It has been said that ultimately all political careers end in failure, but until June 7, few observers were expecting this maxim to be true, quite yet, of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Ever since his Justice and Development party (AKP) won the November 2002 elections, Erdoğan has been the undisputed colossus of Turkish politics. Few would deny his achievements in turning around Turkey’s sclerotic economy or boosting its self-respect.
But the AKP failed to secure an outright majority in parliament following the June 7 elections. AKP received 41% of the vote, with the remainder split between the [Kemalist] Republican People’s Party (25%), the right-wing Nationalist Action Party (16%), and the [Kurdish] People’s Democratic Party (13%).
Where did it all start to go wrong for Erdoğan? Well, there were the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul that he forcefully suppressed in 2013; the similarly suppressed allegations of cronyism and corruption at the top of the AKP; the marked slowdown in GDP growth; and the emergence of major imbalances in the economy. And behind all this was hubris.
Erdoğan’s controversial move into a vast, new $350 million presidential palace in Ankara and his determination—reinforced since his presidential election last year—to transform Turkey’s parliamentary system into a presidential one and thus to consolidate power, suggested a man reluctant to accept any limitation. Historians will argue which factor was most significant in Erdoğan’s fall from grace.
“Growing distrust of Erdoğan and his plans explains the impressive achievement of the People’s Democratic Party in coming from nowhere to win 13% of the vote,” argues William Jackson, Turkey analyst at Capital Economics in London.
Jackson and others agree the result weakened Erdoğan’s authority and presages uncertainty. With economic growth expected to average 2% to 3% a year—well down on recent years—and inflation and interest rates remaining high, the economy needs major structural reform. The new government’s main focus, however, will be its own survival.