Erdogan secures his place in Turkish history

Ankara's neighbours, allies and trading partners will be hoping for stability and growth in this complex and consequential nation

A woman wears a mask of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan while she watches his victory speech on a screen in Istanbul on Monday. Getty
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The personal and political triumph of Recep Tayyip Erdogan – who was re-elected as Turkey’s president on Sunday for an unprecedented third term – was a deeply emotional moment for tens of millions of his compatriots. This vote was a nail-biter, with Mr Erdogan beating his rival in a second round by only a few percentage points. Many Turks will have been relieved by Mr Erdogan’s victory but millions of others supporting his opponent will be profoundly disappointed.

For Turkey’s neighbours in the Middle East and Europe, and its allies and trading partners further afield, the prevailing sentiment is likely to be of support for stability and growth in the country. Few countries are so consequential to so many others in so many ways, and Mr Erdogan has come to define what Turkey represents on the world stage for an entire generation. After an indisputable endorsement from his people of both of his idea of Turkey and of its place in the world, Mr Erdogan undoubtedly feels vindicated.

Seven years ago, things were very different. During an attempted military coup, rogue fighter jets locked on to Mr Erdogan’s plane as the Turkish leader flew to Istanbul during a night of chaos that threatened to end in widespread conflict. Fast-forward to 2023 and Mr Erdogan’s place as Turkey’s undisputed leader seems assured.

This political longevity is no easy feat, and is born of Mr Erdogan’s considerable acumen. By the end of this five-year term, he will have led the country for a quarter of a century but the former Istanbul mayor and prime minister shows no sign of complacency. To sustain the unwavering support of millions of Turks for so long also reveals Mr Erdogan’s genuine connection with huge sections of the country’s working-class, nationalists and religious conservatives.

Flyers for opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu are scattered on the ground near a poling station in Istanbul.  Although Mr Kilicdaroglu won nearly 48 per cent of the vote, it was not enough to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the run-off election. Getty

In this region, Mr Erdogan remains a familiar quantity. Many in the Gulf will be looking forward to working again with a Turkish leader who has proved his commitment to partnership with the Arab world. One of their main concerns will be the situation of the estimated four million Syrians living in Turkey, having fled the ruinous war in their homeland.

Under Mr Erdogan, Turkey has become the world’s biggest host of refugees. During the election campaign, the Justice and Development (AK) Party leader made it clear that his government would continue to protect those under their care, while some in the opposing side chose to stigmatise refugees. Arguably, Mr Erdogan’s renewed presidency will provide some stability for those who have found a measure of sanctuary in Turkey.

That stability was undermined, however, by the cataclysmic earthquakes in February that cost tens of thousands of Turkish and Syrian lives. The years required to rebuild from such a calamity will be a major challenge for Mr Erdogan and his party.

Other challenges await: military entanglements in northern Syria and Iraq; historic tensions with Greece; disagreements with Nato and a cool relationship with the EU.

There are also other serious issues to deal with at home, such as galloping inflation and a devaluing currency. Furthermore, Turkey’s opposition, whose candidate – Kemal Kilicdaroglu – won almost 48 per cent of the vote in the presidential run-off, still represent millions of Turks who do not share Mr Erdogan’s vision. Their opinions need to be taken into account if the country is to move forward in the spirit of unity that Mr Erdogan spoke of during a victory speech in Ankara.

The election result is an important one because Turkey is an independent diplomatic and military force that cannot be discounted. One example of its influence was Ankara’s role in helping secure the Ukraine grain deal that allowed food prices to stabilise after supplies were threatened by the war raging on the other side of the Black Sea.

Mr Erdogan returns to the helm with a fresh mandate. Once the dust of the election campaign settles, the region and the wider world will see what the country’s next steps are. One thing is for certain, Turkey will be central to regional developments for some time to come.

Published: May 30, 2023, 3:00 AM