It wasn’t as easy as in the past, but he’s done it again: The incumbent Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, . The 69-year-old leader was able to secure more than 52% of the vote in Sunday’s runoff election, meaning that he will remain in office for another five years.
This will be ‘s third decade in power. First as prime minister, then as president from 2014 onward, Erdogan’s impact on his country has been greater than that of any other politician.
In the run-up to these , the polls put his challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, ahead. Erdogan responded by bringing more parties into his People’s Alliance. This alliance then won 323 of the 600 seats in the parliamentary elections on May 14, giving it a majority. The new parliament is also the most conservative, nationalist and Islamist in modern Turkish history.
Victorious — despite Turkey’s many crises
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are around 4 million living in Turkey — a huge challenge for the country. On top of this, it has also had to deal with an economic crisis, galloping inflation, high unemployment, the pandemic and the two recent devastating .
“Despite these various crises, the voters have elected a president who was in power for all of them,” says the political scientist Evren Balta of the Ozyegin University in Istanbul. For many people, she says, this came as a surprise, but it was also to be expected — because in times of crisis people often tend to vote for a politician they already know.
She believes that trust in Erdogan has weakened somewhat; nonetheless, people voted for him instead of experimenting with a new politician with no experience of government.
Erdogan, it seems, is well aware of this. In his traditional victory speech on the balcony of his palace on election night, he expressed great gratitude to his followers, singing songs with them and promising he would remain with them “until the grave.” He invited his allies to join him on stage one after another, and thanked them for making this “victory of the century” possible.
Erdogan’s attack on the opposition
To the opposition, on the other hand, he showed no mercy. He again his challenger, , of receiving and following orders from the headquarters of the PKK terrorist organization. In front of more than 350,000 supporters, Erdogan declared that there was a reason why Kilicdaroglu had promised to free Selahattin Demirtas, the former leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP. Demirtas, he said was a terrorist, and he, Erdogan, would never release him — whereupon the crowd called for Demirtas to face the death penalty.
The European Court of Human Rights had already demanded the release of the Kurdish opposition politician on several occasions — so far, in vain. Demirtas also made an intervention in the election campaign from his prison cell through his lawyers, declaring his support for Kilicdaroglou.
Ibrahim Uslu, an opinion pollster and expert in political communication, expects that Erdogan will continue with his tough rhetoric. He doesn’t think the president sees any reason to change, and that Erdogan takes his most recent victory to be an endorsement of the line he has taken up till now.
Uslu points out that local elections are due to take place in Turkey in less than 10 months’ time. In just a few weeks, the country will be back in election campaign mode.
He also comments that Erdogan encourages polarization to distract the populace from the real problems in the country, like the and social inequality. If the Turkish president were to adopt a more conciliatory course, Uslu suspects the people would start subjecting the government to greater scrutiny, and, above all, begin to question it. This is why he expects Erdogan to maintain this tough attitude until after the local elections in the spring of 2024.
Future of opposition alliance uncertain
The question is whether this will actually be necessary. It is not yet clear whether the biggest opposition alliance will stay together after this defeat. It was forged three years ago by Kilicdaroglu, the opposition leader. The six member parties, which play to very different audiences, all made difficult concessions for the sake of cohesion. But will they now continue to stick together?
Professor Evren Balta believes the alliance will be maintained at least until the local elections, as the concessions the parties need to make at local level are not as great as for parliamentary or presidential elections.
However, she also says that the opposition needs to make a critical assessment of its recent defeat and that it will need new driving forces and key players in order to achieve success.
While the opposition licks its wounds, Erdogan is celebrating victory. But to what extent did he actually triumph?
Henrik Meyer, the head of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) in Istanbul, takes a nuanced view. “The fact that Erdogan had to take part in a runoff, which he then won with a margin of just 4%, must be a major blow to his self-image,” Meyer told DW. He believes that the closeness of the race shows that there is considerable dissatisfaction with Erdogan and his government among the Turkish population. “We’ll see what conclusions he draws from his decreasing popularity,” he commented.
Meyer does not anticipate any improvements in terms of human rights, freedom of speech or freedom of the press. He says one can only hope that, in this new term in office, Erdogan will consider his political legacy. If he doesn’t want to leave a divided country with weakened institutions and galloping inflation at the end of presidency, he must rethink how he acts, says Meyer.
Erdogan will settle his succession
Whether he will do this or not is another question. Pollster Ibrahim Uslu is convinced that one thing Erdogan will definitely do is make plans for his succession. He believes that one of the central issues for the president during this term in office will be to prepare his party for the post-Erdogan era.
According to the Turkish constitution, the 69-year-old cannot stand again after this term. Also, he does not appear to be in the best of health. But Uslu thinks it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the constitution might be altered again to allow the “eternal President Erdogan” to continue in office.
This article has been translated from German.
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