President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey was reelected on Sunday — a move which granted the leader more sweeping powers than ever before.
“It seems the nation has entrusted me with the duty of the presidency, and to us a very big responsibility in the legislature,” Erdogan said during his victory speech early Monday. “The winner is Turkey, the Turkish nation. The winner is all the aggrieved people in our region, all the oppressed in the world.”
Erdoğan has held power in Turkey for 15 years — first as the country’s prime minister from 2003 to 2014, and now as president, a position he’s held since 2014. And the Turkish president has also seemingly stopped at nothing to preserve his power. He has silenced his challengers, jailed dozens of journalists, changed the Turkish constitution, and survived a failed military coup last year that attempted to oust him out of power.
And Sunday’s election, which he won with 52.4 percent of the national vote, came with claims that Erdoğan’s party is corrupt. He beat out Muharrem Ince, who conceded defeat after winning only 30.6 percent of the vote.
Now Erdoğan is set to wield even more power.
Turkey’s president used to hold a primarily ceremonial role, while the country was mainly ruled by a prime minister in a parliamentary democracy. But that changed last year, when a referendum led by Erdoğan’s party overturned the existing government structure. They abolished the prime minister’s role and cleared the way for Erdoğan to extend the limits of his power. Among other things, Erdoğan now has the official power to appoint ministers, issue decrees, and make judiciary appointments.
As of right now, Erdoğan will likely remain president until 2023. And if he’s reelected, he could stay in power until 2028. That’s a blow to his critics, rights activists, and potentially worrisome for the region as well.
“If basic civil liberties and basic rules of law are not being respected, they should not contribute to the illusion that Turkey is a real democracy,” Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey specialist at St. Lawrence University, told the New York Times. “It’s time for them to consider whether they want to continue to facilitate the status quo in the hopes that at some point new realities emerge — or call attention to the way that those democratic norms have been hollowed out.”
Erdoğan remains relatively popular in Turkey
Given his, ahem, unconventional ruling methods, Erdoğan still remains relatively popular among Turkish citizens.
One reason: He has enforced the integration of more Islamic teaching in public schools. Turkey is technically a secular country, but the majority of its population is Muslim, and his education reforms gained his moderate Islamic Justice and Development Party, or the AK Party, vast support.
Erdoğan also enacted significant economic reforms in Turkey several years ago, which improved the country’s prosperity at the time. His AK Party first gained power in 2002, and between 2002—2006, the Turkish economy expanded at an annual rate of 7.2 percent. Things aren’t so great now though — for the past few years, Turkey has been experiencing economic turmoil. But Kemal Kirisci, director of the Brookings Institute’s Center on the United States and Europe’s Turkey Project, told me that despite this, Erdoğan still had a good reputation when it comes to economic reform. “The public lives off the past successes of Erdoğan,” he said.
Erdoğan’s win could also be explained by his anti-terror stance. The Turkish leader has long said that a strong central government was necessary to fend off threats of terrorism and maintain a stable nation. Kirisci added that Erdoğan has successfully won over Turkish citizens with his convincing “narrative that Turkey is under threat from various directions, including terrorism, and that he is protecting them and taking the necessary measures to fight it off.”
His control over the country doesn’t stop at the presidency. Although the government has shifted to an executive presidential system, Turkey still has a parliament. Erdoğan’s party and the nationalist party agreed on an alliance, securing a majority in parliament on Sunday. That basically means that, as long as he can preserve support from the nationalist party, Erdoğan now holds even greater legislative power.
But it’s also important to note that Erdogan’s win will have an impact beyond the domestic politics within the country, due to Turkey’s geographical location and regional importance.
Erdoğan’s win will have an impact on the rest of the region, and the world
One example of this is Syria, which shares a border with Turkey. The country is currently mired in a bloody seven-year conflict, and Turkey has been one of the main backers of Syria’s opposition forces. Ankara has sent troops into the war-torn region for the last several years, led airstrikes on ISIS targets, and fought US-backed Kurdish groups, which Turkey considers to be terrorists. Turkey also currently houses 3.5 million refugees, most of whom have fled from Syria, according to the UNHCR.
During his first speech following his presidential win, Erdoğan said that Turkey would continue to fight terrorism to “liberate Syrian lands” so that refugees can return safely.
Erdoğan’s latest win may also strain Turkey’s relationship with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Although Turkey, which is one of the oldest members of NATO, has been cooperating with its Western partners, Erdoğan’s growing relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin could complicate matters. The president reportedly bought an advanced Russian missile defense system and plans to bring a Russian-built nuclear reactor to Turkey.
Put together, Erdoğan’s win opens the door for the president to wield more power than ever before — which will certainly have a significant impact on Turkey and the region for years to come.