As the leader of a regional power linking Europe and Asia, can he play a constructive role in ending the turmoil roiling the Middle East? Realising domestic stability and economic growth through heavy-handed politics alone is not easy.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has returned to office following his victory in the presidential election. In a general election held at the same time, the ruling party coalition won a majority in parliament.
In line with constitutional amendments made last year, Turkey will shift from a parliamentary cabinet system to a presidential one and the post of prime minister will be abolished. In addition to having a grip on the government's top spot, Erdogan will acquire sweeping powers that include the right to dissolve parliament and to appoint and dismiss cabinet ministers.
Including his stint as prime minister, Erdogan has led Turkey’s government for the past 15 years. His latest election victory lays the foundation for two more terms in power – a long-term administration that would last 10 more years. It can be said that Erdogan’s strategy of bringing forward elections scheduled for November 2019, prompted by forecasts of a worsening economy and a decline in his support rate, has proved successful.
Erdogan stated, “With this victory, we will become even stronger.” It appears many voters, particularly in the lower and middle-income groups, applauded the economic growth achieved under Erdogan and chose to keep his administration in power.
It is worrying that internal divisions and instability in Turkey’s relations with other nations are becoming increasingly serious.
The government has continued a severe crackdown on opposition parties and the media ever since a military coup attempt in July 2016.
A state of emergency declared after the coup attempt has yet to be lifted, and opposition parties could not even freely hold gatherings.
Even so, Erdogan won only about 53 per cent of votes cast in the presidential election.
Investment from overseas has tended to decline due to concern over Turkey’s domestic political uncertainty. The falling value of the lira and soaring prices have caused anxiety over the economic outlook. Turkey's government must give priority to the issues of repairing these divisions and re-energising the economy.
Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, but Erdogan has deepened cooperative ties with Russia, which is hostile to Nato, and Iran through Turkey’s actions in Syria’s civil war and other issues. Turkey’s relations with the European Union have deteriorated, and negotiations over Turkey joining the bloc have stalled. Erdogan has strengthened his unifying force by portraying himself as a “strong leader” as he is antagonistic toward the United States and European nations, and by fanning hostility toward forces of the ethnic minority Kurds. Concerns have been raised about such methods Erdogan has used. Cooperation between Turkey and Western Europe is indispensable for effectively dealing with the refugee problem and terrorism by extremist groups.
Many Japanese companies do business in Turkey, and Tokyo and Ankara are holding talks on forming an economic partnership agreement. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent Erdogan a message in which he expressed his desire to develop the important Japan-Turkey relationship in every field.
Japanese government should more strongly press Turkey’s new administration to contribute to stability in the Middle East.