Key Challenges

Deepening political, economic crisis
In 2021, the political and economic crisis in Turkey deepened. Although the government was relatively successful in containing the COVID-19 pandemic, currency shocks and booming inflation seriously undermined the long-established rule of Erdoğan.
Polarization along
ethnic, religious lines
As clientelist resources have diminished, the government has sought to escalate polarization along ethnic and religious lines. There is no prospect that polarization will fade away by the next presidential election, which is scheduled for summer 2023. Moreover, although the newly institutionalized Turkish-style presidential system has streamlined decision-making, it eliminated government institutions’ ability to act in cooperation and execute their own programs. It has also inhibited judicial supervision, which is essential in order to hinder corruption and arbitrary governance.
No plan for high
levels of inflation
Even more worrying, high levels of inflation have returned, and the government has shown no consistent program to deal with it. Erdoğan’s idea that “interest is the reason and inflation is the result” makes currency shocks chronic and difficult to contain, given that the central bank’s net reserves are at their lowest level since 2002. The economic turmoil will possibly persist through 2022, if not deepen, as Erdoğan announced a new scheme that aims to protect the Turkish lira against the loss in value. This move will increase the pressure on the budget if the currency rates are not stabilized. The guarantees given to companies participating in public-private partnership projects such as the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge, Istanbul Airport and city hospitals have added further pressure on the public budget.
Refugee population exceeds 4 million
In recent years, it became clear that Turkey cannot protect its own border. Accordingly, Turkey turned into one of the largest refugee centers in the world as the number of refugees exceeded 4 million, according to official estimates. In addition to its immense financial costs, the refugee problem has the potential to destabilize the country’s already fragile internal dynamics, as most of the refugees work informally and with low wages. The recent (un)organized violent attacks against refugees, especially in Istanbul and Ankara, reveal how public resentment has grown in parallel with economic setbacks.
No economic relief
package during
Unlike most industrialized countries, the government did not implement a comprehensive recovery package intended to soften the losses experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, poverty and income inequality have expanded due to the soaring inflation, while discrimination and hate speech against women and the LGBTQ+ community have become more visible. Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention shows that the government no longer has enough power to resist the demands of the most conservative groups in society.
Need to shift toward
eco-friendly tech
Although Turkey has the ambition to produce its own car (TOGG), and is advanced in producing drones, it needs to invest more in eco-friendly technologies. Erdoğan’s insistence on realizing the Canal Istanbul Project despite its likely catastrophic results on the environment shows the government’s rentier-based approach.
Untrustworthy government statistics
Finally, more transparency and accountability are needed. Recent surveys reveal that TURKSTAT is one of the least trusted institutions in Turkey, as it often manipulates numbers relating to inflation and unemployment. The contradictory statements from the government regarding the evaporation of the central bank’s $128 billion in reserves were just another example of the unaccountable nature of the newly institutionalized Turkish-style presidential system.

Party Polarization

Transition to
one-man rule
The Turkish party system has long been prone to the maladies of polarization, fragmentation and volatility, especially in the 1970s and the 1990s. The AKP’s landslide victories in the 2002, 2007, and 2011 elections added some degree of stability to the political competition. Since then, however, the tightening authoritarianism ruined the democratic character of the party competition and institutionalized one-man rule, especially in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt in July 2016. The state of emergency that was introduced afterward remained in force for two years, and turned into witch hunt targeting the opposition. The transition to a presidential system essentially shifted the country to conditions of one-man rule.
Focus on religious and ethnic cleavages
Until 2007, the AKP government mainly addressed voters through a comprehensive redistributive program, as both domestic and international political and financial conditions were favorable. With the 2008 global economic recession, however, the economy became vulnerable to external and internal shocks. To keep its voters loyal in the context of decreasing clientelist resources, the AKP boosted polarization along religious (secular vs. Islamist) and ethnic (Turk vs. Kurd) lines, while class-based cleavages remained secondary.
Polarization strategy backfires
In extending polarization, the AKP not only targeted the CHP but also the HDP and IYI parties, and most recently the splinter parties of Gelecek (Future) and DEVA (Remedy). The HDP’s former co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, as well most of its high-ranking officials and mayors, were sent to prison. In addition, a number of IYI party deputies and journalists were assaulted. DEVA and Gelecek were also targeted, as they attract some of the AKP’s loyal voters. However, the AKP’s polarization strategy backfired as it prompted strategic voting against opposition supporters. The success of the opposition in the 2019 local elections can be read from this perspective. (Score: 3)
Özbudun, E. (2013). Party Politics & Social Cleavages in Turkey. Boulder and London: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Arslantaş, D., & Arslantaş, Ş. (2020). Keeping power through opposition: party system change in Turkey. New Perspectives on Turkey, 62, 27-50.

Arslantaş, D., & Arslantaş, Ş. (2020). How does clientelism foster electoral dominance? Evidence from Turkey. Asian Journal of Comparative Politics, 2057891120920718.

Konda. “Türkiye’de Kutuplaşma Ocak 2019.” January 2019. https://konda.com.tr/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/TR1901_Barometre94_TurkiyedeKutuplasma.pdf.

Arslantaş, D., Arslantaş, Ş., & Kaiser, A. (2020). Does the electoral system foster a predominant party system? Evidence from Turkey. Swiss Political Science Review, 26(1), 125-143.
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