There has been a proliferation of diverse analyses running in parallel with the Turkish electoral scene, from its inception to its conclusion, with the “historic” victory of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This could be attributed to the political and economic reasons that govern the Turkish, regional and international landscapes, in addition to the influences that Erdogan’s leadership persona has imparted on the public scene.
Erdogan’s victory for a third term in office, despite the significant preparations by the Opposition and an unprecedented unity amongst its six parties, as well as domestic and foreign calculations that relied on current Turkish political and economic realities, opens the door for an attempt to understand the reasons behind the entrenchment of the “Justice and Development” party’s policies over the past years. This also includes President Erdogan’s “charismatic” personality and his determination to implement ambitious programmes for the advancement and prosperity of the Turkish nation, despite the imposing internal and external challenges that continue to intensify. This is further compounded by Erdogan’s continuous assertion of Turkish decision-making independence, even if this sometimes means swimming against powerful regional and international currents.
In addition to the Opposition’s exploitation of foreign political issues, the most significant emphasis was placed on the economic problem, particularly inflation and rising prices. However, this met with a divide, given that the “Justice and Development” party’s rule, which has spanned over two decades, represents the first period during which Turkiye witnessed substantial economic growth, especially in terms of large-scale infrastructure projects, including hospitals, universities, airports, roads, railway networks and underground trains.
Alongside the achievements of the Justice and Development party, the great minds of the political leader stand out, displaying an ability to accomplish a societal development project domestically, while granting the state a pivotal and influential regional and international standing, across all levels.
The Turkish experience during President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s tenure could serve as a model for examining certain aspects, demonstrating the extent and nature of societal change as Erdogan ascended to leadership positions, ultimately becoming the nation’s ruler. He has reshaped and reformed the state’s identity and regional and international political performance.
President Erdogan is a popular choice, having been elected President by his people for the first time through a direct vote in August 2014. Before this, he served in leadership roles as Prime Minister and Mayor of Istanbul, after serving as the leader of the Justice and Development Party, which holds the majority of seats in the Turkish Parliament.
The early days of this young, impoverished man were shaped by life’s hardships, having taken on the responsibility of assisting his family in covering his educational expenses by selling watermelons and simit during his early schooling. His childhood experience left lasting impressions of resilience and determination to achieve goals and ambitions.
Erdogan bolstered these qualities with political and social awareness that qualified him to enter the political arena. He joined the National Salvation Party, led by Necmettin Erbakan, in the late seventies of the last century.
His political awareness subsequently led him to assess his time’s circumstances objectively. He returned to political activity through his involvement in the Welfare Party a few years after the 1980 coup, which resulted in the abolition of political parties. He ran for the position of Mayor of Istanbul on behalf of his party in 1994. His dynamic energy, ability to connect with the public and the party’s political programme that met the aspirations of his people, in addition to the party’s vast organisational capabilities, contributed to his victory.
In grasping the necessities of the political stage, he could play his cards without compromising his fundamental principles. The establishment of the Justice and Development Party, along with his comrades after the prohibition of the Virtue Party to which he belonged, presented a new political front for the latest political organisation. However, the intellectual content held by Virtue and Erbakan remained the same after the banned organisation clashed with the military institution that has considered itself the guarantor of the secular republican system since the rule of Kemal Ataturk.
Upon assuming power, Erdogan adopted a policy of opening up to neighbouring countries, working to address complex historical issues such as the Kurdish issue and the dispute with Greece. He also sought to build bridges with Europe, the former Soviet Union states and Arab and Islamic countries.
Domestic politics also saw innumerable successes. Erdogan led what can be likened to a developmental revolution, which altered the reality of the Turkish economy. For a person embodying integrity, honour and prioritising the interests of the nation and its citizens, adopting the image of an integrative economy was not difficult. This economy aims to make a qualitative leap to a diversified economy that provides its people with prosperity and dignified life.
The figures during his tenure speak for themselves, pointing to a country that was – before the Justice and Development Party took power – subject to loans from the International Monetary Fund which, in turn, led to an increase in external debt, a rise in the budget deficit, the closure of thousands of businesses, a decrease in its investments and, consequently, an increase in unemployment rates.
However, the promising economic and political programme of the Justice and Development Party and its politicians’ honest and high performance turned the tables. It lifted the country from the shores of unemployment and high poverty rates, investment paralysis, and recession to the vastness of recovery, economic progress and rapidly improving the living standards of the Turkish citizen.
The figures indicate that the annual per capita income rose from $3,500 in 2002 to $17,468, according to the Turkish Economic Programme 2013 statistics. The country’s exports reached $36 billion and continued to rise, until they reached $140 billion in 2013. They have been achieving record increases since the beginning of 2023, the year in which Turkiye celebrates the centenary of the establishment of the Turkish Republic.
Politicians of Erdogan’s calibre, rooted in their humanity, with a clear vision and principles that do not accept dual interpretation and ambiguity, could draw a roadmap for the state to follow in its foreign policy in a manner that does not take vagueness. Despite the significant challenges in the region and the area, they remained steadfast in unparalleled humanitarian principles.
Erdogan made significant strides in advocating for the Palestinian cause, despite the economic and political ties previously established with the Occupying state by his predecessors. Alongside other shifts in foreign policy, this displayed a boldness seldom seen in a country not known for its dramatic policy shifts, especially in regional issues.
Erdogan courageously made pivotal decisions about the Occupying state, cutting off diplomatic ties and freezing all channels with Israel. This was in response to violations against the Palestinian people in Gaza, including Turkish and Arab sympathisers and international individuals attempting to voice their rejection of the unjust siege on the Gaza Strip. A blockade that has exhausted the humanity of the international community as it has failed to alleviate the injustice upon children, women, the elderly and all besieged civilians in Gaza.
The incident with the “Mavi Marmara” ship following Israeli piracy against Turkish and international individuals aboard, on the Mediterranean Sea in May 2010, resulting in dozens of deaths and injuries, was not the sole motivation for Turkiye’s decisive steps against the Occupying state. Instead, a principled position in supporting just causes, notably the Palestinian cause, remains a constant in Turkish policy under Erdogan’s rule.
This principled Turkish stance has been evident in other regional issues, such as the political and humanitarian support for the Syrian people during the years of the revolution, welcoming hundreds of thousands of its refugees, and supporting the aspirations of other peoples in the region to attain political freedoms and self-determination.
With his characteristic courage, Erdogan plays an active and leading role in addressing existential and just issues. Turkiye’s stance has been notably distinct in the Jerusalem issue recently, following the ill-fated decision by US President Donald Trump to recognise the holy city as the capital of Israel and his intention to move the American embassy there.
The Turkish President’s condemnation of the American move and his leading role in the political scene following his call for an Islamic summit in response to the American decision, along with his explicit declaration of total rejection of the decision, regardless of the consequences, speak of the policy of steadfast principles adopted by the Turkish leadership. This insight into the implications of a decision which perpetuates the historic crime of violating and usurping the rights of the Palestinian people, in addition to the rights of more than one and a half billion Muslims in Jerusalem, cannot be underestimated. Added to this, are the security and political repercussions, which he summarised by saying that “taking such a decision puts the world, and especially the region, in a circle of fire”, and that “Jerusalem is a red line for Muslims”, as Erdogan declared to the media following the release of the American decision.
The widespread support for the Turkish President has clear indications. Erdogan, through his populist persona that resonates with the masses, has managed to closely address the concerns of his people, familiarising himself with their problems and anxieties. He has become an advocate for low-income Turks and, indeed, for people with low incomes, worldwide. This is demonstrated in the popular rallying around Turkish leadership during the failed coup attempt in July 2016. Citizens took to the streets in response to the call for political legitimacy, standing up against tanks and armoured vehicles with bare chests in a scene that looked like an epic tableau, which will forever remain etched in the memory of every Turk and every free person. This unique demonstration of unity between the people and their leadership showed the public’s determination to safeguard the achievements and accomplishments of modern Turkiye, under the rule of Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party.
Through his charisma, Erdogan has established the image of a popular leader who implicitly embodies the motto, “from the people, for the people”, in his performance and policies. By setting out a roadmap for Turkiye’s progress and prosperity, domestically and positive influence internationally, he has won his people’s trust and introduced new concepts to Turkish political doctrine. His mission is to rejuvenate it as a nation with its history and heritage that interacts with its eastern surroundings without conceding its western depth in Europe, thereby extending its cultural interaction there.
Amid this tally of achievements, Erdogan has remembered the issues of his Islamic nation, which represent cultural and civilisational dimensions for him and his people. He has aimed to utilise his regional and international network of relationships to support causes in the region, such as the Palestinian people’s issue. This reinforces in the mindsets of Turkish citizens, as well as Arabs and Muslims, his stature as a national, Islamic and international champion who refuses to appease injustice anywhere. After redefining the image of traditional heroes who display endurance on battlefields, he emerges as a hero steadfastly fighting his political battles, setting an example of resilience by adhering to principles, ethics and human values.
Whilst Erdogan was keen to preserve the roots and not relinquish the historical identity of the Turkish nation, he took pride in its affiliation with Islamic culture, epitomised during the era of the Ottoman Caliphate. This period saw the country proudly bearing the flag of the ‘Caliphate’ and honouring the duty of serving Islamic sanctities. This devotion added considerably to the Turkish nation’s sense of dignity and honour.
This sentiment extends to the policies of the current Turkish leader who, through his words and actions, asserts his ongoing commitment to safeguarding the sanctuaries in Mecca, Medina and Occupied Jerusalem. Through these policies, Erdogan presents significant considerations that add to the character of a true leader, who is faithful to his beliefs, his identity and origins, and who maintains a connection with history.
Erdogan will take the reins of government for the third time in 2023, coinciding with his country’s centenary celebrations of establishing the Turkish Republic. After initiating significant transformations, he has managed to shift New Turkiye from a country that, at another time, bore the legacy of ‘the sick man of Europe’ to a recovered, respected and prosperous state. From a poor country, to one experiencing economic rejuvenation and, from a country relatively closed off to itself to a state of axis and influence in international policies. Erdogan has made promises of a new centenary that will change the course of history and inaugurates a hundred years of leadership, sovereignty and independence, towards the completion of the construction of New Turkiye, despite the internal and external challenges accompanying this.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.