(New York, N.Y.) — On Sunday, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan triumphed in a runoff election for the Turkish presidency that international observers deemed free but not fair. Erdoğan, the two decades-long leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), defeated his opponent Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu with 52.14 percent of the vote and will hold the presidency for another five years. Given AKP’s history of stifling political dissent, free speech, press, and assembly, Erdoğan’s victory forecasts an increasingly authoritarian future for Turkey.
Erdoğan’s opposition capitalized on discontent from a growing number of Turkish voters, a sentiment that was popular enough to send the presidential election into a runoff. However, Erdoğan leaned heavily into nationalist sentiments and portrayed his opponent as the wrong choice for national security, even sharing fake videos depicting Kılıçdaroğlu alongside leaders of the internationally designated Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Erdoğan and AKP leaders have employed an authoritarian style of governance to advance their goal of creating a more conservative, religious state—an ideology coined as Erdoğanism. Adherents feed into a cult-like obsession over Erdoğan’s personality, a characteristic that is instrumental to Erdoğanism’s continued success. The 2015 book, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: The Sun of the Age, describes him as an “idol for our youth,” and AKP members of parliament in 2011 and 2014 said that “even touching Erdoğan is a form of worship” and that he “carries all of the attributes of Allah in himself.”
The AKP frequently uses the specter of threats to Turks and Muslims to justify the government’s authoritarian measures. In the process, the AKP has ‘otherized’ half of the Turkish population, including those who oppose the AKP, particularly the Gülen movement (GM) and Kurdish political parties. By further criminalizing media and online content not favorable to the AKP, Erdoğan and his party have effectively solidified their nationalist base through an ‘us vs. them’ approach.
Beyond Turkey, Erdoğan’s reelection will have international repercussions. Experts predict strengthening ties between Turkey and Russia, a relationship that has caused tensions within NATO. In 2019, Turkey took delivery of the Russian S-400 air defense system, too, prompting the U.S. to eject Ankara from the F-35 joint strike fighter program, which remains a serious point of contention with Washington.
To read the Counter Extremism Project (CEP)’s report Extremism in Erdoğan’s AKP, please click here.
To read CEP’s report Turkey: Extremism and Terrorism, please click here.