From all estimates and analyses it is abundantly clear that President Recep Tayep Erdogan was able to successfully overcome his detractors, his administration’s failures especially in dealing with the worst earthquakes and relief coordination and accusations of democracy deficit and indulgence in autocracy let alone the economic crisis and ultra-Islamism.
Erdogan won 52.2 percent of the vote while his rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu 47.8 percent as per official accounts. His Justice and Development –AKP Party also won majority in the Parliament. Though his own victory is marginal by vote share, even in the second round, but victory it is. At the same time, he does not have the liberty of wasting any time or indulging in self-congratulatory mode since the challenges especially economic and socio-political divide are gigantic.
His long time political opponent Kemal, the so called Turkish Gandhi and a Kemalist, failed strategically to capitalise on the societal fault lines. Analysts attribute it to his own personality, dampened communication skills, intra party divisions, lack of clarity of a viable alternative and credibility crisis on key issues of Islamism and Kurdish share in theTurkish polity both within and outside which Erdogan encashed on to the hilt and proved that anti-establishment discourse was simply not enough to dislodge a shrewd, even if ageing Erdogan.
President Erdogan took oath of office on June 3 for the 3rd time of the office of President, with over two decades of his rule when he was often accused of reviving Ottomanism and efforts to regain the leadership of the Islamic world, Weaponisation of his foreign policy, apart from the global economic meltdown due to the pandemic, had also took a toll on the Turkish economy and disgruntled the people. Pride and arrogance alone, do not address the bread and butter issues. However, Sultan Erdogan may have been tamed by the prevailing circumstances which was evident in his coronation speech claiming “We will embrace all the 85 million people, regardless of their political views, origins, or sect.”
Unlike in the past he spoke of an inclusive and liberal constitution while projecting Turkey as a peace maker in the region and world politics. He did try to mediate between Russia and Ukraine from early on given his close relationship with President Putin, who was one of the first to congratulate Erdogan on his victory. Erdogan has also been instrumental in working out the Black Sea Grain deal and its continuation, along with the UN between the two warring sides.
However, economy is the dragon in the room and that is his biggest challenge since the inflation at over 40 percent has been running amok with crashing Lira due to the economic policies of Erdogan in last few years. Hence, that is his priority which he wishes to address by appointment of ex-Merryll Lynch economist and Banker and an investment professional Mehmet Simsek as treasury and finance minister.
New FM may focus on economic growth
But the new FM might have ideas at variance with that of Erdogan especially on interest rates to inject impetus in economic activity and course correction. Simsek was highly regarded by investors when he served as finance minister between 2009 and 2015 and deputy prime minister in charge of the economy until 2018, before stepping down in advance of a series of lira crashes that year.
Nearly changing his whole cabinet he appointed his intelligence chief Hakan Fidan since 2010, as the new Foreign Minister. Yasar Guler is the new Defence Minister who as the Chief of armed forces was responsible for the incursions in Syria and Iraq against Kurdish rebels during 2019-20. Another trusted colleague Cevdet Yelmaz, formerly Economic Development minister, was appointed the Vice President. Hence he is trying to have his most trusted team tasked to address the pressing issues and to pursue his new agenda of economic and strategic rejuvenation through rapprochement and reforms .
On Erdogan’s foreign policy front one has already witnessed a significant turn around from confrontation to collaboration through rapprochement with regional elites like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and even Israel seeking greater economic engagement . Already in the GCC, Qatar happens to be its closest partner and both have toned down their support for Muslim Brotherhood -the bone of contention with Saudis . Even in war zones like Libya and Syria a certain constructive change is discernible. On the other hand, Erdogan- a somewhat irritating NATO member, reiterated the revival of F-35 project when President Biden called him to congratulate. He might even agree to lift his riders for Sweden to join NATO.
Given Republic of Türkiye’s strategic location and historic importance it is unlikely that Erdogan will sacrifice his relationship with Moscow to please Washington and Brussels which have been quite open in supporting his opponents from Gulen to Kemal. But he knows how to walk the fine line without tipping the scales.
PM Modi was also one of the first world leaders to congratulate Erdogan and hoped for better relations with its G20 partner, expressing confidence in the continued growth of bilateral ties and cooperation on global issues between the two nations. Turkey has predicated its ties with India to its misplaced and often irrational support for its Islamic brother Pakistan especially disregarding their indulgence as a state sponsor of terrorism and often raising issue of Kashmir at the UNGA and OIC irritating New Delhi.
While there is indeed political dissonance on some key issues between the two, the economic, cultural and P2P relations have historically prospered. India became one the first ‘Dost” to provide extensive humanitarian assistance to Turkish people in their hour of need during the devastating earthquakes.
Hopefully, there will be a strategic churn in the policy making circles of Erdogan’s new establishment and they will review and understand the benefits of a mutually sensitive and strategic partnership with New Delhi, also keeping in mind the rising international profile and role of India– the largest functional democracy whose Islamic credentials are also impeccable.
Moreover, Turkiye is also looking to be part of SCO and BRICS where India is a lead member and they will have more to discuss and collaborate on regional and global issues as the world order goes through a major shakeup. Hopefully we will see some qualitative positive change before President Erdogan visits Delhi in September for the G20 Summit.
The article was first published in CNBC TV18 as World View | President Erdogan returns — hopefully a strategic churn in his policy making circle can make New Delhi happy on June 06, 2023.
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