Turkey’s 2023 elections: Will Erdoğan’s Sublime Porte remain sublime?
by Mostapha Hassan Abdelwahab
Erdogan was economically successful, at least from the beginning to nearly the middle of his tenure. However, there are many political reservations about Erdogan’s performance, orientations, intentions, and motives.
Turkey is gearing up for a pivotal election on May 14, 2023. These are the most important elections in the country’s history. If Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is re-elected, he will be in office for a third decade. The election of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2003 marked the beginning of an era of economic prosperity that resulted in political and ideological ascendancy at home and abroad. Similarly, the 2023 election, which will take place in the midst of massive economic and political turmoil in the country, could be another gateway—but the direction remains unknown. It could maintain Erdogan’s political and economic dominance over the country, or it could spell the end of the AKP experiment.
Erdogan and his party were still fragile when he came to power more than two decades ago. They were frail and vulnerable, facing numerous challenges: political, economic, internal, and external. As soon as he took office, he began to implement his own experience. He embraced a new vision that was diametrically opposed to that of his mentor, Necmettin Erbakan. Erdogan made significant political and economic progress, but the curve shifted downward, with the economy collapsing and politics mired in gridlock and ‘auras of authoritarianism’.
Soon after splitting from Erbakan and forming his own Justice and Development Party (AKP), Erdogan’s imprint on the entire Turkish political landscape became clear. Erdogan has made significant economic progress, advancing Turkey to G20 membership with a solid economy based on production and exports. Turkey has also become a popular tourist destination, allowing the AKP government to garner billions of dollars each year.
Erdogan’s AKP took power in March 2003, forming the 59th government after winning the general election and overcoming the state’s ban on the party. Erdogan’s performance in the first 11 years was astounding. After a sharp drop in value, the Turkish lira has recovered. Turkey also managed to repay all outstanding debts to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), raising national income to unprecedented levels in the country’s history. Furthermore, the Turkish economy grew rapidly, reaching 8.8% in 2011, making it the world’s second largest in terms of economic growth after China.
Many agree that Erdogan’s problem was not economic, but political. He was economically successful, at least from the beginning to nearly the middle of his tenure. However, there are many political reservations about Erdogan’s performance, orientations, intentions, and motives.
Erdogan’s Islamist leanings, which were not so explicit and obvious when he came to power, began to prevail and have a direct impact on his political and economic moves as a result of his massive and unexpected economic success. He set out to resurrect the Ottoman dream. He marketed himself and his party as the New Ottomans, with state media apparatuses working around the clock to instill this ideology among the AKP’s rank and file members and across the country, which was deeply divided along political and ethnic lines.
Erdogan’s ambitions remained unabated as the economy’s wheel spun. Under Erdogan, Turkey, which once embraced zero-problem diplomacy, has begun to pick fights wherever it goes. He expanded Turkey’s role in the world, reaching out to Syria, Libya, Somalia, and other places, a departure from his initial peace-oriented foreign policy approach.
Erdogan’s tone shifted, becoming more confrontational, issuing threats against all opponents, domestic and foreign. He started consolidating his power. And the failed military coup in 2016, allegedly led by Fethullah Gülen, Erdogan’s one-time ally who became his arch-enemy, aided Erdogan in achieving his long-awaited dream of having complete control over all matters in Turkey. He altered the country’s parliamentary system of government by granting broad powers to the president of the republic, whose authority was far less inferior to that of the prime minister, who had previously been the country’s de facto ruler.
According to analysts, Erdogan’s political turn has had an impact on the country’s economy. However, there are issues with the Turkish economy, particularly structural ones, according to other observers. According to Euronews, Dr. Cem Oyvat, an economics lecturer at the University of Greenwich, Turkey’s recent strong GDP growth was not “even sustainable” in the first place. Other scholars have cited Erdogan’s interference and unconventional view of monetary policy. As a result, people’s confidence in the economy has shrunk.
Thus, Erdogan appears to have been the solution in the first decades of his presidency. However, it later appears that he is the problem, with populist policies aimed primarily at swaying voters and rallying masses. As a result, this one-decade success story appears to have been more about executing Erdogan and his party’s agenda than about lifting up the Turkish economy and people. It’s no coincidence that the economy thrived steadily while Erdogan pursued orthodox monetary policies. But since Erdogan changed his political and economic trajectory, things have changed—worsened—and the economy and politics have fallen from grace.
This deterioration and fall is hazardous. When Erdogan began his legacy, he sought not only to build his own legacy, but also to remove the Kemalist legacy and end the country’s longstanding secularism. Erdogan was prompted to do so in order to woo voters and build popular bases. Ironically, it appears that the AKP’s policies were merely a “dissimulation” of its true agenda. When the party gained control, it began to veer off course, imposing its own vision for politics and the economy. But, arguably, the economy is what created Erdogan’s Sublime Porte, and it is this that has the potential to turn things upside down, effectively ending the Erdoganist political and economic project.
Mostapha Hassan Abdelwahab is the former editorial manager of the English edition of the Baghdad Post. He is focusing on Iraq, Iran and political Islam movements, with articles posted on the Herald Report, Vocal Europe, the Greater Middle East and other platforms.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Milli Chronicle’s point-of-view.