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What Erdoğan's reelection means for Turkey's political system, economy and foreign policy

Ahmet T. Kuru, Professor of Political Science, San Diego State University, The Conversation on

Published in News & Features

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been reelected as president, ensuring that his term as leader of Turkey will extend to a quarter century.

The electorate returned Erdoğan to power in a runoff vote on May 28, 2023, with 52% of votes. But with 48% of voters siding with opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, Erdoğan will have to govern a divided nation in its centennial year.

As a professor of political science, I have analyzed Turkish politics for many years. The election provided a stark choice for Turkey’s voters: To end or extend Erdogan’s two-decade-long creep toward authoritarian-style governance. The decision to opt for the latter will dictate the country’s future in key ways, both domestically and in terms of its relationships with Western countries.

Turkey had its first democratic election in May 1950. Since then it has had a multiparty competitive system, albeit one that has been sporadically interrupted by several military coups.

In the last 10 years, Erdoğan has taken Turkey down a more autocratic, one-man-rule style of governance. This has included restrictions on freedom of speech, freedom of the press and free assembly.

There is a little reason to believe that Erdoğan, enboldened by a fresh mandate, will reverse this trajectory.


Erdoğan won the election without making any promises about restoring or expanding rights and freedoms. Rather, his campaign signaled an intention to continue Turkey’s path toward being a conservative, religious state – a far cry from the vision of a modern, secular nation of founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

In the run-up to the election, Erdoğan presented himself as the leader of religious conservatives – reciting the Quran in Hagia Sophia and addressing the people in another mosque following the Friday prayer. He also presented himself as a militarist leader, using battleships, drones and other weapons as campaign instruments and uploading a new Twitter profile photo with an air force pilot jacket. This posturing combined with his accusations that the opposition was collaborating with the PKK – a Kurdish separatist organization designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey – suggests that Erdoğan continues to promote Turkish nationalism and militarism.

The runoff victory for Erdoğan comes just two weeks after his Justice and Development Party and coalition partners won a parliamentary majority. It means that the opposition will have no executive or legislative power to restrict Erdoğan’s agenda.

Another important and consistent characteristic of Erdoğan’s presidential campaign was his criticism of the West in general and the United States in particular.


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