Is Erdogan’s Era Coming to an End in Turkey?

The ruling party suffered major setbacks in the recent elections; Ankara’s domestic policies and global role are at a crucial junction

In the wake of the March 31 municipal elections, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a significant announcement, declaring them to be his final political contest within the bounds of current legislation. He stated, “For me, this is final. These elections are my last elections within the powers granted by the law. Following this, there will be a transition to my brothers who will come after me.” This marked a pivotal moment, not only for his career but potentially for Türkiye’s socio-political landscape as well.
Erdogan’s tenure as prime minister and later president, which began in 2003, has been characterized by a series of transformative policies that have significantly impacted Türkiye’s domestic and international position. However, the limitations set by Turkish legislation, requiring Erdogan to step back, hint at a broader shift underway, perhaps signaling the close of the Erdogan era.
The 2023 presidential elections underscored this sentiment. Erdogan secured victory in a closely contested run-off, garnering 52.18% of the votes against Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s 47.82%. This narrow margin, unprecedented in Erdogan’s tenure, suggests a changing political tide, which was further substantiated by the results of the recent municipal elections.
The municipal elections of March 31 revealed a stark transformation in Türkiye’s internal socio-political dynamics. The opposition’s People’s Republican Party (CHP) won in 36 out of 81 municipalities, a significant leap from previous years, indicating a rising tide of change. With a national share of 37.7% of the votes against the ruling party’s 35.4% and a voter turnout of 77.3%, these elections represented the opposition’s most substantial victory since Erdogan’s rise to power.

A focal point of intrigue was Istanbul, Erdogan’s birthplace, where he started his political career. Ekrem İmamoğlu of the CHP won the mayoral seat with a considerable margin, solidifying the opposition’s grip on Türkiye’s most populous city. Similarly, Ankara witnessed a landslide victory for the CHP’s Mansur Yavaş, further illustrating the shifting political landscape.
These elections also highlighted significant regional variations in political allegiance. While Erdogan’s party maintained dominance in central Türkiye, it also made notable gains in the south, regions recently devastated by a catastrophic earthquake. Conversely, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) took control of 10 provinces in the predominantly Kurdish southeast, indicating a diversification in political representation and priorities.
Perhaps most striking was the victory of the moderately Islamist New Welfare Party in Şanlıurfa province, a departure from Erdogan’s ally base, signaling a realignment in Türkiye’s political factions in response to domestic and international pressures, including the fallout from the war in Gaza.
These developments suggest a critical juncture in Turkish politics. Erdogan’s acknowledgment of his final term within the current legislative framework, coupled with the electoral gains of the opposition, points to a potential transformation in Türkiye’s socio-political landscape. As Erdogan’s era is possibly drawing to a close, the rise of new political forces and alignments beckons a period of introspection and potential redirection for Türkiye, navigating between its deep-rooted historical identities and the pressures of modern governance. The implications of this transition extend beyond Türkiye, potentially affecting its role on the global stage, particularly in relation to the West and the Middle East. As Türkiye stands at this crossroads, the unfolding political narrative will be critical in shaping not only its future but also its legacy under Erdogan’s leadership.