Long time Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s won Sunday’s vote, securing five additional years of power. Expanding his rule into a third decade, Erdogan defeated Kemal Kilicdaroglu over the weekend in a bitter run-off election. Capturing 52 % of the vote, Erdogan triumphantly stated to a crowd outside his palace, “The entire nation of 85 million won.” Kilicdaroglu denounced the results as “the most unfair election in recent years”.

Why this Matters to Turkey

Even with jubilant supporters, cost of living issues and a well-organized opposition are making Turkey more vulnerable than at any other time during Erdogan’s 20-year reign. Nearly half the country agrees with Kilicdaroglu’s condemning view of President Erdogan’s government, claiming it is too authoritarian. Erdogan will be forced to consider Kilicdaroglu’s following during his third term in office.

Concerns of election fraud in Turkey is not new. In 2015, Erdogan’s government had challenges after the Turkish general election, with numerous accusations of electoral fraud and violence from the opposition. Just two years ago, Turkeys economy was on the verge of collapse, and the country was internationally isolated, forcing the president to face some of his greatest challenges. However, Erdogan entered the 2023 contest with many advantages, including a savvy political career, increased international prominence and nearly total control of the Turkish media.

Additionally, Erdogan has a deep connection with his constituents, most of which are religious conservatives that have followed him through hyperinflation and earthquakes, providing him the votes necessary for the win. Many believe they are better off with a tough guy rather than a perceived nice guy like Kilicdaroglu. A key part of his appeal is Erdogan’s strong leadership style, known within Turkey as “a latter-day Sultan who does not bow down.”

Economically, Turkey’s weakened lira further declined after the Sunday victory. During the campaign, Erdogan had discussed moving away from ultra-low interest rates and heavy state market intervention; while promising a new economic team with “international credibility.”

Bottom line, the election will embolden Erdogan. With few checks and balances in Turkish government, many believe there will be more religion and less freedom. Human rights and free speech may suffer, in a divided nation with a broken economy. Critics do not believe Erdogan has the solutions required.

Previous Regional Tensions

Russian President Vladimir Putin was the first to congratulate Erdogan. With a similar strongman leadership style, Putin celebrated the victory, before the official results were in. In his statement, Putin praised Erdogan’s “independent foreign policy” as the reason for the win. This is not an extraordinary endorsement as Erdogan has refused to shun the Kremlin after the Ukrainian invasion. As a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) since 1952, Turkey watched other member states imposed sanctions and slashed their energy reliance on Russia. Conversely, analysts say Turkey’s trade with Russia has increased since the Ukraine War began.

Turkey is not officially part of the European Union (EU), but they remain a significant trading partner. In the past, Erdogan was a passionate supporter of Turkey joining the EU. This election cycle he campaigned on “making Turkey great again” with no discussion of joining the EU.

Turkey – Essential and Unpredictable Ally

U.S. President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron along with other Western leaders congratulated Erdogan Sunday night, even with disdain for Kremlin / Turkish relations. Regardless, Erdogan provides military aid to Ukraine, while maintaining close ties with Russia. Further, in a challenging international environment the Turkish President negotiated an end to the Russian blockade of Ukrainian grain supplies to needy countries around the world. Also counter to Russian desires, Erdogan finally gave official approval to Finland joining (NATO) in April.

Now that the elections are over, a divided and economically troubled Turkey must return to business. There are still questions, regarding Turkey, the Ukraine War, and their delicate relationships with U.S. and Russia. Additionally, the jury is still out on EU relations, Turkey’s neighbors, and NATO. Rest assured; all will be watching as Erdogan continues to march to his own drumbeat, while continuing to ignore international conventions.

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Jay Hicks is an author, instructor and consultant. With a special kinship for military personnel, Jay provides guidance on successful civilian career transition and has co-authored “The Transitioning Military Series”. He is the co-founder of Gr8Transitions4U, where advocating the value of hiring military personnel is the key focus. More about Jay and his passion can be found at Gr8Transitions4U.com.