Can A Turkey Without Erdoğan Be Imagined?

After roughly twenty years of governing, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed that he is ready to commit to his last term in office during the upcoming Turkish elections in 2023. During a speech in early December, Erdoğan said that he will “hand over this sacred flag to our young people.” The alleged departure from office within the next five years poses as both a potential positive and negative chance for Turkey as it struggles with exceptional inflation and economic setbacks. The departure of Erdoğan, depending on his successor, could foreshadow the continuation of European negotiations with Turkey and reaffirming the constitution of the country, but could also be the catalyst for greater turmoil and unrest, which the country is all too familiar with considering the current economic crisis, the increasing media censure and the recent coup of 2016.

The departure of Erdoğan has been met with much debate about what will be next for Turkey, and what Erdoğan will do with his potential last term if he gets re-elected. This especially becomes relevant considering that the current polls, while still favourable, have declined significantly for Erdoğan and his party the AKP due to the current economic turmoil as the inflation of the Turkish Lira has increased to an astronomic 86 percent. Erdoğan, in his speech regarding what his plan is during his last term however, seems to not fully acknowledge the current state of the economy, stating that he has seen “the strength of our employment capacity at a time when there was talk of shrinkage in the economy. In the energy crisis, we saw the power of our investments to mobilize our opportunities at the highest level. In each crisis, we furthered our potential to seize new opportunities, relying on our own strength.” Meanwhile in the span of one year between 2021 and 2022, the US Dollar changed from being worth about eight Lira, to approximately nineteen. When the exchange rate between the Lira and the US dollar increases to such a degree, it should signify more than just ‘talk’ of economic decline.

It remains important however to realize that the successor of Erdoğan will not automatically result in an improvement for the country. The political party of Erdoğan, the AKP, will stand a good chance to remain in power and could therefore result in little to no change. Turkey has also struggled much with keeping the peace internally as it is under constant threat of violence by numerous terrorist organizations and political enemies of the AKP. A second coup can prove quite plausible if the new potential candidate can not gain approval from the different political spheres. Surprisingly however is that the political party HDP announced that they were willing to search for a ‘joint candidate’ if the AKP is willing to acquiesce increased influence of the HDP in parliament.

The last twenty years of rule by Erdoğan has changed Turkey drastically as he has constantly managed to reaffirm his control over the country by limiting the freedom of opposition to form against him and his party. During his rule, Reporters without Borders stated that over 90 percent of the media is now controlled by a strict mandate of the government, which severely limits the flow of information to its citizens. In 2015 and 2016, Erdoğan has also frequently tried to remove the immunities that members of parliament enjoy due to them allegedly being supporters of several terrorist groups.

To conclude, it is safe to suggest that the resolve of Turkish citizens and the Turkish constitution will be tested during the upcoming turbulent political period. However, there is also reason to be hopeful that a new elected ruler can represent reforms within both the economy and negotiations with the European Union. The next five years will therefore be incredibly important for the Turks to define the future of their country, and who they will side with in our increasing polarized world.