Erdogan won a third term as President of Turkey, despite rocketing inflation. Prices have risen by a third since January, and food prices are set to double this year. The lira is at a record low against the dollar, despite the central bank spending more than $177bn supporting it since 2021. Erdogan’s economic policies have made the crisis worse. So how did he win?
Erdogan came to power after the financial crash of 2001 on a promise to bring clean water and electricity to the countryside. He kept that promise, which explains his support among the rural poor. In other sectors he has practised crony capitalism, basically cash for votes. This had disastrous consequences in the construction industry where lax enforcement of building regulations contributed to the death toll in this year’s earthquakes.
His opponent, Mr Kilicdaroglu called it ‘the most unfair election in years,’ as well he might. Erdogan continued his cash for votes campaign with promises to increase minimum pay and pensions, and the offer of free gas supplies to citizens. On election day he was even handing out 100 lira notes to voters outside polling stations! Even so it was a close election and needed a second round of voting to get Erdogan over the line.
Turkey joined NATO in 1952. For most of that time, despite two military coups, it survived as a parliamentary democracy and a secular state, electing its first female prime minister, Tansu Ciller, in 1993. This has changed under Erdogan. A failed coup in 2016 has accentuated the drive to authoritarianism and social conservatism to appease Islamic clerics. The office of prime minister was abolished and its powers added to the presidency. The media and the professions have been purged of potential oppositionists. There has been an increase in human rights violations, especially against the Kurds. Islamic law is now applied to women and there are laws criminalising gay and trans people.
All negotiations to join the EU are on hold because of the erosion of democracy in Turkey. Erdogan won his third term as president despite a constitutional limit of two terms. But there has been no challenge from the judiciary. When it comes to Russia, Erdogan has played both sides, supplying drones to Ukraine but refusing to implement sanctions against Russia, who supplies a third of Turkey’s energy needs.
Erdogan’s victory is a stinging rebuke to anyone who claims that NATO stands for freedom, democracy and the defence of western liberal values against the threat from autocratic rulers like Putin and from Islamist extremism. He is in breach of his own constitution and is turning Turkey away from secularism by courting the religious right, assuming autocratic powers, criticising the West and seeking closer links with Russia. With no end to Turkey’s economic woes in sight, expect him to dig in on all these issues and step up the repression of his political opponents to maintain his grip on power.
Life long socialist. Now retired, I have been an office junior, a bookseller, a docker and a teacher. I write a lot and read a lot more. Committed member of the Society of Authors, English PEN and the National Education Union. Uncommitted member of the Labour Party. Will they expel me before my direct debit expires?