Five Takeaways From Turkey’s Election

By Palko Karasz

Banners of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan before the elections, in Istanbul, Turkey.CreditSergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

Against a backdrop of widespread repression and a weakened economy, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey was re-elected on Sunday, while his alliance won a majority in parliament.

Formerly prime minister, Mr. Erdogan was elected president in 2014 and, after a failed coup in 2016, persuaded voters to change the Constitution to transform the once-ceremonial job into a position with executive control of the government. Sunday’s election signaled a new era for Turkey, a pivotal country straddling Europe and the Middle East.

Here is where Turkey stands after the election.

The nature of Mr. Erdogan’s role will change little, since he already informally exerted far more power than his position technically allowed.CreditAris Messinis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In theory, Mr. Erdogan’s re-election as president gives him sweeping powers that he has never wielded before. Because of changes to the Turkish constitution made last year, the president — not the prime minister — will now be the formal head of the Turkish government. Mr. Erdogan can now appoint ministers himself, issue decrees, make crucial appointments in the judiciary, and authorize investigations of individual civil servants.

In practice, however, the nature of Mr. Erdogan’s role will change little, since he already informally exerted far more power than his position had technically allowed, said Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey specialist at St. Lawrence University.

For instance, Mr. Erdogan has led cabinet meetings since 2015, even though that is usually the prerogative of the prime minister. And few judges have dared to issue judgments unfavorable to Mr. Erdogan, particularly since the start of a purge of the judiciary that has led to the dismissal of around a quarter of all judges since 2016.

“I don’t see this as revolutionary,” said Mr. Eissenstat. “It codifies and solidifies something that’s been underway for a decade.”

Voters in Istanbul on Sunday.CreditEmre Tazegul/Associated Press

With more than 86 percent of Turks participating, the vote was considered free. But international observers said it took place in circumstances that had clearly favored Mr. Erdogan.

His control of state media and his influence over most private outlets gave him “a notable advantage,” according to election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Most opposition candidates were afforded just a few minutes of coverage by state broadcasters, compared to hundreds of hours for Mr. Erdogan.

One of Mr. Erdogan’s leading challengers, Selahattin Demirtas, was forced to conduct his campaign from prison because he had been jailed on politicized charges nearly two years ago, along with several of his lawmakers.

And since the election took place under a state of emergency, severe restrictions impinged on the opposition’s ability to hold rallies and protests.

With more than 100,000 alleged dissidents arrested in the past two years, and a similar number dismissed or suspended from their state jobs, the campaign took place in what Amnesty International described as “a climate of fear” amid a crackdown following the failed military coup of 2016.

A currency crisis, which began in May, saw the lira plummet, threatening businesses that trade internationally with bankruptcy and reducing people’s spending power.CreditSergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

Mr. Erdogan’s recent economic interventions helped to cause a loss in the lira’s value — and the currency problem could worsen now that he has been returned to office.

For most of his time in power, Mr. Erdogan had a reputation for strong economic management, partly because of spectacular economic growth under his watch during the 2000s.

But his economic reputation weakened in May, when Mr. Erdogan threatened to take greater control of Turkey’s central bank if he won re-election, a move that frightened investors, and caused the lira to plummet, and the price of food to rise.

Since voters failed to punish him for his intervention, Mr. Erdogan may now feel emboldened to follow through on his promise — which would be “a disaster for the lira, inflation and those invested in debt,” said Emre Deliveli, a financial consultant and former columnist for the English-language Hurriyet Daily News. “We are going to have a huge economic crisis one way or another.”

Mr. Erdogan has drawn increasingly close to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.CreditTolga Bozoglu/EPA, via Shutterstock

Mr. Erdogan’s victory is problematic for Turkey’s allies in Europe and the United States.

When he first came to power in 2003, Mr. Erdogan brought Turkey closer to Europe — by accelerating membership negotiations with the European Union — and sought a historic settlement with the country’s Kurdish minority. But to maintain the support of nationalist voters in recent years, he has increasingly picked fights with European politicians, led a campaign of repression in Kurdish areas, and — to the frustration of the United States, drawn increasingly close to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

These dynamics are likely to be compounded by the election result, said Marc Pierini, a former European Union ambassador to Turkey.

Mr. Erdogan’s victory was partly the outcome of his alliance with a far-right party, the Nationalist Movement Party, with anti-Western and anti-Kurdish views Mr. Erdogan must continue to accommodate.

“All of this plays into the hands of Putin,” said Mr. Pierini, now a fellow at Carnegie Europe, a Brussels-based research group.

Mr. Erdogan’s victory is also bad news for the American-backed Syrian Kurdish forces that have carved out an independent enclave in northern Syria, along Turkey’s southern border, which Mr. Erdogan regards as a threat to Turkish security. Emboldened by his victory, Mr. Erdogan may see no reason to abandon his strategy of chasing the Syrian Kurds away from key areas of northern Syria, said Mr. Pierini.

Supporters of the opposition leader Muharrem Ince at an election campaign rally in Istanbul last week.CreditSedat Suna/EPA, via Shutterstock

The unusually spirited performance of the opposition in such tough circumstances either bodes well for them in the future — or highlights the futility of running against Mr. Erdogan in such biased circumstances.

Muharrem Ince, Mr. Erdogan’s closest rival in the presidential race, won plaudits for engaging in an inclusive and feisty campaign — and may now have enough momentum to start a new movement, said Halil Karaveli, a Turkey analyst and author of the book “Why Turkey is Authoritarian.”

“Turkey is heavily polarized, but he is interested in reaching out the Kurds and the religious conservatives,” Mr. Karaveli said. “If he plays his cards well he is the man for the future.”

But other analysts were more pessimistic, and questioned whether the opposition should continue to legitimize a rigged system by taking part in elections.

“If basic civil liberties and basic rules of law are not being respected, they should not contribute to the illusion that Turkey is a real democracy,” said Mr. Eisensstat. “It’s time for them to consider whether they want to continue to facilitate the status quo in the hopes that at some point new realities emerge — or call attention to the way that those democratic norms have been hollowed out.”

Patrick Kingsley contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A10 of the New York edition with the headline: Vote Cements Power For Turkish Strongman. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe