Turkish elections. how Erdogan has transformed Turkey over the decades

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is leading in most polls in the second round of Sunday’s election. He was ahead in the first round of voting held on May 14 but did not get more than 50 percent of the vote to win. The second round may decide Erdogan’s political future. His two decades in power reshaped Turkey’s politics and its role in world affairs.

First as prime minister and then as president, Erdogan has faced moments of uncertainty (he survived the 2016 coup attempt). However, over time he moved towards sole rule, consolidating power and leveraging Turkey’s international influence.

A polarizing figure, he presided over soaring inflation and, in recent months, his own government and the parties have come under fire for their response to earthquakes that have killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey and Syria this year. However, he won eight of the 11 provinces in the earthquake disaster zone in the first round, managing perceptions in part through near-total control of the media.

During his tenure, Erdogan tightened restrictions on speech and expression, and the judiciary jailed or charged opponents under his government. Kemal Kilchdaroglu, his most famous rival, promised an alternative. “Nothing will ever happen to you because you criticize me.”

Here are a few Highlights of Erdogan’s career as a public servant and player on the world stage, charting his path from popular mayor of Istanbul to entrenched one-man rule.

1994 Erdogan, who is already involved in local politics, is running for mayor of Istanbul, winning roughly 25 percent of the vote as a member of the Welfare Party. As mayor, Erdogan focuses on modernizing public goods and services, including through privatization. From his constituency, rural-to-urban migrants seeking an alternative to the entrenched secular establishment.

1997 Erdogan has been accused of inciting religious hatred after reciting a line from a poem with militant religious imagery, “the minarets are our bayonets”, which contravened Turkey’s secular laws. As a social conservative in the Islamist political tradition, he seeks to gain more political representation for religious Muslims.

1998 Forced to resign as mayor, Erdogan serves four months in prison for recitation in early 1999. His imprisonment only enhances his reputation.

2001 Erdogan founds the Justice and Development Party, or AKP. He and his allies are calculating that in the early 2000s, a direct Islamist party will not win power in Turkey. AKP considers itself conservative and respects Islamic traditions. “I am a Muslim,” Erdogan told TIME magazine in 2002. “But I believe in a secular state.”

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2003 Erdogan becomes prime minister after his party wins power in parliament, and some legislative changes will allow him to serve despite his previous imprisonment. In that role, and in the context of Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, Erdogan’s government is implementing reforms, including sweeping changes to the criminal code and more money for education, as well as laws expanding freedom of speech and religion. They come alongside a more conservative agenda, including attempts to restrict alcohol sales, which Erdogan also pursued as mayor of Istanbul.

2009 President Barack Obama has chosen Turkey as the destination of his first foreign bilateral diplomatic visit. His visit confirms the vision that Turkey is charting a path towards a form of Islamism acceptable to the West, which appears to be linked to EU membership. “I came here out of my respect for Turkey’s democracy and culture and my belief that Turkey plays an extremely important role in the region and in the world,” Obama said during a student roundtable during the visit, during which he noted that “effective” talks with Erdogan.

200s EU accession talks, which began in 2005, eventually stalled as many world leaders expressed frustration with the pace of negotiations.

2010s. Regionally, Erdogan has been praised for his leadership of Turkey during the Arab Spring, when uprisings rocked the Arab world, according to the Brookings Institution’s 2011 Arab Public Opinion Survey. Among 3,000 respondents in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, “Turkey appears to have played the most ‘constructive’ role in Arab events,” according to a Brookings note on the survey results. Among those polled, the post said, “those who envision Egypt’s new president want the new president to be the most like Erdogan.”

Around the same time, in late 2010, Erdogan and the AKP won a constitutional referendum that limited the military’s power and changed presidential elections to nationwide rather than parliamentary.

2013 Mass anti-government protests sparked by public backlash against an Erdogan-backed construction project in Istanbul. Gezi Park, mark a turning point in Erdogan’s political trajectory. Activists start a sit-in, and the subsequent police response sparks a broader movement, and in turn, more widespread repression.

In the same year, a large-scale corruption scandal implicated AKP members in bribery, money laundering and fraud, leading to the resignation of many politicians, including members of Erdogan’s cabinet. Audio recordings leaked via social media also show Erdogan discussing bribes with his son. Erdogan has dismissed the tapes as fabrications, part of an international conspiracy to oust him from power.

2014 Erdogan becomes president, winning Turkey’s first presidential election based on the national vote.

2016 In March, Erdogan reached an agreement with the EU amid the regional migration crisis, allowing people who fled west to be returned to Turkey. The agreement “turns Turkey into a refugee camp for the region and traps untold thousands of people in a country with deteriorating human rights,” The Washington Post wrote at the time.

After a failed military coup attempt on July 15 that plunged the country into brief but brutal chaos, Erdogan has been consolidating power. He oversees a strong crackdown on an independent and critical press. (The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has named Turkey one of the top jailers of journalists.) Erdogan is launching a series of purges, removing thousands of people, including former allies, from politics, academia, the judiciary and the military. expulsion of foreign non-governmental organizations from the country. The purges are aimed at many followers of the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan.

2017 Voters approve a list of constitutional reforms put forward by Erdogan that would change the way Turkey is governed, eliminating the office of prime minister and vesting power in an executive president. Next year, Erdogan is up for re-election as president, a role that offers significantly more power than in 2014.

Since becoming president, Erdogan has imposed restrictions on social media platforms and websites, including Twitter, YouTube, and Wikipedia, and severely curtailed independent media through arrests and purges, while supporting heavily controlled pro-government media. Regarding Turkey’s steps towards EU membership, European Council President Charles Michel continues to say that the country’s government often “takes one step in the right direction and then two in the wrong direction.”

2018 After the assassination of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, of which Turkish officials obtained tapes, Erdogan appears to be seeking a more distant relationship between Riyadh and Washington. “Where is Khashoggi’s body?” … Who gave the order to kill this good soul? “Unfortunately, the Saudi Arabian authorities have refused to answer these questions,” Erdogan writes in an article for The Post.

2019 After the establishment of the party, the candidate of AKP loses for the first time in the Istanbul mayor elections. That position is held by Ekrem Imamoglu, a member of the opposition People’s Republican Party. Imamoglu, a popular mayor with presidential prospects, was sentenced to prison in 2022 on charges of “insulting public figures,” undermining his chances of running against Erdogan in the 2023 presidential election and casting doubt on Erdogan’s willingness to allow fair elections.

In October, Turkey launched an offensive against US-allied Kurdish forces in northern Syria. This step contradicts the NATO forces in the fight against the Islamic State.

2022-2023 Amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, Erdogan is using Turkey’s status as a NATO member with ties to Russia to position himself as a mediator. In 2022, Turkey and the United Nations facilitate a deal between Russia and Ukraine to restore commercial grain shipments blocked by Russia in the Black Sea in exchange for easing restrictions on some Russian exports. However, Erdogan is backing off Sweden’s bid to join NATO, saying there are “terrorists” in that country who are hostile to Turkey’s national security.

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