Following the devastating earthquakes that rocked Turkey in February, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has weathered a significant leadership test and secured another term in office. Emerging victorious in a presidential runoff against candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu, Erdogan’s rule extends into a third decade.
With nearly 99 percent of the ballot boxes opened on Sunday, Erdogan obtained 52 percent of the vote, while Kilicdaroglu garnered 48 percent, as reported by news agencies. Addressing his supporters in Ankara, Erdogan declared, “Our victory is not only ours; it belongs to Turkey. It belongs to every segment of our society. Our democracy is the ultimate winner.” He emphasized that his government’s priorities would revolve around combatting inflation and rebuilding the country, which had been shattered by the earthquakes that claimed over 50,000 lives.
Erdogan faced significant criticism and public outrage from survivors and opposition parties due to the government’s perceived mismanagement of rescue services during the earthquakes. The administration was also held responsible for lax construction standards in the 2000s, leading to numerous buildings collapses and a high death toll. Critics have further attributed the soaring inflation to Erdogan’s unorthodox economic policies.
Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the left-leaning CHP, described this election period as the “most unfair” in Turkish history and expressed concerns about the challenging days ahead for the country. Erdogan’s narrow victory has left the nation divided, as each camp holds differing visions for the country’s future. In a bid to oust Erdogan from power, multiple opposition parties formed a united front and rallied behind Kilicdaroglu, considering the race as a last hope for Turkish democracy.
World leaders congratulate
In a statement on Twitter, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy congratulated Erdogan on his victory. “We count on the further strengthening of the strategic partnership for the benefit of our countries, as well as the strengthening of cooperation for the security and stability of Europe,” Zelenskyy said.
“The election victory was a natural result of your selfless work as the head of the Republic of Turkey, clear evidence of the support of the Turkish people for your efforts to strengthen state sovereignty and conduct an independent foreign policy,” Putin said in a message to Erdogan.
US President Joe Biden also congratulate Erdogan on winning the second round in Turkey’s presidential election. “I look forward to continuing to work together as NATO allies on bilateral issues and shared global challenges,” Biden said in a tweet.
Turkey’s Evolving Foreign Policy under Erdogan’s Leadership
Turkey, a longstanding member of NATO, has been charting its own course in foreign policy under the leadership of President Erdogan, particularly since the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year. Despite being a NATO ally, Turkey has pursued its own agenda and refrained from joining other NATO countries in imposing sanctions on Russia. This is in part due to Turkey’s controversial deal with Russia in 2017 to acquire the S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system. Furthermore, Turkey has strengthened its energy ties with Russia, doubling its imports of inexpensive Russian oil last year.
In a display of power-play, Turkey has also delayed Sweden’s NATO membership over Erdogan’s accusations that Stockholm has been supporting groups such as the PKK, which Turkey considers as “terrorists.” Previously, Turkey had also impeded Finland’s entry into NATO but eventually allowed it to join. Erdogan has been attempting to shape Turkey’s foreign policy on his own terms, seeking to maintain some distance from the Western world.
Experts suggest that Erdogan may ultimately permit Sweden’s entry into NATO, possibly timed for the upcoming summit in July, but not without extracting concessions from Western nations. This could include securing a deal for the purchase of F-16 fighter jets from the United States. Turkey had been removed from the US fighter jet program after striking the S-400 deal with Russia. While the Biden administration has signaled its readiness to allow Turkey to procure upgraded equipment, the final decision lies with the approval of the US Congress.
Simultaneously, Erdogan has presented himself as a valuable partner to the West by playing a role in brokering agreements. For example, he assisted in bringing Putin in line with the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a United Nations-brokered deal that facilitated continued grain exports from Ukraine and helped control food prices. While Erdogan’s supporters view him as a visionary leader in the Muslim world, critics remain watchful of the international consequences of his actions as he consolidates his power.