President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is ushering in a new era for Turkey after weekend elections saw him win a presidency granting him the vastly expanded executive powers he has long sought.
The feat was achieved through support from a small nationalist party after his governing party realized its parliamentary majority slip.
Critics have reacted with alarm to Erdogan’s victory, saying the results usher in what will effectively be one-man rule, putting someone with increasingly autocratic and intolerant tendencies at the helm of a strategically significant NATO country.
The fate of Turkey’s increasingly shaky economy is critical, and much will depend on how Erdogan handles it. In his victory speech, he said his goal was to make his country one of the world’s top 10 economies by 2023, the centenary of the Turkish Republic, but how he will achieve that is unclear.
Turkey has been hit by rising inflation and a struggling currency, which has lost about 20 percent of its value against the dollar since the start of the year. Although the country’s economy grew by about 7 percent last year, analysts warn this was largely fueled by unsustainable grandiose construction projects.
“There are lots of fragility. When we look at the overall macro picture, the inflation is high, exchange rate is high, interest rates are high, fiscal deficit is high, current account deficit is high,” said economic analyst Ozlem Derici Sengul.
Fadi Hakura of the London-based Chatham House think tank predicted that Turkey is heading toward an economic crisis in the next five years, but noted there were no signs Erdogan would change course on the economy.
“He will continue pursuing the very populist economic policies that are leading Turkey to economic ruin,” Hakura said. “There are no indications that Erdogan will reverse course in terms of his economic populist agenda.
“That means loosening the purse strings, restraining interest rates, and boosting construction and mega infrastructure projects, as well as supplying cheap credit to consumers and Turkish business. The very policies that are now degrading the value of the lira vis-a-vis the dollar and the euro,” he said.
Erdogan, Hakura noted, is “obsessed with a super-high growth rate, way beyond the capacity of the Turkish economy. And that’s what will lead to economic ruin in Turkey.”
“He’s pursuing Ferrari growth rates while being a … mid-sized car,” Hakura said.
The new system abolishes the prime minister’s position, and grants the president power to appoint ministers, vice presidents and high-level bureaucrats, issue decrees, prepare the budget and decide on security policies. Erdogan, who set the changes in motion with a 2017 referendum, insists this will lead to greater stability and prosperity.
But many fear it puts too much power in the hands of the president in a country lacking the checks and balances of other presidential democracies, such as the United States or France.
“Turkey has cut off its ties with democratic values,” said Muharrem Ince of the secular opposition Republican People’s Party, who came in second in Sunday’s presidential race. “It has transitioned to a one-man regime in the fullest sense.”
France and the U.S. have independent judiciaries, a free press, independent institutions and party-based politics, noted Hakura of Chatham House.
“Those kinds of institutional checks and balances are non-existent … or at least are very weak in Turkey,” Hakura said. “One cannot say that the legal system in Turkey is independent. The national media is completely under government (control) or is loyal to Erdogan.”
Sunday’s elections took place under a state of emergency imposed by Erdogan’s government after a failed 2016 coup. About 50,000 people have been jailed and more than 110,000 civil servants fired in the massive government crackdown. In the run-up to Sunday’s vote, Erdogan had said he would lift the state of emergency if re-elected — something long called for by opposition figures and rights groups.
The candidate who came in third in the presidential election, Selahattin Demirtas, ran his entire campaign from a maximum security prison, where he is being held pending trial on terrorism charges he says are trumped up and politically motivated. The pro-Kurdish HDP party he ran for managed to win enough votes to enter parliament despite nine of its lawmakers, including Demirtas, and thousands of its party members being jailed.
“I think it’s quite clear that human rights conditions in Turkey will probably worsen,” given that the small nationalist party Erdogan has allied with, Devlet Bahceli’s Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, is even more to the right than Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party,” Hakura said.
“There’s no indication that Erdogan will relax the tightening environment that Turkey is now laboring under in terms of media freedoms, human rights and civil liberties.”