Erdogan Consolidates Power in Turkey with Third Win: India needs to be Watchful
Prof Rajaram Panda

The unprecedented third term that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won during the second round of presidential elections has attracted considerable media attention in India and Europe. Before the first round of elections held on 14 May, opinion pools stated that Erdogan would be in trouble and that his long tenure in the Islamic state since 2003 would come to an end. This was because of the economic mess that Turkey was in presumably because of Erdogan’s faulty policies. The country was struggling with hyper-inflation, the currency, lira, was in free fall, not much remedy for the earthquake that the country faced on 6 February 2023 in which more than 50,000 people perished. The average costs of living have risen alarmingly. Both his opponents and economists blame for Erdogan’s unorthodox economic policies. All these dented the image of the Erdogan government.

Erdogan has been in power since 2002, first as the Prime Minister and then as President in 2014. Though he trailed in the opinion polls owing to the fallout from the devastating earthquake and economic turmoil the country was facing, he narrowly fell short of outright victory in the first round before he clinched in the second round.

The opposition was already in disarray but was able to put up a united candidate to oppose Erdogan at the hustings. As it transpired, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party won 40.5 per cent of the vote. Erdogan’s rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu, a former bureaucrat, of the Republican People’s Party secured 44.9 per cent of the votes. As per the country’s elections rules, a minimum of 50 per cent was required for a leader to be elected to rule the country and therefore in the run-off on 28 May 2023, Erdogan secured 52.14 per cent of the vote against Kilicdaroglu’s 47.9 per cent, thereby extending his rule for five more years.[1] Now Erdogan is secured to stay in power till 2028. The election outcome also demonstrated that Erdogan retains the backing of conservative voters who remain devoted to him. He is seen as having lifted the profile of Islam in Turkey, which was founded on secular principles and for raising the country’s influence in world politics.

As it transpired, it was one of the most hotly contested presidential elections in recent times in Turkey, which is an influential member of the NATO. What makes it significant is that Erdogan survived the toughest test of his two-decade and increasingly hard-line rule. Irrespective of his domestic detractors and hard-line policies, Erdogan received congratulatory messages from across the world, including India. What made it more significant was the applause extended by Russian President Vladimir Putin as he saw Erdogan’s victory as an endorsement of his assiduous pursuit of defending Turkey’s sovereignty and independent foreign policy. Putin was among the first to congratulate his “dear friend”.

Why did Erdogan’s victory evoke so much of media interest in many countries? This is related to Turkey’s stand on the on-going Russia-Ukraine war. As a NATO ally, Turkey has grown closer to Russia and also slipped towards authoritarianism. Erdogan’s re-election, therefore, shall have ramifications outside of Turkey because the country enjoys a strategic location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia.

Congratulatory messages for Erdogan poured in from across the world. Hungary’s far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orban termed it as an “unquestionable election victory”. Qatar’s ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani wished Erdogan success. Other congratulations poured in from Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Libya, Algeria, Serbia and Uzbekistan. US President Joe Biden expressed his gratitude. Lauding Erdogan’s victory, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed that bilateral cooperation between India and Turkey on global issues will continue to grow.[2]

Ahead of the elections, Erdogan had announced some populist measures such as increasing wages and pensions, subsidized electricity and gas bills. He accused the opposition of being drunkards and getting cosy with terrorists. He also opposed LGBTQ rights on the ground that it is a threat to traditional family values. Erdogan’s triumph in the second round was almost given as his alliance of nationalist and Islamist parties had already won a majority in the 600-seat Parliament when legislative elections were held on 14 May, the same day when the first round of presidential voting took place. Voters wanted political stability and keen to avoid a splintered government.

Though Kilicdaroglu has a clean reputation and promised to dismantle the executive presidential system, the voters were unconvinced. As such Erdogan’s centralised power system that he has built up was destined to stay. It is a puzzle why the voters did not buy Kilicharoglu’s promise to return the country to a parliamentary democracy, establish the independence of the judiciary and the central bank, institute checks and balances and reversing crackdowns on free speech and dissent under Erdogan. It could be that domestic political dynamics are different in every country and what one thinks from outside need not necessarily be correct in the country in question.

Biden and other NATO members tolerate Turkey’s tough negotiating power. As Erdogan’s third term begins, he will be stronger now both domestically and internationally as his victory will have implications far beyond Ankara. This is because Turkey has NATO’s second-largest armed forces after the US. It controls the crucial Bosporus Strait and it is widely believed to host US nuclear missiles on its soil and thus plays a key role in NATO. Erdogan’s government vetoed Sweden’s bid to join NATO and purchased Russian missile-defence systems. This prompted the US to oust Turkey from a US-led fighter-jet project. But Biden is also aware that Erdogan brokered a deal along with the UN that allowed Ukraine to ship grain through the Black Sea to parts of the world struggling with hunger.[3] A global food crisis was thus averted.

Erdogan was applauded during the first decade in office for transforming Turkey into an economic and political success story but in the second decade he received flak for suppressing dissent and adopting rules and laws typical of autocratic regimes. It may be recalled that Erdogan enacted a referendum in 2017 the outcome of which significantly expanded the powers of the presidency at the expense of the parliamentary system. His measures to suppress dissent and media control, thereby concentrate more power in his own hands, started after a failed coup attempt against him in 2016 which Erdogan suspected was orchestrated by the US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen. The cleric denied his involvement, though.

The US has urged Erdogan to immediately finalise Sweden’s accession to NATO. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a persuasive move said that the Nordic country had already taken significant steps to address Ankara’s objections to its membership, though he rejected any link to the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Ankara. The US is keen that Sweden’s accession process to the NATO comes through before the mid-July NATO summit that will bring together alliance heads of state. In fact, two Baltic States – Sweden and Finland – are keen to join the NATO fold because of the perceived security threat following Ukraine war.[4]

India’s Position

Though PM Narendra Modi congratulated Ergodan on his victory and expressed the view that India-Turkey bilateral relations shall continue to grow there are some fault-lines. Both these countries have an uneasy relationship because of Turkey’s support to Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. Ergodan himself has repeatedly raised the same issue at the UN even though he seems to have toned down the rhetoric in the past couple of years. Turkey was also one of the OIC countries that did not turn up at the G-20 tourism meeting in Srinagar in late May 2023. It has criticised India’s handling of the situation in Kashmir in previous years and this position in principle has remained unchanged, which is why it skipped the G-20 meeting in Srinagar. Earlier, China too skipped a G-20 meeting held in Arunachal Pradesh in March and again the Srinagar meet allegedly due to objections from its close ally, Pakistan.[5]

Turkey’s Ties with Russia

After Erdogan decided to procure the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defence system in 2017, Turkey-Russia ties have warmed. When the war in Ukraine broke out, Ergodan walked a careful line that saw Turkey sell military hardware to Kyiv while buying cheap Russian oil. Like India, Erdogan refuses to endorse sanctions on Russia on the Ukraine war, though Turkey recognises Ukraine’s territorial integrity. The US and the NATO members see Turkey as a potentially key player that can actually broker peace between the two neighbours. Others see Turkey as a regional hegemon.

While Erdogan may have lifted Turkey’s global profile, having won a third term, his tasks at home are gigantic. If he wants to cement his place in history, Erdogan must contend with growing economic problems, which includes runaway inflation and currency which has lost significant value under his watch.[6]

Concluding Observations

While Erdogan has consolidated his power, he is likely to be more ruthless in controlling dissent and freedom. The domestic issues shall keep him bogged down for quite some time and if discontentment increases and peoples’ lives are not improved by corrective measures, Erdogan is likely to harden his measures as autocrats normally do to ruthlessly suppress dissent. The Hindustan Times observed in an editorial that Erdogan is aware that Turkey’s geographical location on the cusp of Asia and Europe and ties with the Muslim world makes the country as one of the most important geostrategic countries in the world.[7] In the foreign policy front, Turkey’s voice can have weight but India needs to be watchful if Erdogan’s stance on Kashmir shall change.

Titled as IstanBully, the editorial in the Times of India was more scathing and raised red flag, observing that Erdogan’s win is a reminder that democracies need much more than just elections. It doubted if elections were fair as it seemed to tilt in favour of the incumbent president from the very beginning. It observed: “Erdogan’s Türkiye belongs to an unlovely list geopolitical experts describe as electoral autocracies and include such unprepossessing regimes as those in Russia, Egypt, Venezuela, Malaysia, Nigeria and de facto army-ruled Pakistan.”[8] While Erdogan’s foreign policy shall have little impact on India’s own foreign policy, India needs to carefully navigate its own Turkey policy so long as Erdogan sticks to his stance on Pakistan.


[1]Stanly Johny, “The View from India | The reign of Erdogan continues”, 29 May 2024,
[2] “PM Modi lauds Erdogan win, hopes for boost in Turkiye ties”, Times of India, 30 May 2023,
[3]Neyran Elden and Henry Austin, “President Recep Erdoğan re-elected for unprecedented third term as Turkey’s president”, 28 May 2023,
[4]See, Hindustan Times, 1 June 2023.
[5] “Explained: Why China and Turkey won't attend the G20 meet in Srinagar”, 22 May 2023,
[6] “Triumph in Turkey”, The Statesman, editorial, 30 May 2023,
[7] “What Turkey polls mean to the world”, Hindustan Times , editorial, 30 May 2023.
[8] “IstanBully”, Times of India, editorial, 30 May 2023.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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