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key dates in Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political career

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ruled Turkey with a firm hand for over twenty years. By removing secularism from Turkish society established by the country’s first president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the strongman of Ankara is using religion as a spearhead. After years without a real opponent and a power without concessions, Mr. Erdogan is, for the first time, jostled on his throne. During the first round of the presidential election on May 14, 2023, he did not obtain an absolute majority, which forced him to face the opposition candidate, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, in the second round. Back to some dates that have marked the power of Recep Tayyip Erdogan since his entry into politics.

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1994: debut as mayor of Istanbul

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is standing in the municipal elections on the list of the Islamist Prosperity Party (Refah Partisi). Thanks to his anti-corruption program and his commitment to the development of Istanbul’s infrastructure, he was elected mayor of the city. Remember that Turkey is still a secular state and that it is the army that ensures the regularity of institutions. However, Mr. Erdogan, who puts Islam at the forefront of his discourse, finds himself directly confronted with the Turkish Constitution. Four years after his arrival at the head of the city of Istanbul, in 1998, he recites a religious poem in public, which is strictly forbidden, according to the law. He was then sentenced to prison for incitement to hatred and five years of ineligibility.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, mayor of Istanbul, greets his supporters in Istanbul, September 24, 1998.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, mayor of Istanbul, greets his supporters in Istanbul, September 24, 1998. © AP Photo / Murad Sezer

2001: economic liberalism and moderate political Islam

The former mayor of Istanbul does not give up his political dream after his conviction. He distanced himself from the Turkish Islamist movement and embarked on the path of economic liberalism and moderate political Islam. He is one of the main founders of the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi – AKP), attached to the values ​​of democracy.

2002: victory in the legislative elections

Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party, after a gigantic electoral campaign, won the legislative elections with an overwhelming majority. While waiting for the end of his period of ineligibility, Mr. Erdogan leaves the place of Prime Minister to his right-hand man, Abdullah Gül.

2003: in the shoes of Prime Minister

Recep Tayyip Erdogan uses all his political weight to obtain the cancellation of his ineligibility sentence. The 14th March, he is appointed new Prime Minister and surrounds himself with a government which must work on economic issues to relaunch the country and, at the same time, meet the necessary conditions for the candidacy for membership of the European Union .

2007: full powers and the death of secularism

In April, the term of President Ahmet Necdet Sezer comes to an end. Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants Parliament to appoint a strongman from his party (AKP) to this post, in the person of former Prime Minister Abdullah Gül. The army immediately expresses its concern, because the president is, according to the Constitution, the guarantor of secularism in the country while Mr. Gül is the incarnation of the Islamo-conservative party. Giant demonstrations in all major cities of Türkiye are organized. But after the legislative elections in August, Erdogan’s AKP again wins an absolute majority and the new parliament appoints Abdullah Gul President. He is the first president of modern Turkey from an Islamic party. The highest army officials are accused of attempted coup and gradually eliminated from the political scene. Opposition becomes almost non-existent, as many parties are banned. Education is based on the religious system while prayers or gender inequality are promoted.

2013: protests against power

In May, a small protest sparks a movement across Turkey. That of the environmental movement – in protest against the destruction of a small park in downtown Istanbul – is suppressed by force. Subsequently, a major protest movement against the authoritarian power of Recep Tayyip Erdogan is organized and spreads for more than a month throughout the country. It is in this context that a scandal linked to corruption broke out. Involved, several ministers as well as the son of Mr. Erdogan resign.

2014: in the role of the president

Despite the protests, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is elected president in the first round of the 10 august. He harvests 52% votes in this first presidential election by direct universal suffrage. As the powers of the Turkish President are less important than those of the Prime Minister, Mr. Erdogan wishes to modify the Constitution.

2015: without an absolute majority

In June, during the legislative elections, for the first time since its creation, Erdogan’s AKP party lost an absolute majority in Parliament. Recep Tayyip Erdogan must postpone his draft amendment to the Constitution. In the elections that the AKP organizes again in November, the party finally wins an absolute majority. In July, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish army broke the ceasefire decreed in 2013. The fights with the Kurdish separatist movement, which made more than 40 000 victims since 1984, resume when the big cities are the target of several terrorist attacks claimed by the PKK or the Islamic State group.

2016: a failed coup

In March, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the European Union reach an agreement in the midst of the refugee crisis from Syria. This agreement reduces the number of migrants in Europe.

In the night of 15 to 16 July, a faction of the army attempts a coup. Istanbul airport and bridges over the Bosphorus are blocked by tanks and the putschists take over state television. In the clashes, more than 250 people lose their lives. Power accuses the preacher Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in the United States, of being behind the putsch. Erdogan establishes a state of emergency and takes advantage of the crisis to bring the country under control. The end of the year 2016 is marked by purges in many state institutions (army, justice, security services, education, media, among others).

Policemen stand on one of the army's armored vehicles after troops involved in the coup surrendered on the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, July 16, 2016.
Policemen stand on one of the army’s armored vehicles after troops involved in the coup surrendered on the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, July 16, 2016. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

2017: reinforced powers

Recep Tayyip Erdogan organizes a referendum on the reform of the Constitution. The project was adopted by a narrow majority, with51% votes for. Thus, Erdogan grants himself the functions of the president, the chief of the armies and the government, because the function of Prime Minister is abolished.

2018: re-election

The first round of the presidential election is organized in June. Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also counting on the votes of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), a far-right party with which he has formed a coalition. Thanks to the 52.6% of the votes obtained in the first round, he was elected and thus eliminated his main opponent, Muharrem Ince. The whole of the international community as well as the opposition denounced the unequal conditions during the electoral campaign: media favorable to Mr. Erdogan, mobilization of religion for political ends… At the same time, the Turkish economy is beginning to weaken and the inflation rate is breaking records.

2023: uncertainty

Despite the economic crisis, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is rising in the polls before the presidential election on May 14.

However, on February 6, a powerful earthquake hit Turkey and especially the regions where the Turkish president has broad support. For public opinionthe large number of victims of the earthquake (more than 50 000) is the consequence of a bad state policy in terms of prevention and housing construction regulations that are not clear enough and easily circumvented by corruption. The popularity of Recep Tayyip Erdogan is collapsing, while the main opposition candidate, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, is taking advantage of this momentum of protest. For the first time, during the first round of the presidential election, Mr. Erdogan did not obtain an absolute majority. He is forced into the second round, the outcome of which is uncertain.

Our selection on the subject:

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, candidate for re-election after twenty years in power, seems threatened for the first time by a rival, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu.  May 13, 2023.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, candidate for re-election after twenty years in power, seems threatened for the first time by a rival, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu. May 13, 2023. © AP Photo / Emrah Gurel

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