The transition to a Turkish-style presidential system, which was justified as a means of stabilizing the political system, brought more harm than benefit. It has resulted in a weakening of the separation of powers, violations of civil and political rights, a tight control over judiciary and media, and selective repression of the opposition. The transition also weakened or eliminated the coordination and cooperation mechanisms between ministries, as parallel offices were established within the body of the Presidential Office. Although most legislative powers were transferred to the president, party polarization mixed with traditionally strong ethnic and religious cleavages persisted.
Widespread resentment led oppositional voters and parties to execute a more coordinated strategy against the long-ruling AKP. Most notably, the opposition has gained momentum after the Nation Alliance (including the CHP, IYIP, SP and DP parties) captured metropolitan municipalities including Istanbul and Ankara in the 2019 local elections. Splinter parties including DEVA (Remedy) and Gelecek (Future) have appealed to some of the AKP’s loyal supporters. In this context, most public surveys have found that Erdoğan is likely to lose the presidential race against potential opposition candidates, particularly against Ekrem İmamoğlu and Mansur Yavaş, if this trend persists.
The major challenge to Erdoğan’s rule comes from the sphere of the economy. Above all, the high levels of economic growth sustained through the construction boom are no longer viable, as construction costs have soared and credit interest rates have climbed. Additionally, Erdoğan’s insistence on reducing interest rates has triggered several currency shocks in the shadow of rising inflation. The fact that the head of the central bank was changed three times in two and half years further destabilized the situation. Low-income households have been most affected by the worsening situation, especially those who reside in urban slums. This has accelerated the dealignment of the AKP’s loyal voter base.
Although welfare state provisions have expanded in the last decade or so, particularly those related to disabled and retired people, high levels of informality and unemployment persist, and wages are low. The recent flow of refugees, most of whom work informally and earn low wages, has further undermined the situation in the labor market. Women continue to face discrimination in the labor market.
Precarious international position
In the review period, Turkey increasingly detached from the international community. In particular, the absence of the rule of law, increasing corruption and the violation of international sanctions undermined Turkey’s image in the international arena. However, Turkey sustained its coordinated effort in leading international organizations, and emerged as a generous development aid donor, including during the pandemic. Seeking allies, Turkey has turned toward Russia and some Gulf states to maintain its regional middle power status. However, the new foreign policy orientation has contributed to Turkey’s “precarious loneliness,” considering the rising tensions in the Mediterranean, the ongoing refugee crisis and deteriorating relations with the United States over the purchase of S-400 missiles from Russia.
Despite the extent of the challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic did not turned into a full-blown crisis situation mainly due to Turkey’s relatively strong health infrastructure and well-experienced personnel. The opposition’s constructive stance must also be stressed. The vaccination campaign is underway, as Turkey stocked a sufficient quantity of vaccines and produced its own inactivated vaccine (TURKOVAC). Yet as of the time of writing, vaccination rates remained much lower than those in the industrialized countries.