Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s clear victory in Sunday’s run-off round of the Turkish presidential election confirms the trend observed in the first round, when the outgoing president confounded the polls to lead his main challenger, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu , by four points. Erdoğan can now look forward to another five years of office, to add to the 20 he has already served as prime minister and president.
The confident predictions of just a month ago that the Erdoğan era was drawing to a close seem to have been based on faulty polling, but they also derived from a not unreasonable assessment of how the electorate might judge the president’s record.
Erdoğan’s policies have led to a spiral in borrowing, depleted national reserves, an economy that is too reliant on construction, political interference with the central bank and a misguided fixation on low interest rates. Inflation is running at 44 per cent and foreign investors are taking money out, threatening a full-scale crisis.
Erdoğan has consolidated and centralised his power over time, reforming the constitution to give more power to his office. Many who oppose him end up in jail. Relations with western countries are likely to remain difficult.
There are other questions, too. In February, 50,000 people died in an earthquake in southern Turkey, with 1.5 million left homeless. The government response was widely seen as ineffective. It was also accused of complicity with the building industry’s failure to implement seismic safety standards.
If we are seeking reasons why Erdoğanhas been re-elected in spite of his record we might consider three factors. First, his Justice and Development Party (AKP) is deeply embedded in rural Turkey and is the channel through which spending is funnelled towards communities who are expected to demonstrate political loyalty in return. Second, the AKP works relentlessly on the fears of its conservative electorate, smearing its opponents as unpatriotic, complicit with Kurdish terrorists or even “the LGBT lobby”. Third, with state television massively biased in favour of Erdoğan and the largest private media group in the hands of a billionaire close to the government there is no genuine freedom of the press in Turkey and thus no level playing field in politics.
Behind Erdoğan’s 52 to 48 per cent victory lies a deeply divided country, with the Kurdish east, the big cities of Istanbul and Ankara and the more prosperous Mediterranean coast in the opposition camp while the rural and small-town interior is solidly for Erdoğan. This was enough to carry him to another victory, albeit after a run-off.
It all points to difficult times ahead for Turkey and its people. Erdogan may have his victory, but his country’s problems, political and economic, are as grave as ever.