by Alessandro De Pascale
At around midnight Turkish time on Monday 29 May, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 69, was confirmed as President of the Republic of Turkey by the Supreme Electoral Council (YSK). He and his right-wing coalition won 52.16% of the vote in the run-off. The heterogeneous opposition, united in the six-party National Alliance and led by Kemal Kilicdaroglu, 74, failed to break Erdogan’s 20-year grip on power, winning only 47.84 per cent of the vote, but managed to force Erdogan into a run-off for the first time. We will continue the struggle” until there is “real democracy” in Turkey, the head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) vowed at a concession press conference after the results were announced. Kilicdaroglu lost again, not least because he was surely not a new element on the Turkish political scene, having lost to the incumbent for twenty years. With this umpteenth mandate, Erdogan, for his part, is preparing to reach a quarter of a century of uninterrupted leadership. Having won a solid majority in parliament in the first round of elections two weeks ago, he can now rule for another five years.
“Our people have given us renewed confidence. This will be Turkey’s century”, declared Erdogan as he celebrated the result on board a bus. As many political analysts had predicted, his victory came about because he managed to hold on to his voter base, even winning the votes of right-wing nationalist Sinan Ogan (55), who won 5.17% of the vote in the first round with the Ancestral Alliance (ATA), a coalition of three political formations, before deciding to support the outgoing president in the second round. In a bid to win votes, challenger Kilicdaroglu abandoned his previous conciliatory and calming tone and turned to nationalist rhetoric in the last two weeks. A choice that did not pay off, as the opposition lost many votes from the Kurdish-majority regions that had supported him in the first round due to the presence of the allied Green Left Party (YSP) on the lists.
The challenges facing Erdogan in the next five years of his third term in office are many, from difficult relations with the West (Turkey has not yet given the green light for Sweden to join NATO) to the precarious economic situation. Inflation in the country is over 43% (at the end of 2022 it was over 80%, the highest in the last twenty years), while in recent days the Turkish lira has hit another record high against the dollar. Erdogan will also have to respond to the 14 million people (16% of the population) affected by two powerful earthquakes on 6 February, which flattened entire regions in the south of the country and caused billions of euros worth of damage. Finally, local elections are scheduled for 2024, in which Erdogan is hoping to win back Istanbul and Ankara, which his Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost five years ago.
Another hot topic, thorny and difficult to solve, is the case of Syrian refugees who landed in Turkey fleeing the civil conflict that broke out across the border in 2011. According to official figures, they amount to 3.7 million out of the 5.5 million foreigners present in the country. During the election campaign, Erdogan promised that at least one million of them would ‘voluntarily’ return home. But to keep this promise, the Turkish president must first mend relations with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad, which were severed more than ten years ago. In this context, it is difficult for Erdogan to readily accept the precondition that Damascus has for the first time explicitly put to Ankara: to withdraw the Turkish troops occupying northern Syria since 2019. A military ground operation whose declared objective is to put an end to the Rojava project of democratic confederalism in Syrian Kurdistan.
Cover photo: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan © Kursat-Bayhan/Shutterstock.com