Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the survivor of Turkish politics

Corruption scandals, massive protests, a coup, economic crisis and even an earthquake. At 69 years of age and after two decades in power, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has overcome many crises in which his political end was announced.

But the Turkish president who has had the most power since Mustafa Kemal “Atatürk” founded the Republic of Turkey in 1923 managed this Sunday once again to prevail in an election to stay in power.

Erdogan won in the second round of the presidential elections against the Social Democrat, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, dashing the opposition’s dream of unseating him.

“For the next five years, the responsibility of running the country has been handed over to us,” Erdogan said as he declared himself the winner before his supporters in Istanbul, with whom he sang a love song to Istanbul, the city where he was born in 1954. , in the bosom of a modest family from the mountains of the Black Sea.

Erdogan began his meteoric political career as the mayor of Istanbul between 1994 and 1998, a position he held effectively and served as a springboard to become prime minister in 2003.

Two years earlier, he had founded the Justice and Development party (AKP), an Islamist formation that inherited parties that had been outlawed under the strict secularism that governed Turkey, always monitored by the Army.

Erdogan himself went to jail in 1999 after reading in public a poem considered “Islamist” by the Prosecutor’s Office.

However, he was able to convince a large part of the media and politics, both in Turkey and in Europe, that the AKP was a transcript of the European Christian-Democratic formations, efficient in economic management and moderate in religion.

During the eleven years that Erdogan was head of government, and the nine that he has been president, his way of exercising power has become increasingly authoritarian and the religious content of his policies increasingly evident.

Still, with the economy soaring, Erdogan and his AKP amassed absolute majority after absolute majority during their first years in power, despite growing authoritarianism and a succession of corruption scandals.

In 2013, a series of mass protests, which lasted for weeks, made it clear that a large part of Turkish society, the most urban and secular, was tired of attacks on press freedom, of religious morality increasingly affecting more to daily life and authoritarian drift.

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But in the face of conciliation attempts from other senior officials, such as then-president Abdullah Gül, Erdogan opted for a strong hand and confrontation.

His role as the country’s only strongman increased after the 2016 coup attempt and a year later with a constitutional reform that transformed Turkey into a presidential system and gave Erdogan enormous executive powers.

At the same time, he was breaking with many of those who accompanied him when he came to power and surrounding himself with a new, younger and more fawning team.

Gül and former Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, co-founders of the AKP, as well as former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, left their posts and the party over disagreements with Erdogan, to the point that the latter two are now allied with Kiliçdaroglu.

In the last two years, Erdogan’s tendency to rule alone and decide everything has been felt in the economy, imposing a policy of reducing interest rates to encourage spending, production and employment, something that has contributed to the fact that inflation has run amok.

Now, with the lira at historic lows against the dollar and the euro, unemployment at 22.5% and inflation at 45% (although independent economists place it at more than double), Erdogan resorts to inaugurations of infrastructures and presentations of locally designed and manufactured weaponry to convince Turkey’s impoverished middle class of the country’s economic might.

Its last great test has been the earthquake that last February left more than 50,000 dead in the southeast of the country, which sparked criticism of the mismanagement of relief for victims and complaints of urban corruption that has allowed thousands of buildings to be erected without license.

However, although the votes for the AKP in the parliamentary elections fell in the affected regions, Erdogan has continued to reap a percentage of votes very similar to the one he obtained in the 2018 elections.

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