What’s next for Turkey’s newest president?
Erdogan is a gifted political campaigner and dominated the press in the months leading up to the election, which he won with a 52% majority. But are the numbers representative of the full story? What is in store for Turkey’s most powerful man?
A president’s rise to powerErdogan’s career began to take off in the 1980s, as a star of the Islamist Welfare Party. At this time the Welfare Party was the sole opposition voice in a country that was firmly secular. The young, dynamic politician quickly made a name for himself at a grassroots level, promising to make Turkey a more just and prosperous country for its working class citizens.
In 1994 Erdogan was elected Mayor of Istanbul, and in 2002 he became Turkey’s first Islamist prime minister, in the wake of a currency and banking crisis. Since that first election he’s won eight more (nine, if you include the August 10 victory). During that time the determined leader has fostered economic growth (averaging 5% annually), slowed inflation, curbed the army’s power and made some serious steps towards giving Turkey’s marginalised Kurds greater power and more rights. In 2005 he began membership talks with the European Union, something his predecessors had failed to manage.
However, the former PM and long-time political player has seen no small amount of controversy during his 12-year rule as Prime Minister. Erdogan’s Justice and Development (AKP) party has been criticised for its increasingly hardline, authoritarian manner - most strikingly in last year’s Gezi Park protests, where demonstrators protesting peacefully were attacked with tear gas and water cannons. Erdogan attracted more vitriol following a mining disaster in Soma, where 301 miners died in a mine where safety concerns had been raised to government officials.
The newest president“It is all but certain that Erdogan will use his strong personality and constitutional powers to continue running the government,” says Soner Cagaptay, author of “The Rise of Turkey: The 21st Century’s First Muslim Power.” Cagaptay says Erdogan will use his formal powers, including his constitutional right to chair the cabinet, coupled with informal channels of power including his forceful personality, to single-handedly run Turkey.
The Turkish presidency has formerly been a ceremonial role. Erdogan wishes to transform the position into one that would give him far more power, an executive position, as in France. For this, the new president will need to amend the constitution, which will require a two-third majority in parliament. It’s unlikely that this will happen without the support of the Kurdish party - who Erdogan has formed bonds with in the past few years. Only then will Erdogan be in sight of the enhanced presidency, backed by a compliant prime minister, that he could feasibly hold until at least 2023.
Erdogan told ATV television channel earlier in the week that he’d employ powers that no other president had before, including chairing cabinet meetings. “Others may not have used them, but I will,” Erdogan said. “That’s how we’re going to make this country fly.”
Economic realitiesErdogan will face continual economic challenges. For one, his bold assertion that he will turn Turkey into one of the tenth largest economies - it’s 17th now - by 2023. Turkey has performed incredibly over the past decade under Erdogan’s rule, coming out of the global recession relatively unscathed. But to continue this growth will take some effort.
One of Erdogan’s strengths, and the one that saw him re-elected time and time again, is his ability to steer his country through rough financial waters and come out unscathed - and even on top.
Currently, trend growth is slowing, at the mercy of outside factors like the Eurozone crisis and the US quantitative easing. Meanwhile, Turks are spending up large, while private investing is sluggish. GDP has slowed and levels of inflation are higher than they’ve been for some time.
However, despite this uncertainty, the Turkish economy has proven resilient, and growth this year has been forecast at around 3.5%. If Erdogan wants to realise his goal of turning Turkey into one of the world’s biggest economies, he will have to raise per capita income by 10% each year over the next decade. Is this achievable? Erdogan’s done it before, so he can do it again, many agree.
A liberal kickback?Erdogan’s legacy is nothing to sniff at - Turkish GDP has increased fourfold over the past ten years, heralding a new era of prosperity for Turks. But political commentators are predicting that the Erdogan era is winding down, and that the next political wave to sweep over Turkey will be a liberal one.
In an op-ed in the New York Times Cagaptay outlines his prediction that Erdogan’s presidency will be his swan song, and that AKP’s support has peaked. The next political wave to sweep over the country, the author and political commentator says, will be a liberal one, bolstered by Turkey’s younger and more liberal generation.
Currently, there is no charismatic, Erdogan-equivalent to lead Turkey’s liberals to the forefront of the political arena. But Erdogan must not forget: while he has sworn to govern the 77 million-strong Turkish population, his voters consisted of Turkey’s conservative heartland, while the more liberal Aegean and Mediterranean regions voted against him, and almost half the Turkish population rejects his policies altogether. Continuing with his autocratic, Islamist agenda will do Erdogan - or Turkey - no favours.
Erdogan is promising a new Turkey - much the same as his predecessor, the revered Mustafa Kemal Ataturk did almost a century ago. The difference is, however, that Ataturk’s vision for Turkey was a secular, republican state, while Erdogan’s is an Islamic Turkey. However, Turks are not the same people they were a century ago, and Turkey is not the same country.