Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Turkey at his fingertips after a free, not fair election

Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during 28th Mukhtars (local administrators) meeting at the Presidential Complex in Ankara on October 19, 2016. / AFP / ADEM ALTAN (Photo credit should read ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Turkey’s longtime leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, took the oath of office on Saturday, ushering in his third presidential term that followed three stints as prime minister.

President Erdogan was sworn in during a session in parliament before an inauguration ceremony at his sprawling palace complex. Supporters waited outside parliament despite the heavy rain, covering his car with red carnations as he arrived.

Erdogan defeated opposition challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu in a runoff vote held on May 28, after he narrowly failed to secure an outright victory in the first round of voting on May 14. Kilicdaroglu had promised to put Turkey on a more democratic path and improve relations with the West. International observers deemed the elections to be free but not fair.

All eyes are now on the announcement of his new cabinet later on Saturday. Its lineup should indicate whether Turkey will continue with Erdogan’s unorthodox economic policies or return to more conventional ones.

Dozens of foreign dignitaries are travelling to attend the ceremony, among them NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and high-profile former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt. They are expected to press Erdogan to lift his country’s block on Sweden’s NATO accession, which requires unanimous approval by all the organisation’s members.

NATO wants to bring Sweden into the alliance by the time allied leaders meet in Lithuania on July 11-12, but Turkey and Hungary have yet to endorse the bid. Turkey accuses Sweden of being too soft on Kurdish militants and other groups that the Turkish government considers terrorists. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, meanwhile, will also be attending the ceremony.

Turkey’s uncertain economic future

Erdogan was sworn in amid a host of domestic challenges ahead, including a battered economy, pressure for the repatriation of millions of Syrian refugees and the need to rebuild after a devastating earthquake in February that killed 50,000 and levelled entire cities in the south of the country.

Turkey is also grappling with a cost-of-living crisis fuelled by inflation that peaked at a staggering 85% in October before easing to 44% last month. The Turkish currency has lost more than 10% of its value against the dollar since the start of the year.

Critics blame the turmoil on Erdogan’s policy of lowering interest rates to promote growth, which runs contrary to conventional economic thinking that calls for raising rates to combat inflation.

Unconfirmed media reports say Erdogan plans to reappoint Mehmet Simsek, a respected former finance minister and deputy prime minister, to the helm of the economy. The move would signify a return by the country – which is the world’s 19th largest economy according to the World Bank – to more orthodox economic policies.

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