Erdogan’s Victory Fails to Reassure Amidst Regional Volatility

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region

July 2, 2018

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has once again carved out a victory in his country’s presidential elections. His bloc, the Justice and Development (AK) party, in coalition with two smaller parties, has also managed to secure parliamentary victory. The double triumph, along with the constitutional changes approved in a referendum last year, gives Mr. Erdogan a broad mandate and extensive powers to continue transforming Turkish society. However, the opposition made gains relative to previous elections and many have urged the Turkish president to now turn his focus to the country’s failing economy and reassuring his traditional allies.


News of Erdogan’s victory was received with some concern by the editorial team at the Saudi Gazette, which expressed misgivings about the ample powers now given to the Turkish president: “To outside analysts, the danger is that there are now no checks and balances within the government. There is no longer a prime minister and it is possible the Cabinet he appoints will merely be advisory. It seems very likely that parliament will have only a walk-on role unless Erdogan wishes to create a popular mandate on a controversial issue. From 1980 until Erdogan came to power, Turkish politicians distinguished themselves by their bickering and venality. Voters longed for a powerful, populist leader. Now, for better or worse, they have one.”


But as Jordan Times’s Hassan Barari points out, the Turkish president now has to work hard to jumpstart the economy or risk losing legitimacy: “Erdogan will suffer if he does not deliver.  We all know that he called for snap elections to achieve two goals: First, to take the opposition off guard, second, to avoid the impact of the deteriorating economy. His ploy worked. However, soon people will be looking to Erdogan as the one in charge to navigate through hardships to achieve the national desired goals. Short of delivering on these goals, Erdogan will run the risk of losing status and the next elections…. His success depends on his interpretation of the new electoral triumph. If he fails to adapt checks and balance the system, his autocratic tendencies may mobilize public opinion against him.”

Turkey’s economic challenges have been on the rise recently as the country’s currency — the lira — continues to behave erratically. According to a Gulf News report, “Stability in lira, which has been the worst performing emerging market currency after Argentine Peso, may be short-lived as investors want Turkey to solve their structural problem on current account deficit…. The currency lost more than a fifth of its value so far in the year, compared 34 per cent fall in the Argentine Peso, the worst performing currency…. The country’s ballooning current account deficit and questions over the independence of the central bank have been the sticky points among investors…. Investors are not feeling confident to invest their money in Turkey due to an absence of any strong steps from the government to solve the problem.”

Yeni Safak’s Abdullah Muradoğlu also turns his attention to the economic challenges ahead, preferring to blame the underperformance of the Turkish economy on “regional and geopolitical risks,” which, according to Muradoğlu “are omens of a painful process that requires long-term strategic insight. Crises and risks are taking place on a global scale that affects people’s lives…. The biggest challenge in the coming period is the “economy.” It is now time for the economy to be seen as a national security concern. The fundamental reason behind the economic crisis in the world is that financial operations take precedence over real economy…. In order to overcome the challenges ahead and make all our people rightfully happy, we should stop spinning yarns about valor and start talking about plans and ‘big dreams’ instead.”
Some, including Turkish analyst Menekse Tokyay, fear that the post-election environment will be characterized by a turn toward nationalist rhetoric. In a recent Arab News op-ed, Tokyay suggests that Mr. Erdogan is likely to seek a closer alliance with Russia rather than its Western allies: “The new period after the election results is therefore expected to be more Turkey-centered and nationalistic, with a more favorable ground for Russia to pull Ankara on its side against its transatlantic alliances with the US and NATO, especially at a time when Turkey wants to buy F-35 jets from the US and some lawmakers allegedly intend to block the sale. The expected nationalistic discourse of AKP-MHP coalition in Parliament can also result in Turkey’s cross-border moves against Kurdish militants in Syria and Iraq, and create a new fault line between Ankara and Washington over the latter’s support for the Kurds of the region.”

This sentiment is shared by The National’s editorial team, who assert that “Mr. Erdogan’s electoral victory also has significant and worrying implications for Turkey’s foreign policy. Declaring victory, a jubilant Mr. Erdogan promised to continue to “liberate Syrian lands”, following a recent unilateral offensive against Kurdish fighters in Afrin. Turkey has dismayed international partners and NATO allies with its foreign excursions and its overtures to Russia and Iran, while its proposed purchase of a Russian S-400 missile system is incompatible with NATO’s defense protocol. Meanwhile, the country’s decades-long attempt to join the European Union is looking increasingly implausible. As Mr. Erdogan’s supporters celebrate, the prospect for his opposition seems increasingly gloomy. And the president himself, now imbued with a mandate for his slide into authoritarianism, looks more powerful than ever.”

The rift between Turkey and the West has been evident for some time, but it has become deeper and wider ever since the United States decided to support the Kurdish forces in Syria. A recent Saudi Gazette editorial argues that, considering Mr. Erdogan’s belligerence toward the United States and the rest of the alliance: “It is therefore hardly surprising that the US Congress has just blocked the delivery of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, which was due to start this week…. It is clear that Erdogan is not prepared to be sanctioned by the US. He is limbering up for a military assault on the Kurdish PKK in northern Iraq and is seeking Iranian support. That of itself will harden the view of the Trump White House. The big question now is how Moscow will seek to exploit Ankara’s shattered relations with their old American ally.”

However, in an op-ed for Daily Sabah, Melih Altinok emphasizes the depth the U.S.-Turkish relations and expresses the hope that the relationship has not deteriorated beyond repair: “Despite all the problems and hesitations, Turkey and the U.S. have been able to maintain an alliance for more than 50 years…. Forced into unequal alliance relations before, Turkey is currently evaluating its other alternatives by making use of this equation. I am sure that the intervention of China and Russia in the West… and Turkey’s new invaluable position within this equation did not escape Trump’s notice. I think we are on the threshold of a new normalization period in U.S.-Turkey relations.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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