If Erdogan wins again in Turkey, our world will become even more dangerous, writes OWEN MATTHEWS
With inflation at 50 percent, a currency that has lost nine-tenths of its value in the past decade, and a stagnant economy, Turkey is on the brink of becoming a failed state.
Add to that abysmal record a failed response to a catastrophic earthquake in February that killed 50,000 people, and you would surely conclude that any leader presiding over this nightmare would lose every election by a landslide.
But Recep Tayyip Erdogan is known as ‘The Sultan’ for a reason. Although he did not win Sunday’s presidential election outright, he did win 49.5 percent of the vote and will now run a runoff against his bookworm opponent, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, 74, who won 44.9 percent CHK.
It is clear that the mass arrests, the persecution of independent media outlets and the ruthless firing of every officer and army chief who did not stand the line have all paid off.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves as he arrives to cast his vote in Turkey’s general election on May 14, 2023 in Istanbul, Turkey. He will now have to face his rival again in a run-off
Erdogan supporters celebrate at AK Party headquarters on May 15 in Istanbul, Turkey
The turnout was almost 90 percent: a measure of the enormous importance that Turks know that hangs on the ballot paper.
Yet Erdogan’s future – like Turkey’s – is still at stake. If he leaves, it will be one of the most welcome geopolitical events in at least a decade. And if he stays, Turkey’s slide into disaster is sure to get worse.
Turkey’s story is that of a nation at the crossroads between East and West: a tension embodied in Erdogan, 69, and his opponent Kilicdaroglu.
Not only is the country one of the world’s largest Islamic democracies, its military is NATO’s second-largest after America’s.
While it has failed to join the EU — and never will under Erdogan’s authoritarian leadership — it has a tailor-made trade arrangement with the EU CHK.
Most importantly, it has become a magnet for refugees, forced to play host to the likes of millions of Syrians, Afghans and Iranians fleeing civil war and grinding poverty in their own countries.
As of 2015, Erdogan weaponized these flows of people to extract billions of euros in subsidies from the EU, threatening to relax border controls to Greece and the Balkans if the money ever ran dry.
Similarly, he has slammed NATO and vowed to block the accession of new members Finland and Sweden unless they extradite Kurdish activist refugees who oppose his brutal regime.
In a post-Erdogan world, Turkey could once again become a true friend and ally of the West, rather than its extortionist.
For now, however, he seems intent on making life difficult for his apparent allies.
For example, the last thing Vladimir Putin wants is for Erdogan to fall.
Yes, the Machiavellian Erdogan supplies deadly Bayraktar TB-2 drones – invented and produced by his own son-in-law – to the Ukrainian army, which then uses them to wipe out Russian tanks.
But Turkey has emphatically refused to participate in the EU’s sanctions against Russia.
It also imports massive amounts of Russian gas and re-exports it to the Balkans and southern Europe, helping Russian energy giant Gazprom defy Western sanctions.
Putin will do everything he can to keep his Turkish ‘friend’ in power. Not only has Russian state television slavishly supported Erdogan’s reelection, the Turkish opposition has credibly accused Moscow of aiding Erdogan’s reelection bid by providing “deepfake” videos designed to discredit them.
Last Thursday, an opposition candidate was dropped from the race after claiming his face had appeared in a porn video created using Russian deepfake technology.
The opposition also believes that a video played by Erdogan at a campaign rally earlier this month, which showed the leadership of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) singing and applauding the opposition’s campaign song, was another example of the Kremlin’s dirty technological tricks.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the 74-year-old leader of the centre-left pro-secular Republican People’s Party arrives for a press conference in Ankara today
A person walks past billboards of Turkish President and People’s Alliance presidential candidate Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday, May 15, the day after the election, in Istanbul
Erdogan, who was mayor of Istanbul and later prime minister before becoming president in 2014, initially led impressive growth – a boom that was then reversed by his own unorthodox economic policies.
Critics accuse him of systematically undermining the secular democratic system established by Turkey’s founder Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s and 1930s.
Soon Turkey’s future will be decided – and its trajectory could once again be aligned with the noble aspirations of that much-lamented statesman.
Or Erdogan could win – and our world will become even more dangerous.