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Turkey’s Election Could Put an End to the Erdogan Era

In a year full of momentous elections around the world, perhaps none has generated as much fascination, anticipation, and trepidation among outside observers as Turkey’s presidential election this Sunday. For good reason. Domestically, regionally, and internationally, there’s a lot riding on the outcome.

For the past 20 years, first as prime minister and since 2014 as president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shaped—and repeatedly reshaped—Turkey’s domestic politics and foreign policy. But he now faces his greatest electoral challenge yet. The often-fractured political opposition has united behind the candidacy of Kemal Kilicdaroglu, while Turkey’s economic boom, long a feather in Erdogan’s cap, has flagged in recent years due to Erdogan’s meddling and mismanagement.

Perhaps most importantly, Erdogan has lost his aura of invincibility. Kilicdaroglu is surging in the polls, with a first-round victory Sunday now a distinct possibility. As a result, an electorate that had grown listless after years of democratic erosion under Erdogan seems to have been shocked out of its torpor by the unfamiliar prospect of his defeat.

The stakes for Turkey could hardly be higher. When Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP, first won elections in 2002, the fear was that the moderate Islamist party would undermine the foundations of Turkey’s secular state. While the role of religion in Turkish politics and society has expanded since then, the actual threat has turned out to be more prosaic: personalized authoritarianism, in which dissent has been criminalized and power increasingly concentrated in Erdogan’s hands.

Turkey’s regional and international relations have also been subject to the vicissitudes of Erdogan’s shifting moods and opportunism. Erdogan skillfully expanded Turkey’s regional influence by famously implementing a “zero problems with neighbours” approach in his early years in power. He simultaneously deepened ties with Europe, actively pursuing domestic reforms as part of Turkey’s European Union accession bid and adopting a conciliatory posture on the divisive issue of Cyprus’ reunification.

But beginning in the late 2000s, Erdogan shifted to a more confrontational approach. Regionally, his “zero problems with neighbours” policy took a back seat to standoffs with historical partners, like Israel, and rivalry for influence with the Gulf states, beginning with the 2011 Arab Uprising and culminating in Syria’s and Libya’s civil wars. Ties with Europe and the U.S. similarly suffered, due to tensions over territorial disputes with Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean and divisions within the NATO alliance driven by Turkey’s deepening ties with Russia.

More recently, Erdogan has once again taken a more conciliatory approach, thawing ties with Israel and the Gulf states, de-escalating in Libya and Syria, and seeking to play the role of mediator between the West and Moscow on a range of issues since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But as always with Erdogan, an element of unpredictability remains.

Many outside observers are now anticipating substantial changes on the foreign policy front in the event Kilicdaroglu wins Sunday. While the eagerness in Europe, the U.S., and Turkey’s neighbours for a less confrontational partner in Ankara will certainly present Kilicdaroglu with an opportunity to improve ties, expectations for a wholesale transformation may be unrealistic.

Some of Erdogan’s stances, both in the region and toward Europe and NATO, represent mainstream consensus over Turkey’s foreign policy orientation. And Kilicdaroglu’s coalition includes a hyper-nationalist party that is sympathetic to the kind of assertive defence of Turkey’s interests Erdogan embodies. Still, should Kilicdaroglu emerge victorious, he will likely adopt a more conciliatory posture.

input from / Google, WPR,AI