Erdogan’s win a triumph of religion-based nationalism : The Tribune India

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Erdogan’s win a triumph of religion-based nationalism

The presence of Indian businesses in Turkiye and growing number of Indian tourists could help improve bilateral ties.

Erdogan’s win a triumph of religion-based nationalism

Priority: A cost-of-living crisis poses an immediate challenge for Erdogan. Reuters

Anand Kumar

Associate Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses

THE recent election in Turkiye saw incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan emerging victorious over his rival, Kemal Kilicdaroglu. Despite facing challenges such as a cost-of-living crisis and the devastation caused by an earthquake, Erdogan managed to shift the focus of his campaign to religion-based nationalism, which resonated with many voters. His control over the state apparatus and support from foreign powers such as Russia also played a role in his victory.

Erdogan has been in power for 20 years, initially serving as Prime Minister and then as President since 2003. He transformed the presidency from a ceremonial role to a powerful office through a referendum in 2017, which replaced Turkiye’s parliamentary system with an executive presidency. Erdogan’s party, the Justice and Development Party, abbreviated as AK Party, has hollowed out political institutions, tamed the media and reshaped the military command to consolidate power.

The opposition Nation Alliance, led by Kilicdaroglu, aimed to shift away from the executive presidency and promote a strengthened parliamentary system. It also appealed to right-wing voters as it advocated the transfer of Syrian refugees back to their home country. However, despite leading in opinion polls prior to the election, Kilicdaroglu was ultimately defeated.

The victory of Erdogan and AK Party caused concern among critics — both within Turkiye and internationally. Erdogan’s economic policies, a slow response to the earthquake and erosion of democratic institutions have invited criticism. Many hoped that Kilicdaroglu’s win would bring about a more democratic and prosperous Turkiye, aligned with western values and pursuing European Union membership. However, Erdogan’s win indicates that Turkiye is likely to continue on its current path, which has seen it taking a more confrontational stance in foreign affairs and forging closer ties with countries like Russia.

Erdogan’s personal relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin has also survived the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine. Turkiye’s troubled economy is benefiting from a crucial deferment of payment on Russian energy imports that helped Erdogan spend lavishly on campaign pledges this year.

These elections are significant beyond Turkiye’s borders as the country is positioned at the crossroads of Europe and Asia and plays a crucial role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). The Erdogan government has made decisions that have impacted international relations, such as vetoing Sweden’s bid to join NATO and purchasing Russian missile-defence systems, which led to Turkiye’s removal from a US-led fighter jet project. However, Turkiye has also played a role in brokering important agreements, such as facilitating Ukrainian grain shipments during a global food crisis.

As Erdogan begins his new term as President, he faces several challenges. The unravelling economy and the cost-of-living crisis pose an immediate challenge for Erdogan. High inflation and eroded purchasing power have impacted Turks. Addressing this crisis and stabilising the economy will be a top priority. His unorthodox policy of cutting interest rates to combat inflation has faced criticism. Balancing the need to lower inflation while maintaining economic stability will be crucial for his administration.

Turkiye’s NATO partners, particularly the US, are eager for Ankara to lift its veto on Sweden joining the alliance. Ankara’s demands for the extradition of Turkish figures suspected of links to Kurdish militants have complicated the situation. Erdogan will need to navigate these tensions and find a resolution.

Turkiye also needs to mend fences with Syria. Erdogan’s backing of opposition forces during the Syrian civil war has strained relations with neighbouring Syria. Turkiye has conducted military operations in northern Syria and maintains a military presence there. Efforts to mend ties, including Russian-mediated talks, have so far failed to normalise diplomatic relations.

Under Erdogan’s leadership, Turkiye has aligned itself with countries like Pakistan on certain issues, including taking a stance on Kashmir. It has also been part of a group with Iran and Malaysia that seeks to assert leadership in the Islamic world, often at odds with India. Despite India’s assistance after the earthquake, it remains to be seen if there will be any change in Turkiye’s approach towards India.

Erdogan might also open a new chapter in relations with India during his new term, primarily due to various factors such as political instability in Pakistan, Turkiye’s shrinking economy, and changing world politics. Turkiye may be becoming disenchanted with Pakistan, and this could potentially affect its relationship with India. Last year’s ouster of Pakistan PM Imran Khan, who was seen as Erdogan’s biggest supporter, and Pakistan’s increasing financial dependence on Saudi Arabia could play a role in this shift.

Turkiye might adopt a more pragmatic policy focused on economic recovery. Its foreign policy has been moving towards detente with countries in West Asia since 2020. This shift could potentially lead Turkiye to prioritise economic interests over its religious identity, potentially opening up opportunities for closer ties with India. The presence of Indian businesses in Turkiye, as well as the growing number of Indian tourists, could help bring potential improvement in bilateral relations. Indian businesses have been expanding their presence in various sectors, and Indian tourists now rank third among Asian tourists in Turkiye.

There is concern in Turkiye regarding the number of illegal Pakistani immigrants in the country. The Turkish authorities claim that there are 3,000-6,000 illegal Pakistani nationals in detention at any given time, with many others staying in Turkiye with the intention of finding a way to reach Europe. The authorities express concern about the Pakistani immigrants not respecting Turkish culture, particularly in relation to women.

While former President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s secularism may not be in fashion in Turkiye today, his nationalism continues to resonate. Erdogan has retained support of conservative voters who appreciate his efforts to raise the profile of Islam in the republic founded on secular principles and increase Turkiye’s influence in global politics.

As the Turkish republic celebrates its 100th anniversary, it finds itself at a critical juncture, with Erdogan’s leadership shaping its domestic and international trajectory. The election outcome will likely have far-reaching consequences, with western capitals, Moscow and the wider West Asia region all closely watching Turkiye’s future direction.

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