Turkey’s Evolving Political Landscape: Shifting Priorities and Global Assistance post-Earthquakes

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, aged 69, has emerged victorious in a closely contested election that, at one point, posed a potential challenge to his longstanding tenure as Turkey’s president. With over 99 percent of ballot boxes counted, he secured the runoff vote with a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent, as officially reported by Turkey’s Supreme Election Council. This outcome ensures another five-year term for Erdogan, who has exerted significant influence on his country’s political landscape over the past two decades.

On May 28, 2023, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan secured a second and final term in Turkey’s presidential election. Despite the nation’s economic challenges, the impact of a deadly earthquake earlier in the year, and prolonged speculation about his potential defeat, Erdogan emerged victorious with a vote share nearly identical to that of the 2018 election. His primary competitor, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, enjoyed the support of an unprecedented alliance, but several factors contributed to Erdogan’s success. One prominent factor is the enduring significance of identity politics in Turkey, with a considerable emphasis on conservative values. The conservative voting bloc remains the largest in the country, and the majority within this group express trust in Erdogan’s leadership and capability to steer the nation effectively.

Additionally, the outcome can be attributed to Kilicdaroglu’s inability to build a cohesive platform and present an appealing electoral campaign, thereby failing to resonate with a broad base of voters. Furthermore, President Erdogan’s victory in the election underscores the continued importance of identity politics, the strength of the conservative voting bloc, and the prevailing belief in Erdogan’s competence among a significant portion of the population, all contributing to his successful bid for another term in office. 

Since 2011, Turkey’s armed services have experienced a noteworthy expansion in their overseas and expeditionary warfighting capabilities, indicating a substantial change in their mission set and mindset after decades of emphasizing internal security. This transformation has been marked by a shift from inward-focused operations to a more outward and globally engaged approach.

From the perspective of Washington, Turkey’s augmented global military footprint and enhanced force projection capabilities present a dual perspective. On one hand, having an ally with the capacity to deter aggression, foster security institutions, and combat terrorism in regions like Libya, Syria, Ukraine, and Somalia proves advantageous for both the United States and NATO. The ability of Turkey to play such a role in various regions aligns with the broader goals of the US and the alliance in promoting stability and counterterrorism efforts.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that Turkey’s expanded military involvement overseas can also present challenges and complexities. Different political contexts and interests in the regions where Turkey operates might occasionally lead to divergent views and actions between Turkey and its allies. As a result, maintaining effective coordination and alignment of objectives becomes crucial to ensuring the overall success of shared security goals.

Turkey’s heightened expeditionary capabilities have both positive and challenging aspects for the US and NATO. While it offers the advantage of a capable ally in crucial regions, it also necessitates careful navigation and coordination to address potential divergences in approaches and interests.

 

Presently, Turkey boasts the second-largest military within NATO, surpassed only by the United States, and is actively engaged in multiple theaters worldwide. These theaters include Syria, Iraq, the South Caucasus, Libya, and the Eastern Mediterranean. The primary objective of Turkey’s military involvement in these regions is either to influence the outcome of ongoing disputes or to bring about changes in the existing order. This notable shift in Turkey’s foreign policy signifies a significant departure from its prior preference for a more passive approach that favored maintaining the status quo and avoiding extensive overseas engagements.

The recent shift in Turkey’s foreign policy reveals a newfound assertiveness and willingness to actively participate in shaping outcomes in regional conflicts and disputes. This assertive stance marks a significant departure from its historically cautious and less interventionist approach. The decision to engage in overseas military operations demonstrates Turkey’s increasing desire to play a more active role in regional affairs and assert its influence in areas of strategic importance. This change in Turkey’s foreign policy stance also reflects the evolving regional dynamics and challenges it faces. The country’s military involvement in various theaters is likely driven by security concerns, regional power dynamics, and the aspiration to protect its interests and influence outcomes that align with its strategic objectives.

Hence, Turkey’s current military engagement in different theaters indicates a notable shift from its previous preference for a more passive foreign policy. With an active role in shaping regional outcomes and protecting its interests, Turkey’s evolving foreign policy approach reflects the changing dynamics and challenges in the regions it operates.

Turkey’s economy expanded rapidly during President Erdogan’s first years in office. However, in recent years, he has defied conventional economic knowledge by attributing excessive inflation to high borrowing costs and attempting to encourage economic development.  The Turkish currency has lost more than 80% of its value in the last five years, and foreign investment has plummeted. Turks are increasingly attempting to withdraw foreign currency from local banks. Moreover, Turkey had hit by a bigger earthquake which made the countries people more vulnerable. 

The Turkish Enterprise and Business Confederation estimates that the quake will cost the country up to $84.1 billion, whereas a government official estimates that the entire cost will be between $10 and $50 billion. According to the Turkish Enterprise and Business Confederation, the expenses include $70.8 billion in housing repairs, $10.4 billion in lost national income, and $2.9 billion in lost working days. Moreover, media sources, the disaster destroyed over 8,000 structures and damaged supply chain infrastructure such as roads and the Iskenderun harbor. The region served as an industrial and maritime transportation hub, accounting for 9% of Turkey’s economic output. Furthermore, According to a foreign ministry announcement, Afghanistan’s Taliban administration would send $166,000 in aid to Turkey and Syria to aid in the reaction to this week’s catastrophic magnitude 7.8 earthquake.

According to a state news outlet, the UAE has formed a $10 billion fund to assist investments in Turkey. Moreover, the news outlet WAM, the fund would focus on strategic investments, notably in the energy and health sectors. From many countries government eagerly wanted to help the nation because earth quake made the citizens devastated. More than 1,400 emergency response workers from over twenty NATO Allies and partners, including invitees Finland and Sweden, are deploying to Turkey to assist in the response to the terrible earthquakes that devastated the country on February 6. Currently, about 53,000 Turkish first responders are on the ground.

In conclusion, Turkey’s political landscape has witnessed significant changes with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan securing another term in a closely contested election. His victory, combined with the nation’s expanding military engagement in various theaters, reflects a departure from its previous foreign policy approach. While the country faces economic challenges and the aftermath of devastating earthquakes, the global assistance and support from various nations and organizations demonstrate solidarity in times of crisis. Turkey’s ability to overcome these challenges and chart a course forward will be crucial in shaping its future on both domestic and international fronts.

[Image: Kremlin.ru [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

Mahmodul Hasan Shesheir is a research assistant at the BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health, Dhaka, Bangladesh. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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