Despite local elections defeat Erdogan “remains in control” at head of “super-executive regime”, says analyst

By bne IntelliNews April 2, 2024

Despite his AKP party’s defeat in the weekend’s local elections, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “remains in control at national level, his super-executive regime is unaffected, and his parliamentary coalition is intact”.

So concludes senior fellow at Carnegie Europe think tank Marc Pierini in an April 1 assessment of what might follow the worst electoral setback suffered by Erdogan since he became Turkey’s leader more than two decades ago.  

Adds Pierini: “The personal vexation [caused by the election loss] may be significant [for Erdogan], but his leadership is not legally or functionally challenged.

“Before the vote counting was completed, Erdogan and his aides wasted no time offering three reminders of his power. First, to illustrate his world standing, Erdogan spoke with the presidents of Iran, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan on Sunday [March 31, the day of the elections], as well as the prime minister of the Netherlands, who is a candidate to become NATO’s next secretary general.

“Second, the Turkish defense ministry announced an aerial bombing in Iraq on April 1, signaling that the fight against Kurdish militants in northern Syria and Iraq will continue. Finally, Erdoğan and his aides quickly transformed the ‘disappointing results’ of the election into a narrative about the country’s vibrant democracy, as seen in an X post reading ‘the message of democracy we gave to the world.’”

For the next few years, says the analyst, the European Union and Nato “will probably face the same Erdogan: acutely aware of his country’s geopolitical value, intent on remaining at equal distance from NATO and Russia, confident in his proclaimed ambition for mediating for peace everywhere possible, and often ready to shed a given foreign policy option if he finds a more attractive alternative.

“What Erdogan may now realize is how unpopular his polarizing choices and turbulent economic policies have become at home, though this may change in the months to come.”

What remains uncertain, concludes Pierini, is whether Turkey’s policies will shift on two issues of critical importance.

“The first,” he says, “is the presence of Russian-made S-400 missile systems in Turkey’s inventory—a disturbing choice for a NATO country. The second is the dismal state of rule of law in Turkey, including the treatment of dissenters and free thinkers as terrorists on the basis of spurious arguments. For Western governments and, importantly, for Western business circles, the country remains in a different league. Changes in these domains would vastly improve Turkey’s image on the world stage.”

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