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Turkey at a crossroads: Is the Erdogan era over?

The ruling party suffered major setbacks in the recent elections; Ankara’s domestic policies and global role are at a crucial junction.

In the wake of the March 31 municipal elections, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a significant announcement, declaring them to be his final political contest within the bounds of current legislation.

 

He stated, “For me, this is final. These elections are my last elections within the powers granted by the law. Following this, there will be a transition to my brothers who will come after me.” This marked a pivotal moment, not only for his career but potentially for Turkey’s socio-political landscape as well.

 

Erdogan’s tenure as prime minister and later president, which began in 2003, has been characterized by a series of transformative policies that have significantly impacted Turkey’s domestic and international position. However, the limitations set by Turkish legislation, requiring Erdogan to step back, hint at a broader shift underway, perhaps signaling the close of the Erdogan era.

 

The 2023 presidential elections underscored this sentiment. Erdogan secured victory in a closely contested run-off, garnering 52.18% of the votes against Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s 47.82%. This narrow margin, unprecedented in Erdogan’s tenure, suggests a changing political tide, which was further substantiated by the results of the recent municipal elections.


It were the large Turkish communities in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands who provided him with the necessary margin.


Turkish Local Elections - Erdogan suffers shock defeat


The municipal elections of March 31 revealed a stark transformation in Turkey’s internal socio-political dynamics. The opposition’s People’s Republican Party (CHP) won in 36 out of 81 municipalities, a significant leap from previous years, indicating a rising tide of change.

 

With a national share of 37.7% of the votes against the ruling party’s 35.4% and a voter turnout of 77.3%, these elections represented the opposition’s most substantial victory since Erdogan’s rise to power.

 

A focal point of intrigue was Istanbul, Erdogan’s birthplace, where he started his political career. Ekrem İmamoğlu of the CHP won the mayoral seat with a considerable margin, solidifying the opposition’s grip on Türkiye’s most populous city. Similarly, Ankara witnessed a landslide victory for the CHP’s Mansur Yavaş, further illustrating the shifting political landscape.

 

These elections also highlighted significant regional variations in political allegiance

While Erdogan’s party maintained dominance in central Turkey, it also made notable gains in the south, regions recently devastated by a catastrophic earthquake. Conversely, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) took control of 10 provinces in the predominantly Kurdish southeast, indicating a diversification in political representation and priorities.

 

Perhaps most striking was the victory of the moderately Islamist New Welfare Party in Şanlıurfa province, a departure from Erdogan’s ally base, signaling a realignment in Turkey’s political factions in response to domestic and international pressures, including the fallout from the war in Gaza. 

 

These developments suggest a critical juncture in Turkish politics

Erdogan’s acknowledgment of his final term within the current legislative framework, coupled with the electoral gains of the opposition, points to a potential transformation in Türkiye’s socio-political landscape.

 

As Erdogan’s era is possibly drawing to a close, the rise of new political forces and alignments beckons a period of introspection and potential redirection for Turkey, navigating between its deep-rooted historical identities and the pressures of modern governance.

 

The implications of this transition extend beyond Turkey, potentially affecting its role on the global stage, particularly in relation to the West and the Middle East. As Turkey stands at this crossroads, the unfolding political narrative will be critical in shaping not only its future but also its legacy under Erdogan’s leadership.

 

Turkey’s economic crisis: No money, no honey

As Turkey grapples with a profound economic crisis, the repercussions have echoed loudly in its political arena, particularly influencing the recent electoral outcomes. The nation’s struggling economy, marked by an inflation rate surpassing 65% and a national currency, the lira, which has lost 80% of its value over the past five years, stands as a testament to the challenging times faced by its populace.

 

This economic downturn has played a pivotal role in the defeat of the ruling party, led by Erdogan, in the municipal elections. Critics often accuse Erdogan’s government of failing to grasp the severity of the common people’s hardships amid this economic turmoil.

 

Throughout the pre-election period, the opposition capitalized on growing concerns about the escalating cost of living, framing it as a key electoral issue.

 

İmamoğlu, the popular newly-elected Istanbul mayor and opposition figure, notably campaigned under the slogan “Our country does not deserve poverty.” His criticism of Erdogan’s economic policies, which he argued “turned the laws of economics upside down,” resonated with the electorate, leading to his convincing victory and re-election for another term. 

 

Erdogan’s promise to revive the economy was a cornerstone of his campaign for a third consecutive presidential term in 2023. Despite these assurances, the economic landscape remained bleak.

 

Following the elections, Erdogan acknowledged his party’s defeat in a speech to his supporters from the presidential palace’s balcony. He interpreted the electoral outcome as a manifestation of the people’s will and a “turning point” rather than an end, asserting that democracy and the nation will emerge victorious.

 

Erdogan pledged to address the shortcomings highlighted by the election results and continue implementing the government’s economic program, aimed at combating inflation.

 

The deep economic crisis in Turkey and its influence on the political shift underscore the intricate relationship between economic health and political stability. The electorate’s response, favoring the opposition in light of economic dissatisfaction, signals a demand for change and accountability from their leaders.

 

As Turkey navigates through this challenging period, the government’s ability to enact effective economic reforms will be closely watched.

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