How Turkish President Erdogan maintained a grip on power in the country

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a populist with increasingly authoritarian leanings, is due to be sworn in and begin his third presidential term on Saturday after his latest election victory.

Erdogan, who has ruled Turkey as prime minister or president for 20 years, won a runoff last weekend despite the country’s ongoing economic crisis and his government’s criticized response to the February earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people.

Known as “reis” or “the leader” among his fans, 69-year-old Erdogan is already the longest-serving leader in the history of the Turkish republic. His re-election for a five-year term that runs until 2028 extends his rule into a third decade, and he could possibly serve longer with the help of a friendly parliament.

Here’s a look at Erdogan’s career and some of the reasons for his political longevity.

THIS IS NOT THE ECONOMY

Many experts agree that Turkey’s severe economic difficulties stem from Erdogan’s unorthodox fiscal policies, including lowering interest rates against runaway inflation despite warnings from economists. However, the majority of voters – he obtained 52% of the vote in the second round – do not seem to hold it against him.

Erdogan’s endurance amid a cost of living crisis – inflation in Turkey soared to a staggering 85% in October before falling back to 44% in April – may have been the result of the fact that many people prefer stability to change as they struggle to pay exorbitant prices for rent and basic commodities.

The president has demonstrated his ability to turn the economy around in the past. And he was never shy about spending and deploying government resources to his political advantage.

Over the past two decades, his government has spent lavishly on infrastructure to please his constituents. In the run-up to parliamentary and presidential elections last month, he raised wages and pensions to cushion the blow of inflation and shelled out electricity and gas subsidies.

A point of pride for many voters is Turkey’s booming military-industrial sector. Throughout the campaign, Erdogan frequently cited drones, planes and a domestically-made warship touted as the world’s first “drone carrier”.

ON THE WORLD STAGE

Erdogan has influenced many Turks alongside him with the way he navigates the world stage. Supporters see him as a leader who has shown that Turkey can be a major player in geopolitics while displaying an independent streak in its relations with East and West.

Turkey is a key NATO member due to its strategic position at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, and it controls the alliance’s second largest military. During Erdogan’s tenure, the country proved to be an indispensable and sometimes troublesome NATO ally.

The Turkish government has delayed Sweden’s entry into NATO and purchased Russian missile defense systems, prompting the United States to oust Turkey from a US-led fighter jet project. Yet, working with the United Nations, Turkey brokered a vital wartime deal that allowed Ukraine to resume shipping grain across the Black Sea to starving parts of the world.

Erdogan hailed his re-election, which comes as the country prepares to mark the centenary of the republic, as the start of “Turkey’s century”.

A RETURN TO ISLAMIC ROOTS

Erdogan has cultivated deep loyalty from conservative and religious supporters as he elevates Islamic values ​​in a country that has been defined by secularism for nearly a century.

He limited the powers of the army, which often meddled in civil politics whenever the country began to deviate from secularism. He lifted rules that banned Conservative women from wearing headscarves in schools and government offices.

He has also converted Istanbul’s famous Hagia Sophia into a mosque, responding to a long-standing demand from Turkish Islamists. The Byzantine-era cathedral became a mosque after the conquest of Constantinople, but served as a museum for decades.

More recently, he has criticized LGBTQ+ rights, suggesting they pose a threat to the traditional, conservative notion of what constitutes a family.

CLOSE CONTROL OVER THE MEDIA

During his decades in power, Erdogan has consolidated his control over the media.

The majority of Turkish media are now owned by conglomerates loyal to it. He used his position to silence critics and denigrate the opposition.

International election observers observed that the first round of the presidential election on May 14 and the second round on May 28 were free but not fair.

While run-off voters had a choice between genuine political alternatives, “skewed media coverage and the lack of a level playing field gave the incumbent an unfair advantage,” said Farah Karimi, the Organization’s coordinator for security and cooperation in Europe. .

Erdogan’s opponent in the second round of elections, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, had promised to undo the president’s economic policies and put Turkey back on a democratic path by ending the crackdown on freedom of expression.

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Cinar Kiper reported from Bodrum.

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