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Elections in Turkey 2023. Recep Tayyip Erdogan – political career, views, criticism

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is running for the country’s highest office again after 20 years in power. His two decades in power have shaped the country more than any other leader since the founding father of the modern Turkish state, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for May 14 in Turkey have been declared successful the most important election race in the world this year. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will face Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) supported by the majority of the Turkish opposition. According to polls and experts, after more than 20 years of rule, the leader may lose power.

– Indeed, we currently see the best conditions for Erdogan to lose power – said in an interview with Maciej Michałek from tvn24.pl Dr. Karol Wasilewski, an analyst at 4CF The Futures Literacy Company, author of the book “Dream about power. Neo-Osmanism in the foreign policy of the Republic of Turkey”.

READ MORE: The twilight of the “sultan” is coming? “He has never been so close to losing power”

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Recep Tayyip Erdogan at an election campaign rally in Ankara on April 30PAP/EPA/NECATI SAVAS

The possible end of Erdogan’s reign is associated with the difficult economic situation in Turkey, the tragic consequences of the recent earthquake, as well as with the public mood, which shows great fatigue of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and to a lesser extent also of the president himself. Similar sentiments accompanied the Turks more than 20 years ago, when in 2002 the AKP, founded a year earlier, came to power.

Recep Tayyip Erdoga – political beginnings

Born in 1954, Recep Tayyip Erdogan moved to Istanbul as a teenager with his family, where he later obtained a degree in management from Marmara University. In the 1970s and 1980s, he was active in Islamic circles, joining Necmettin Erbakan’s pro-Islamic Welfare Party.

The group, which gained popularity in the 1990s, named Erdogan as its candidate for the mayor of Istanbul. In 1994, the politician won the elections and ruled Turkey’s largest city for the next four years. Erdogan has developed Istanbul in terms of infrastructure, economy and ecology. He also improved the state of municipal funds.

SEE ALSO: Recep Tayyip Erdogan looks nine years younger on the ballot

After four years in office, Erdogan resigned in 1998 after being sentenced to prison for a speech alleged by the authorities at the time to incite religious hatred. “Mosques are our barracks, domes our helmets, minarets our bayonets, and the faithful our soldiers,” read a fragment of the nationalist poem he included in his speech.

Istanbul Mayor Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 1995 Getty Images

He spent four months in prison. After his release, he returned to politics, but his then party was outlawed for violating the strict secular principles of the modern Turkish state.

In the summer of 2001, Erdogan and Abdullah Gul founded a new party – the Justice and Development Party, which took power in Turkey a year later. The formation referred to the tradition of Islamist movements, but its leader Erdogan toned down religious rhetoric and advocated Turkey’s integration with the European Union.

Erdogan heads the government of Turkey. Prime reformer

In 2003, Erdogan took over the government, emerging as a young and dynamic leader. He and his group promised the citizens competent government, reliable services and economic growth, which they managed to achieve for many years, comments the New York Times.

Between 2003 and 2013, Turkey’s economy tripled. Erdogan bet on infrastructure projects that were supposed to modernize the country. New hospitals, highways and airports were built. The standard of living of citizens also rose. The middle class grew and millions of Turks were lifted out of poverty. Erdogan served as prime minister for three terms, gaining international recognition as a reformer, but his critics warned that he was becoming increasingly autocratic.

Protests against Erdogan’s authoritarian rule

Protests broke out in 2013. They were directly caused by the government’s plans to develop Gezi Park, which is liked by the inhabitants of Istanbul, but they also had the dimension of rebellion against the increasingly authoritarian rule of Erdogan. In defiance, the streets of Istanbul resounded with the sound of pots and pans hitting each evening. There were clashes with the police.

Erdogan condemned the demonstrators, calling them “capulcu” (rabble). Critics of the prime minister said he was behaving more like the sultan of the Ottoman Empire than a democrat. The 2013 protests marked a turning point in Erdogan’s rule.

Protests near Gezi Park in Istanbul, June 2013 PAP/EPA

In December 2013, Turkey was also shaken by a huge corruption scandal, which led to the arrest of over 50 people. It was about irregularities in tenders in the construction industry, and the list of defendants included the sons of three ministers of Prime Minister Erdogan’s government. This forced him to reconstruct his cabinet and change 10 ministers. Erdogan decided that the outbreak of the scandal a few months before the local (March 2014) and presidential (August 2014) elections was an open attack on his rule.

He was incensed by the investigation itself in connection with the scandal. He carried out purges in the prosecutor’s office, arguing that it was conducting politically motivated activities, and that the corruption scandal was a form of judicial coup. About 500 officers from Ankara, about 270 officers from Izmir and several high-ranking prosecutors lost their jobs during this time.

SEE ALSO: Türkiye hands over the first aircraft carrier to the navy, equipped with the Bayraktar drone

During this period, Erdogan also fell out with his former ally, the US-based Islamic thinker Fethullah Gulen, whose social and cultural movement helped the prime minister stay in power, as well as actively worked to remove military representatives from politics. The dispute between Gulen and Erdogan, the BBC points out, was to have a dramatic impact on Turkish society in later years.

Failed attempt to overthrow Turkey’s new president

Despite protests in Istanbul’s Gezi Park and criticism from the opposition, Erdogan won the first direct presidential election in 2014. This function was ceremonial in Turkey at the time, but Erdogan planned to reform the office and create a new constitution, which was to introduce Turkey to the group of the largest economies in the world.

The Turks opposed the coup d’état. Ankara, July 2016PAP/EPA

Turkish soldiers involved in an attempted coup. Istanbul, July 15, 2016 Reuters Archive

However, the first years of the new president’s rule were shaken by two upheavals. In the 2015 parliamentary elections, his party lost its majority for several months, and in the middle of the following year Turkey experienced its first coup d’état attempt in decades.

For years, the army and the AKP had been linked by a strategic alliance. However, on the night of 15/16 July, she acted against her president.

Rogue soldiers took over helicopters and tanks, attacking government buildings. They failed to capture the president, because he was evacuated to a safe place while resting in a seaside resort. On the morning of July 16, 2016, Erdogan appeared at the Istanbul airport named after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state. In a later appearance on state television, he summoned his supporters to Istanbul, referring to himself as “commander-in-chief.”

As a result of the failed coup, nearly 300 civilians who opposed the putschists were killed. introduced in the country state of emergencyThe president blamed the coup attempt on Fethullah Gulen. As a consequence of the subsequent purges, about 150,000 government officials lost their jobs and over 50,000 people, including soldiers, policemen, journalists, lawyers, scientists and Kurdish politicians, were detained.

Detained Turkish soldiers who took part in the 2016 coup. Ankara, August 2017PAP/EPA

Defenders human rights Turkey’s and Western allies later expressed concerns that Erdogan had used the failed coup as a pretext to quell internal opposition.

Referendum and defeat in Istanbul

In 2017, the Turks voted with a slight majority in the referendum for systemic changes, granting the president wide powers, including the possibility of introducing a state of emergency, appointing the highest state officials and interfering with the legal system of the country. As a result of the referendum, the office of prime minister was also abolished. The following year, Erdogan sealed the systemic changes by decisively winning the first round of the presidential election.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ruled Turkey for over 20 years PAP/EPA/TOLGA BOZOGLU

While the electoral bastions of the AKP are the conservative Anatolian province, in 2019 the president’s party lost local elections in major Turkish cities, including Istanbul, the capital Ankara and Izmir.

Ekrem Imamoglu, the candidate of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), won the first ballot in Istanbul, followed by Binali Yildirim from the ruling AKP. The difference between the rivals was then small (13,000, or 0.2 percent). President Recep Tayyip Erodgan and his candidate accused the opposition politician of stealing votes, and Turkey’s Supreme Election Commission decided that the elections should be repeated. In the second attempt, Imamoglu’s advantage over his rival turned out to be much greater – 54 to 45 percent. This time, the difference in votes was over 700,000.

It was the mayor of Istanbul who was perceived as one of the main opposition candidates for president in the upcoming elections. In December 2022, however, he was convicted for a statement in 2019 when he called the “stupid” decision to repeat the elections in Turkey’s largest city. If the sentence is upheld, Imamoglu faces two years and seven months in prison and a ban on holding public office. Imamoglu is currently a vice-presidential candidate alongside Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan supporters rally in Istanbul on May 7PAP/EPA/TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL OFFICE HANDOUT

After two decades in power, Erdogan faces one of the biggest challenges of his political career. The portal points out that although many Turks see the future of the state without him, the incumbent president is a seasoned electoral winner who will not give up power easily.

TVN24, PAP, “New York Times”, BBC, Reuters

Main photo source: PAP/EPA/TOLGA BOZOGLU

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