50,000 Turks.

Kilicdaroglu and the opposition parties also characterised the latest Presidential elections as the ‘most unfair elections the country has ever seen’.

The incumbent president turned the tables through a campaign based on nationalistic and religious rhetoric, pulling the carpet over the country’s economic problems.

German news site Der Spiegel points out that the Turkish president’s election campaign “was based on a mixture of religious slogans and nationalism.

He also turned the election into an existential question: ‘One country, one flag, one nation, a heart’.

Erdogan used to say and appeared as an anchor in stormy times, “father and protector of the nation”.

In addition, Erdogan had complete control over the media.

“Indicatively, the state-run TRT station from April 1 to May 1 broadcast 32 hours of Erdogan and 32 minutes of Kilicdaroglu,” said Der Spiegel.

Kilicdaroglu’s opposition alliance had pledged to reorganise governance and restore human rights and the independence of the courts and the central bank after they were sidelined in the past decade.

The six-party coalition also promised to reverse Erdogan’s economic programme with aggressive rate hikes and a return to free-market principles, which cheered international investors ahead of the elections.

Erdogan appointed a new economy minister and central bank governor in 2021 to begin slashing interest rates to 8.5% from 19%.

This sparked a historic currency crash in late 2021 and sent inflation above 85% last year, prompting more than 100 new regulations that discouraged foreign currency holdings and ramped up bank bond holdings.

This saw foreign reserves tumbling, as the central bank’s policy of stabilising the Lira sent its net foreign reserves into negative territory for the first time since 2002, while the bank also sold $9 bln in gold since March to meet pre-election demand.

In his acceptance speech, Erdogan hinted that he would continue his economic policies of interest slashing.

He told his audience that “bringing down inflation was the most urgent issue the country faces.

“Inflation will drop, as did the interest rates”.

“We are planning an economy focused on investment and employment, with a management team of international repute,” assured Erdogan.

Pressure from the west

Following his re-election, Erdogan is expected to feel the pressure from NATO allies to withdraw its objections, as Sweden’s application to the Treaty is pending approval from member states.

The challenge for Turkey’s president is to restore a relationship of trust with US President Joe Biden.

Erdogan has been trying to maintain good relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and keep financing and investment flowing from the Gulf countries.

Meanwhile, in the Turkish-occupied north of the island, the Turkish Cypriot community had been eager to see the election’s outcome, not so much for its impact on the Cyprus problem but on their community.

In recent years there was a growing dissatisfaction over Turkey’s interference in the everyday lives of Turkish Cypriots.

From the middle of Erdogan’s rule, Turkey has been intensifying its efforts to broaden control over the Turkish Cypriot community, altering its cultural DNA.

Although it remains to be seen whether Turkey will continue its meddling in the north following the election result, indications are that Erdogan will pick up from where he left off.