The devastating earthquakes in southeastern Turkey have altered the political landscape in the country to an alarming degree for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who nonetheless displays remarkable resilience after more than 20 years in power. He can also boast many positive changes regarding the rights of minorities, especially the Kurds, the liberalization of the economy, the attraction of foreign direct investment, the proliferation of exports, the strengthening of Turkey’s diplomatic footprint, and partial but notable autonomy from the West.
However, many of his successes, especially in the area of the economy and the treatment of minorities, are now in the distant past and have been replaced by Third World authoritarianism, skyrocketing inflation, the weakening of the national currency – which he is fighting tooth and nail to maintain at tolerable exchange rates but after the elections its collapse is predicted – and the retreat in key foreign policy choices, from the acquisition of the Russian-made S-400 missile systems to the retreat in the Eastern Mediterranean.
So what are the strong cards in his hands in this fight to the end? The economy is ailing and investor confidence has been rattled by Erdogan’s methods (the famous Erdoganomics), despite record exports and Turkey’s comparative advantages, including industrial production, cheap labor, and a young population, which could be a catalyst to transform the country into a point of reference in the supply chains that are being formed.
In foreign policy, Erdogan is considered by many of his compatriots as the leader who not only changed the face of Turkey but also made it a major international player, but there are many who distrust his flowery speeches and consider his methods arrogant and dead-end, especially in the overstretching of foreign policy, a consequence of the many and simultaneous fronts it has opened.
They also accuse him of having seriously damaged Turkey’s credibility, of alienating it from traditional partners and exposing it to unnecessary risks, while its neighbors, including Greece and Egypt, are strengthening their regional positions and their role in the plans of the West.
‘Choice for stability’
Erdogan is promoting himself at home and abroad as a stable and responsible choice against an objectively weaker candidate who is representing a motley coalition of six parties – plus the pro-Kurdish Labor Party – which was showing cracks even before Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), announced his selection as their frontrunner.
So here, Erdogan is pitting his government’s sturdiness against a coalition that may splinter after the election, and which in all probability will not have the necessary parliamentary majority to proceed with amending the constitution, which was the coalition’s main priority.
Kilicdaroglu may thus need to lead the country to early elections to change parliamentary percentages. However, this is something that could also be pursued by Erdogan, who is reportedly planning to call elections after the municipal elections in case he prevails, just nine months after the general elections in May.