Erdogan Again!

Civilian supremacy in Türkiye is not a myth but an undeniable reality. In marked contrast, Pakistan is still grappling with large scale interference of non-political forces in governance and political affairs.

By Dr. Moonis Ahmar | July 2023

When on May 28, 2023, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was re-elected as President of Türkiye in run-off elections, one can expect a great leap forward in terms of that country’s standing in the world affairs. Türkiye has given Erdogan 25 years to govern the country, which led to enormous transformation in economic and political terms. Erdogan has managed to pull his country out of economic crisis and put Türkiye on the road to stable democracy by cutting the influence of the military forces.

Erdogan’s journey to power began in 1994 when he became mayor of Türkiye’s largest city Istanbul. But, in view of his independent and Islamic mindset, which was unacceptable to powerful military, he was disqualified to contest elections after four years when he read a poem written in 1920. That poem was perceived to be that of a voice of an Islamist movement and a challenge to Türkiye’s secular order. In 2001, he played a role to establish Justice and Development Party (AKP) which won elections in 2003. Abdullah Gul who became president removed ban on Erdogan which enabled him to contest elections in 2007 and since then he is in power first as prime minister and then as president. Perceived to be Islamist in his thinking and approach, Erdogan proceeded with his two-pronged plan: first, to focus on development and giving a boost to economy and second to strengthen democracy by mitigating the influence of military.

In view of his better performance and popular support, he was able to crush 2016 attempted coup having the covert support of military. After the failed coup, Erdogan further liquidated the influence of military which for decades had ruled Türkiye and got a constitutional cover for a role in statecraft. The pathetic nature of Türkiye’s economy was evident from the fact that in 2003 the value of Turkish lira vis-à-vis U.S dollar was 15 million. After almost two decades of his hard work, Türkiye emerged as the world’s 19th largest economy with GDP of around $1 trillion, exports of $250 million and foreign exchange reserves of $60 billion. The value of lira versus U.S $ decline to 20. Recent earthquake in Türkiye negatively impacted the country’s foreign exchange reserves and economic growth rate, however, Erdogan managed to cope with that national disaster with the support of his people.

Türkiye is a member of NATO but its defiance against the United States on various policy issues is noticeable. Erdogan coped with pressures exerted by the U.S and some NATO member countries on siding with Ukraine over Russia. The level of confidence prevailing in Türkiye’s leadership is growing with each passing day because of support rendered by the majority of people to Erdogan and the level of patriotism, which was reflected in recent deadly earthquake. Will Erdogan transform Türkiye as an economic powerhouse of Europe and the world, and to what extent he will be able to use the time of his presidency in playing a leadership role in the Muslim world? What will be the implications of Erdogan’s electoral triumph in recently held presidential elections and what lessons one can learn from the success story of Türkiye?
There are voices expressing their criticism against Erdogan that he wants to transform Türkiye as his personal fiefdom and diminish the country’s secular credentials by giving space to Islamists. The fact that he failed to secure victory in the first round of presidential elections and had to go for a run-off reflects that almost 50% of people of Türkiye are opposed to him.

According to an article entitled, “Erdogan won by exploiting fear” written by Gonul Tol and published in My 31, 2023 issue of Foreign Policy, the writer argues that, “Conditions in Turkey were ripe for change, too. Corruption under Erdogan had reached astronomical proportions. His mishandling of the economy and dogged pursuit of “unorthodox” monetary policy had led to triple-digit inflation and left the central bank with negative foreign reserves. Devastating earthquakes had hit the country in early February, and the government’s slow response increased the death toll to more than 50,000. Popular demand for change had never been stronger. Yet those promising that change lost.”

He further states that, “Part of the answer lies in the nature of elections in autocracies. They are not free or fair. In Erdogan’s Turkey, the playing field is heavily skewed against the opposition. Erdogan either jailed or intimidated his most popular opponents with court cases. He used state resources and control of the media to appeal to voters while his opponent’s attempts to get his message across were constantly hindered”.

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