A Weakened Erdogan Is Still Bad News for Turkey’s Democracy

A Weakened Erdogan Is Still Bad News for Turkey’s Democracy
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan goes to sign the guest book at Bellevue Palace, in Berlin, Germany, Nov. 17, 2023 (DPA photo by Michael Kappeler via AP Images).

Assuming his health holds out and that he does not pull a rabbit—in the form of a constitutional revision—out of his hat to award himself yet another term, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will remain in office until 2028. Nevertheless, his political position seems more tenuous today than perhaps at any time since he survived a coup attempt in 2016. Erdogan’s domestic weakness is not likely to result in any “moderation” of his policies, however. To the contrary, the political drubbing that his ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, took in municipal elections in March is likely to result in greater attempts to consolidate power at home and sharper demonstrations of assertiveness abroad, at least in the short term.

There are at least four reasons why the AKP seems to have lost its luster. First and foremost is the Turkish economy. For a lengthy period, Erdogan insisted on offering low interest rates and spending down the country’s foreign reserves as means of floating the lira. Since 2023, however, he has begrudgingly allowed for a “normalization” of Turkey’s economic policy after a minor scare in that year’s general election saw him forced into a second-round runoff. While there seems to have been some improvement as a result, his team of reformers can do little about the corruption that is so systemically connected to Erdogan’s clientelist regime. Moreover, inflation has proven exceedingly difficult to control, resulting in shocking hardship for many Turkish households.

Second, Erdogan has so assiduously centralized control around himself that the ruling party seems unable to nurture and put forward sufficiently capable candidates for municipal campaigns. For example, the AKP’s candidate for Istanbul’s mayoral election, Murat Kurum, was so wildly untalented as a retail politician that his campaign gaffes briefly became an internet sensation.

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