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The challenges facing Erdogan’s new cabinet

May 31, 2023 at 3:15 pm

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish flag are projected on May 29, 2023 [Ahmed Yusuf Bıtmez/Anadolu Agency]

After a very tight first round, Turkiye’s Erdogan has emerged the clear winner of the presidential election last Sunday. After overcoming the biggest political challenges ever faced, with a coalition comprising six opposition parties, he will hope his third term will further tighten his grip on power. Opponents have expressed dismay, with the poll results starkly reflecting deep political divisions in the country. Although Erdogan has been re-elected with a comfortable majority in the Parliament, the next five years will be a defining moment for the President as he continues to face a wide range of issues, such as the economy which has been declining over the last few years.

Relatedly, on this economic issue, many experts expect a return to economic orthodoxy, where he should give the Central Bank a say in the future. The President urgently needs to rebuild entire cities devastated by the earthquake, something which is going to cost $100 billion. He will have to build bridges with the US and the EU to achieve this.

Erdogan’s ties with the international community have strained over the last few years but he is giving indications that he is willing to mend fences, particularly after he confirmed that he wants stronger relations with the West in exchange for more financial support to fix the economy and to rebuild the cities that were devastated by the earthquake. President Erdogan told his people that he is now looking forward to uniting everyone who voted for him or voted for the opposition. We will have to wait and see whether he will be able to deliver on all those promises.

READ: Turkiye President receives over 100 congratulatory messages on re-election

Let us take a closer look at the challenges President Erdogan faces as he begins his new term in office. Turkiye’s economy is in crisis, with its people struggling with a high cost of living. The Turkish Lira has lost nearly 340 per cent against the US dollar, from 3 liras to 20 liras during the five years of the President’s last term, and inflation is running at more than 50 per cent.  The Lira weakened another 1 per cent earlier this week to 20.31 per dollar. Critics blame Erdogan for refusing to raise interest rates. The Turkish President has made a strange decision by lowering the interest rate as inflation remained at high levels. This is the opposite of what the IMF usually urges governments to do, to increase interest rates prior to halting inflation. His philosophy on applying low interest rates is to allow people who borrow money from banks to make ends meet and investors to find low interest rates.

On another level, the President also faces the huge task of uniting a deeply polarised nation. Although Erdogan extended his 20-year rule after defeating rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu by 52 per cent to 48 per cent, the opposition has been criticising Erdogan’s government for its stance on Syrian refugees. They claim there is no clear plan to resolve the immigration issue. On the other hand, Erdogan has accused his rival of siding with the PKK fighters who his party regard as terrorists. Meanwhile, millions of people in the south-west of Turkiye are still living in makeshift homes after the devastating earthquakes of February. Erdogan has promised to prioritise rebuilding in those areas.

Erdogan wins 2023 Turkish presidential election - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Erdogan wins 2023 Turkish presidential election – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Now with Erdogan’s victory, Turkiye’s foreign policy is also in the spotlight. NATO members are hoping Ankara will allow Sweden into the military alliance. Turkiye has blocked Sweden’s application and says the country has not met all of Turkiye’s demands. Turkiye is described as the bridge between Europe and the Middle East, but its relations with Russia have unsettled Western powers. Significantly, while it has preserved close ties with Moscow, it also provides military aid to Ukraine. Turkiye’s foreign policy, over the years, has expanded its global influence. It intervened militarily across the Middle East Africa and Europe. Last year, Ankara helped to broker a deal that ended Russia’s blockade on Ukraine grain supplies. Erdogan’s new term promises a diplomatic rearrangement as Turkiye seeks to repair strained ties with the Arab world, especially with Syria and Egypt, as well as NATO allies, including neighbouring Greece and the US. Relations with Europe should improve as the election period is over. This would depend on how much Erdogan tempers his nationalist stance and becomes more liberal and pragmatic in international relations. A good indicator would be seen if Turkiye gives the green light for Sweden’s accession at the upcoming NATO summit.

READ: Calls for Israel to restore ‘fragile’ relations with Turkiye after Erdogan’s win

To sum up, the newly elected government has two main challenges. The first one is to flatten the curve of inflation and to balance the trade deficit budget because Turkey exported $250 billion last year, and imported more than $360 billion, there is a deficit of $110. The second major issue is to build ties between local Turkish people and asylum seekers or immigrants. In order to bridge the divide between the two camps, rich immigrants should put more effort to get Turkish passport and asylum seekers should assimilate more into the society by learning the Turkish language and entering into the job markets. If Erdogan succeeds in addressing these issues, Turkiye will, no doubt, have a bright future, especially with the talents of its huge young population unlike Europe’s aging population.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.