Turkey’s president, who has spent the last two decades gaining ever more control over his country, is now facing a remarkable prospect – losing power.
Since 2014, Recep Tayyip Erdoan is the president of the AK Party. He founded the AKP in 2001.
He was Turkey’s Prime Minister before becoming president. His persuasive support led to the abolishment of that position six years ago.
Since then, his grip on Turkey is even tighter.
This has led to a number of things, including less media freedom and a fractious relation with most European nations, due in part to Erdogan’s close ties with Vladimir Putin. It also means that political opponents are restricted (many now behind bars).
Erdogan’s recent rule has brought economic turmoil. The official inflation rate in Turkey has now reached around 40%, but in reality it is probably closer to 100%. It is difficult to gauge the 11th largest economy in the world.
He has appointed his son-in law as finance minister and sacked several governors of the Central Bank, which was marginalised in any case. Then he has concluded that the best solution to rising inflation is lowering interest rates, the opposite of all other major financial institutions around the world.
This is why inflation has soared, and also why Erdogan raised the state pension as well as the minimum wage dramatically.
He decided earlier this week to increase the wages of hundreds and thousands of public employees by 45%. This is good news for the workers, but not the best way to curb inflation.
Erdogan’s reputation as a tough man is more important to some in Turkey than any of the other factors.
Sein supporters, particularly in the provinces, rural areas and the countryside, view him as a man who re-invigorated Turkey’s self-esteem, and made it a diplomatic powerhouse.
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The reaction of his government to the devastation caused by the earthquake has been praised or criticised.
His supporters claim he showed leadership in the face of a natural catastrophe that would have overpowered others. His detractors, however, point out that many buildings collapsed because of lax building control and that died without assistance.
That’s Erdogan. Erdogan is a polarising character who, along with his peers from the club of strongman leader (Orban Trump Bolsonaro, to name a few) believes you should never apologize or compromise.
Erdogan is a man who has been difficult to ignore over the past months and years. He has been blocking Sweden’s membership in NATO and also trying to maintain good relationships with Russia and Ukraine.
Erdogan’s Turkey has zero chance of joining the European Union. It is a candidate since decades.
Kilicdaroglu’s contrast with
Erdogan is a brutal bully. Now, his political opponent is set against him – a politician whose position is owed to his being conciliatory and reserved.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who is 74 and a former civil service employee is now seen by his supporters as a key to a new start. He is the leader of the Republican People’s Party, but he has been slowly building a coalition with opposition parties over the last few years.
He has now gained the support of six parties from across the political spectrum who are united in their desire to unseat Erdogan.
Kilicdaroglu’s contrast could not be greater. His speech is thoughtful, quiet and wordy. He speaks about religious freedom and tolerance – he is an Alevi who has suffered discrimination. Erdogan has proudly promoted Sunni identity for many years.
Kilicdaroglu is more conciliatory, moderate and, in terms of economics, orthodox.
Demir Murat Seyrek is a senior analyst at the European Foundation for Democracy. He says, “He is calm and quiet.” “He tweets every evening to explain his policy from his kitchen. He is modest, but perhaps people need it after all the screaming in politics.
“Young people see how other young people live in Europe and hear what it was like before the AKP. They want a more free life.”
Election represents ‘a last chance for democracy’
Murat Seyrek says, “This is probably the most important election in modern Turkish history.” Some people see it as the last chance to restore democracy. They believe that things will worsen if the AKP wins again.”
It is likely that, in the face of competition from other candidates, who may pick up a few points, neither Erdogan or Kilicdaroglu, will win the election with the required outright majority during this first round. The pair will then engage in the second and final round of voting on 28 May.
The results of the parliamentary election, which is also taking place this weekend, will be known by then.
These are, of course crucial, even though the power of parliament has declined under Erdogan. Few would question the fact that the presidential election is the main attraction.
Whatever the result, the ripples are sure to be felt far and wide. If Erdogan wins another term, it is expected that authoritarianism would take hold, that the independence and integrity of the judiciary would be further challenged, and that Turkey’s detachment with the West will continue.
If Kilicdaroglu is elected, everything could change in an explosion of political turmoil.
It will be a long road back to closer ties with Europe, and perhaps a move away from Putin. Release political prisoners, tolerate religious differences and give journalists more freedom to report.
This is not an easy vision. To tackle the sagging economy, the Turkish people will have to pay painfully high interest rates for months or even years.
The world’s biggest election could take place this year
Even under a more benevolent leadership, it would be foolish to believe that the Turkish dream of EU membership will come true anytime soon.
Even if Kilicdaroglu’s plans to deal with migration and the large number of migrants remain in doubt, the relationship will be improved.
Kilicdaroglu, however, would be able to calm the Western world.
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The United States could breathe easier, and in the long run, foreign investment will probably start to return to Turkish companies.
The country that has been viewed as the most volatile intersection between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East may – just might- become a little more calm.
Turkey and many others are watching and waiting. This election may be the most significant in the history of the world.