On May 28th 2023, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was giving a victory speech to the excited Turkish masses, who had democratically elected him to a third term as President of Turkey. He achieved 52.2% of the vote in the second round of elections compared with the 47.8% of the challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu. Prior to the election result, it had been widely speculated that the long autocratic regime of Erdoğan would fail at the ballot box and that he would be defeated and Western observers, in particular, were touting the merits and chances of Erdoğan’s rival. There were a few claims of voter fraud and with reflection the erosion of democratic values and the system did favour Erdoğan’s re-election and inhibit any challenger. There are political prisoners locked away in jail in Turkey and a strangehold on media and stern view on an any dissidence has helped to prop up autocracy for a further five years, a fact more noticeable and concerning for outside observers than the Turkish people who do see Erdoğan in his cultured self-depiction as Grandfather of the State. He’s the ‘Atatürk’ of the modern era, just without the Europe-facing secularism. Indeed, I’d say that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk would be turning in his grave to see the ruling AKP Party’s embrace of Islam, the reintroduction of the Islamic veil, and moves away from the ambrosia of Europe back towards realignment with the Middle East. In reality it is everything that Atatürk opposed in his successful creation of the modern Turkey. Maybe people are forgetting history? Values change over time and you never know, this Third term and the narrowness of his win could mean we see a more pragmatic Erdoğan leading a more conciliatory foreign policy and changing his autocratic tendencies. Either he reforms or he could be the next Vladimir Putin, one of the few world leaders out there, who have served longer at the helm of their nations and with even stronger autocratic tendencies and, one could argue, more psychopathic politically too.
The old enemy, Greece, under Kyriakos Mitsotakis, himself just celebrating a recent election victory, has a rapprochement with Turkey due to its aid and support during the recent tragic earthquakes in Turkey. Economically the role of the two arch rivals has reversed though. Greece, once the bane of the Eurozone, almost inducing an entire collapse in the Euro and requiring massive bailouts is now surprisingly stable economically, being one of the top performers in Europe. One of the first duties Erdoğan has, during his third term as President, is to face up to the looming disaster of his own hand-on economic mismanagement. For some time he has been rejecting the advice of experienced economists and dabbling with interest rates and essentially taken control of the National Bank. He just about managed to use his alchemy to maintain the fragile small GDP growth figures in the months leading up to the vote, yet now his potion is becoming a bit unstuck. As the election result was announced the Turkish Lira fell to an all-time low against the US dollar. His interest rate manipulation may directly aid his own political nepotism, but as Prime Minister Liz Truss demonstrated in the U.K., if you have not the faintest clue about mathematics, playing around with the economy can have devastating economic consequences. Erdoğan has been lucky but there is a huge deficit on the books now and whereas his mates are rich the Turkish people are living with some of the highest inflation rates in the world at 43.7%. It’s probably great for my local Turkish mates in Caldicot to have cheap holidays back home in Turkey but to the average worker or businessman living in Turkey it’s a significant issue that cannot be totally concealed from reality.
Erdoğan may have won votes by erecting cheap concrete housing, in particular for earthquake victims. He has to deliver on some of his elections promises,. He’s slandered the oppositions links to the PKK with their Kurdish support so no real rapprochement on the horizon for the longstanding Kurdish problem. President Biden was on the phone straight away pleading for him to relent on his opposition to Swedish accession to NATO. Will Erdoğan pursue an anti-European, anti-Western, anti-democratic stance in foreign affairs or will he rise like phoenix back into the international arena? The whole question of Russia and the War in Ukraine is of paramount importance. It had been hoped that an Erdogan defeat would close the door on Moscow’s access to Turkey as a neutral ‘ally’. Russian oligarchs have, on the whole, shifted from Londongrad over to Istanbul and Turkish resorts for holidaying and the Dardanelles are as ever of strategic importance, as the gateway between the Black Sea an Mediterranean, be they used for Ukrainian grain shipments or the Sebastopol Black Sea Fleet. Russian submarines and warships are the military enemies of NATO and Turkey’s already fractured standing in the alliance, will be put to the test unless there is a visible separation of the bond between the two autocratic leaders in Putin and Erdoğan.
My Turkish friend Akif from Aroma Café in Caldicot had to travel down to London to cast his vote in the recent election. The Turkish diaspora are entitled to vote in Presidential elections and form a significant part of the franchise. Plus, they are perhaps less-affected by Erdoğan’s pretty poor management of the Turkish economy yet perhaps, especially in Europe, they could be affected by his stance on the Turkish entry to the European Union and relations in general between Turkey and The West. Erdoğan appeals to a broad section of Turkish voters, both young and old. Akif is pro-Erdoğan yet I know other local Turkish people, for example my Kurdish mate in Chepstow, who are equally passionately opposed to Erdoğan. He’s a marmite character which has polarised Turkey and, especially considering the Gezi Park Protests that occurred under previous administrations and also the situation of the current economic situation teetering on the brink, I can easily foresee that, over the next term, there could be a degree of civil unrest to come.
It may be be sunny over the Bosphorus right now, but stormy weather is likely to emerge very soon.