On Sunday, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the incumbent president of Turkey, claimed victory in the 2023 Turkish Presidential run-off election, securing another term in office. The election held great significance for Turkey, as it witnessed a fierce competition between Erdoğan and his main opponent, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. This article discusses the policies of both candidates, highlights the challenges facing the nation, and examines the potential national and international implications of Erdoğan's victory.
Erdoğan has dominated the Turkish political landscape since the early 2000s, having served as the Prime Minister and then as President. Throughout his time in politics, Erdoğan has pursued a conservative agenda, emphasising economic growth, infrastructure development, and religious values. His policies have aimed at transforming Turkey into a major regional power, both politically and economically. The President’s domination of Turkish politics has made this year’s close election result somewhat surprising. Erdoğan won just over 52% of the vote, compared to just under 48% for Kılıçdaroğlu, with the run-off becoming necessary as no candidate exceeded 50% of the vote in the first round two weeks earlier. These results suggest a strong sense of political polarisation within Turkish society, and that Erdoğan may not be the entirely dominant force that he once was.
Under Erdoğan's leadership, Turkey has experienced significant economic growth, with the country's GDP more than tripling during his tenure. He has implemented various infrastructure projects, including the construction of airports, bridges, and motorways, which have drastically improved the nation’s transport links. Erdoğan has also emphasised the expansion of Turkey's influence in the Middle East and actively pursued an assertive foreign policy.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the centre-left Republican People's Party (CHP), presented an alternative vision for Turkey during his campaign. Kılıçdaroğlu's policies focused on addressing issues such as income inequality, corruption, and the erosion of democratic institutions. The campaign advocated for increased transparency, the strengthening of the rule of law, and protecting civil liberties.
Kılıçdaroğlu's platform also emphasised social welfare programs and measures to relieve the economic burdens faced by lower-income groups. He aimed to bridge the wealth gap and promote inclusivity in the Turkish society. Kılıçdaroğlu criticised Erdoğan's leadership style, accusing him of authoritarianism and undermining democratic principles. Turkey faces several challenges that will need to be addressed. One of the biggest concerns is the state of democracy and human rights, with critics arguing that under Erdoğan's leadership, there has been a shrinking space for dissent, with restrictions on the media, arrests of journalists, and the imprisonment of political opponents.
The economy is another pressing issue. While Turkey experienced remarkable growth during Erdoğan's early years in office, recent years have seen an economic slowdown and rising inflation. While rising inflation has been a global problem recently, the impact has been uniquely severe in Turkey. In October 2022, Inflation rose to over 85%, although this has since dropped to around 43% as of April 2023. Despite this fall in inflation, these figures are unsustainably high and have left many people Turkey struggling to pay for basics such as food and energy. This is without question the greatest immediate challenge facing the Erdoğan administration, and his next term in office will be judged on his ability to deal with inflation and get the economy back on track.
The country's geopolitical positioning is one of its most significant long-term challenges. Turkey is located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and it faces complicated regional dynamics. Issues such as the Syrian conflict, Kurdish separatism, and tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean require careful management.
Erdoğan's victory has significant implications for Turkey's domestic and international affairs. Domestically, his re-election signifies the continuation of conservative policies, which may further polarise society. Erdoğan's supporters view him as a strong leader who promotes national interests and upholds traditional values. However, critics express concerns about democratic backsliding and the erosion of civil liberties.
On the international stage, Erdoğan's victory may have mixed implications. Turkey's assertive foreign policy under Erdoğan's leadership has at times strained relations with Western countries and caused tensions within NATO. His re-election could result in further divergence from Western values and a stronger alignment with countries such as Russia and China. However, this approach to foreign policy may also present opportunities for engagement and cooperation with regional partners.
Erdoğan's victory marks another term in office for the incumbent president. His conservative policies, emphasis on economic growth, and assertive foreign policy have resonated with a sizeable portion of the electorate. However, challenges such as the state of democracy, economic concerns, and regional complexities continue to pose significant tests for Turkey's future. It is also important to remember that this election was far closer than Erdoğan would have liked or expected. A polarised nation is often difficult to govern, and a strengthened opposition may suggest the beginning of an ideological shift within the Turkish electorate.
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