What does Erdogan do next?
    New challenges ahead for Türkiye

    ANALYTICS  01 June 2023 - 15:40

    Fuad Shahbazov

    On May 28, the president's runoff in Türkiye resulted in the next victory of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is set to rule the country for the next five years. With 99.43% of the votes counted, preliminary official results announced by Türkiye's Supreme Election Council (YSK) showed Erdogan winning with 52.14% of the votes and his opponent Kilicdaroglu received 47.86%.

    Although the recent presidential and parliamentary elections were held in light of the shrinking of the economy and the duplication of the national currency, Erdogan's ruling government managed to maintain the majority in the parliament, while the opposition's nationalist alliance quickly collapsed.

    Erdogan won in part due to the backing of conservative voters. The conservative strata seemed to largely ignore the fact that the country is suffering a severe economic crisis due to inflation and the February earthquakes that killed more than 43,500 people and damaged millions of homes and businesses.

    They remain devoted to him for lifting Islam’s profile in Türkiye, which was founded on secular principles, and raising the country’s influence in international politics while charting an independent course.

    However, for the next five years, President Erdogan must negotiate a complicated web of local and foreign challenges while retaining power. One of his most difficult tasks will be finding solutions to economic issues like high unemployment and inflation while also handling Türkiye’s ties with important trading partners such as the European Union and Russia.

    Furthermore, Erdogan must address the core reasons for political division in Türkiye, such as economic disparity and regional differences. This might include enacting laws that encourage inclusive growth and investing in infrastructure projects that benefit all parts of the country. However, there are plenty of such tasks for President Erdogan, such as an attempt to keep the region stable in the face of violence and instability, notably in Syria and Iraq, to address the long-term Kurdish issue.

    Considering the ruling AKP government’s firm stance on the ethnic Kurdish minority in the last few years and the government's harsh rhetoric, the leading Kurdish political party, Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), unanimously stood with the opposition alliance during the elections, albeit unsuccessfully. Therefore, Erdogan will need to shift domestic policy to consolidate the power within and reach out to the Kurdish community to tackle the growing discontent.

    With Erdoğan embarking on another five-year term, he is in a powerful position to influence not only the future direction of democracy in the 85-million-strong country but also to shape politics in the region and beyond. Nevertheless, the critics at home are doubtful that Erdogan's government will significantly change its domestic policy in the next five years, instead focusing more on the foreign policy dimension to restore the country's image in the West.

    For that purpose, Ankara will likely attempt to rekindle relations with NATO and the EU while maintaining good relations with Russia in the wake of the Ukraine war. In fact, Türkiye's place as a critical NATO power at the junction of Europe and the Middle East has made the election one of the most closely watched political contests in the world this year.

    In this vein, President Erdogan would review Ankara’s policy towards the membership of Sweden. Earlier, Ankara rejected approve Sweden's membership bid to NATO, referring to its support of terrorist organizations that are considered to be affiliated with the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK). Nevertheless, without additional guarantees from Stockholm regarding the PKK affiliations based in Sweden, Türkiye will unlikely change its stance towards the membership issue.

    Another serious challenge for Erdogan's new term is indeed the Syrian refugee crisis, which was the hot topic of all political parties during the recent elections. During the election campaign, nearly all candidates promised to return millions of refugees to Syria. Shortly after the polls, Erdogan launched a voluntary return plan to Syria, and more than half a million Syrians have decided to return home. The Turkish population, after almost a decade of hosting more than three million refugees, wants Syrians to return home.

    With the new term in office, President Erdogan extended his rule for the next five years, thus becoming the longest-serving head of state in the history of modern Türkiye. However, the new term will be the toughest in President Erdogan's long political career without addressing major economic problems, regional security, refugee crisis, and rapprochement with the West.


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