Erdogan Wins Again: The Shadow Behind the Congratulations

Jubaida Auhana Faruque | 01 June 2023
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Erdogan's resounding victory in the second phase of the 2023 general election in Turkey stands as a testament to the enduring impact of his charismatic leadership. With this third consecutive term in power, Erdogan solidifies his position as the longest-reigning figure in Turkey's history. As the world looks ahead, it becomes evident that Erdogan's influence will continue to shape global politics for another five years.

Turkey has emerged as a pivotal player on the international stage, deftly mediating major crises, compassionately accommodating a substantial influx of refugees, and playing a crucial role within NATO. With Erdogan at the helm, Turkey's role in global affairs is set to expand even further. His adept mediation skills have earned international recognition, underscoring Turkey's growing significance as a key diplomatic force. As the country assumes an increasingly prominent position on the world stage, Erdogan's continued leadership promises to shape the trajectory of not only Turkey but also the broader international community. But amidst all these positive notes, retains the apprehension of Erdogan continuing an isolationist regime that has been won based on internal populism and polarized nationality.

Though his party could not win the first round with a complete majority and the election had to roll over to the second phase, he was way more forward than the opposition party with a support percentage of 49.52 percent. After this scenario was unveiled, there were predictions that Erdogan would continue his governance, and that proved to be well comprehended. Shortly after, the world leaders congratulated the President with warm words and expressed their aspiration to continue to work with him in different sectors. Interestingly, each leader has shown different kinds of interest in this picture, which portrays that Erdogan has already created a multifaceted involvement of Turkey in global politics.

President Biden has expressed his intent to strengthen the alliance between the United States and Turkey within NATO, signaling a commitment to addressing bilateral issues of mutual importance. While the definite nature of these issues remains unspecified, it is evident that the US regards Erdogan and Turkey with a heightened sense of attention, possibly stemming from security concerns. This renewed emphasis on the security alliance between the two nations underscores the evolving dynamics of their relationship. Besides, it reflects a recognition of Turkey's pivotal geostrategic position and its significant role in managing regional challenges. But it is to be noted that the emerging dynamics of the US-Turk relationship are not just a regional security concern but also a political dilemma. The existing relationship between the US and Erdogan remains to be a mixture of hot and cold water. In his book "Neither Friend nor Foe: The Future of U.S.-Turkey Relations," Steven Cook mentioned the relationship as no existence of threats or interest to create bondage. Erdogan turning into a right-inclined autocrat is in the discussion, and that is something Biden might wish to address. The Biden administration has been emphasizing democracy from the very beginning and has taken rough initiatives to ensure it. Besides, there has been a history of back-and-forth conflict between the countries, including Erdogan’s past regimes, which have taken major initiatives to suppress freedom of expression and the voice of civil society and journalists; the US retaliated with increased tariffs on production materials, alleged military coordination with Kurdistan workers, and a refusal to expedite state criminals. But with a changing scenario, any initiative that the US takes will have to be well-calculated based on recent developments in regional politics. With the continuation of Erdogan in the government, it remains to be seen how much the US involves itself in this state and what the instruments might be.

Turkey's recent actions, such as restricting Finland's entrance into NATO and delaying Sweden's membership, have underscored Erdogan's influential role within the security alliance. While the reasons behind these decisions may stem from internal factors, they serve as a clear demonstration of Erdogan's ability to shape the direction of NATO's expansion. This assertive stance by Turkey has prompted discussions within NATO itself, highlighting the organization's desire to establish a more cooperative and harmonious environment for collaboration with Erdogan's government. But the relationship between the bloc and Erdogan is not as smooth as the tweet from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Turkey’s inclination towards supporting the sanctioned countries, specifically the Muslim-populated countries, has been a bone of contention in the bloc. Erdogan has decided to support Iran and Syria and has predominantly gone against NATO's decision. Moreover, it violated the recent sanctions on Russia and continues to maintain a malleable relationship with Putin. Under these circumstances, NATO might have multiple stakes to discuss with Erdogan and bring him into a dialogue to negotiate on these issues. The regional as well as strategic policy decisions of Turkey will decide how this alliance gets managed.

Amid an ongoing conflict, both President Putin and President Zelensky have expressed their shared interest in fostering bilateral cooperation and strengthening relations between their respective countries and Turkey. Notably, while NATO members have unanimously sided with Ukraine, condemning Russia's actions, Turkey has adopted a more nuanced approach, seeking to strike a delicate balance. Turkey has assumed the crucial role of mediator in this crisis, employing a strategy of deft diplomacy by proposing various deals to de-escalate tensions. Fanatically, Turkey has gotten closer to the Kremlin after this war started with increased trade in weapons. On the other hand, he is providing military aid to Ukraine—so, in short, Turkey is refueling the war from both ends. In these circumstances, major stakeholders in this war like NATO, the EU, and the US might have to create pressure on Erdogan to take a side, more prominently Ukraine, and make him create a congenial situation to bring an end to the war.

Amidst the back-and-forth effort to join the EU, the Union has congratulated Erdogan on the win and expressed its desire to make EU-Turkish relations better. But that does not mean that Turkey will be joining the group. Though Erdogan sees this prospective membership as a strategic priority, there was apprehension that he might be less interested in its inclusion than his opponent. From time to time, during the last 20 years, he has mentioned the EU’s behavior towards Turkey as hypocritical, unjust, and politically fabricated. On the other hand, the EU has been continuing its freezing of Turkey’s accession to the union based on complaints of revoking civil and political rights in the country, suppression of press freedoms, enforcement of democratic backsliding, and overall eradication of good governance. Erdogan’s government has also been accused of police violence and converging his rule into an authoritarian regime. It persists to see if the EU countries will intervene in these issues and try to offer membership to Turkey, and how Erdogan will deal with that situation.

In short, it is generally expected that world leaders will express their congratulations to the winning leader and accept the result as it is. But the policy determinations in the next 5 years will determine what they have in mind and how that will shape the global environment. No matter how much the congratulatory speech includes dear words, with the continuation of 20 years of governance, the spite from the past continues, and the need for the endeavor to deal with it persists. Turkey has seen a more internally conservative but internationally exhibitionist quality during the last 20 years under Erdogan. It is expected that Erdogan will try to extend that character and make Turkey an influential power during his next regime in power. The extent of cooperation or aggression from the world leaders during this phenomenon will measure the actual weight of their cooperative attitude now.

Jubaida Auhana Faruque is an Executive Policy Assistant at the Centre for Governance Studies.

Views in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect CGS policy.