Issued by CEMO Center - Paris
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Key Insights from Turkey's Presidential Election

Monday 29/May/2023 - 06:52 PM
The Reference

Recep Tayyip Erdogan's victory in Turkey's presidential election grants him another five years in power, enabling him to further consolidate his conservative influence on Turkish society and pursue his ambitions of enhancing the country's economic and geopolitical strength.

The Supreme Election Council of Turkey declared Erdogan the winner after a closely contested runoff election on Sunday. With nearly all votes counted, Erdogan secured 52.1% of the vote, while his opposition, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, received 47.9%, according to the council.

The election drew significant attention from Turkey's NATO allies, including the United States, who have often regarded Erdogan as a challenging partner due to his anti-Western rhetoric and close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, particularly since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Erdogan has shown no indication of intending to change his domestic and foreign policies. He aims to leverage Turkey's strategic position at the intersection of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East to expand its influence globally. Domestically, he has consolidated power in his hands and implemented unconventional measures in response to an inflation crisis, which economists believe exacerbated the problem.

The election posed a challenge for Erdogan, with the united opposition considering it a critical moment for Turkish democracy. Kilicdaroglu, the opposition candidate, campaigned as an anti-Erdogan figure, promising to restore civil liberties and improve relations with the West. He presented himself as someone in touch with the struggles of the common people.

Here are the key takeaways:

Erdogan withstood multiple crises: This election proved to be Erdogan's most demanding in his 20 years as Turkey's prominent politician. Despite challenges such as a cost-of-living crisis and devastating earthquakes, Erdogan's fervent support base, including religiously conservative Turks, remained loyal, believing that the opposition would not govern effectively.

Earthquake's impact on the election: Unlike expectations, the earthquake in February did not significantly affect Erdogan's standing. He secured victory in eight out of the 11 provinces impacted by the earthquake. The governing Justice and Development Party and its allies also performed well in parliamentary elections within those provinces. Voter turnout in the earthquake zone remained high, dispelling concerns about displaced voters.

Opposition undermined on terrorism stance: Erdogan successfully portrayed the opposition leaders as weak and incompetent, capitalizing on their ties with Turkey's pro-Kurdish party. By accusing them of being soft on terrorism, Erdogan instilled fear among voters, who believed only he could ensure the country's safety.

Observers note advantages for Erdogan: International observers reported no major issues with the voting process, considering it free and fair. However, they highlighted the considerable advantages Erdogan enjoyed before the elections, including significant state spending to counter inflation's negative effects and extensive positive media coverage from state-funded broadcasters.

Economic challenges for Erdogan: Economists warn that Erdogan's short-term strategies to combat inflation and stabilize the currency are unsustainable. Turkey's declining foreign currency reserves and persistent double-digit inflation pose significant economic risks. Despite these warnings, Erdogan has shown no intention of modifying his economic policies, leaving the country vulnerable to a potential currency crisis or recession.

As Erdogan begins his new term, he will need to address these economic concerns while grappling with the aftermath of a closely contested election.