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Aug 10, 2014 | 20:48 GMT

3 mins read

Erdogan Becomes Turkey's New President

Erdogan Becomes Turkey's New President
(ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan secured on Aug. 10 another five years at the helm of the Turkish republic, this time from the Cankaya presidential palace in Ankara. With more than 50 percent of the vote, Erdogan has avoided a runoff in the country's first direct election for president.

The election results confirm that Erdogan maintains strong support from roughly half of Turkey's population. The other half has been deeply alienated by many of Erdogan's policies — from his party's intrusions into social customs, intensifying media crackdowns and an ongoing purge of the Gulen movement — but remains too divided to pose a serious challenge to the ruling Justice and Development Party in either this or the upcoming 2015 general elections. Erdogan's main opponent, Republican People's Party candidate Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, who could not even claim full support from his own party when he was nominated, came in second place with 38 percent of the vote so far. People's Democratic Party leader and pro-Kurdish candidate Selahattin Demirtas received less than 10 percent of the vote. Demirtas' performance in the election reveals that a significant portion of Turkey's Kurdish population is still looking to Erdogan to drive through a peace process that enhances Kurdish cultural rights, aiming to neutralize a long-running insurgency led by the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party.

Kurdish support will be critical to the next step in Erdogan's agenda: constitutional reforms designed to enhance his powers as president. Having secured a majority of the vote, Erdogan has the option to move up the general election, slated for June 2015, to take advantage of the current political climate and pre-empt potential economic and foreign policy trouble down the road. Even as Turkey gradually recuperates growth and investment after a particularly volatile start to the year, it is still dealing with anemic growth in Europe and major instability in Iraq, its two main export markets. Along with ongoing unrest in Iraq, sanctions and counter-sanctions between Russia and the West are also adding uncertainty to the markets, exacerbating the Turkish lira's already high vulnerability to shifts in investor confidence due to the country's high reliance on capital inflows.

Erdogan's Justice and Development Party, or AKP, would need to win a bigger majority of at least two-thirds in parliament to push through the proposed constitutional changes. More immediately, Erdogan will have to decide who will assume his current position as prime minister and head of the AKP. The candidate will need to be someone non-threatening to Erdogan, but strong enough to hold the party together. Candidates in consideration include Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, former Transportation and Communications Minister Binali Yildirim, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and deputy chairman of the AKP Mehmet Ali Sahin. Erdogan has extended his political tenure with relative ease, but there is still more work to be done in choosing the right candidate to hold his party together and the optimal time to hold parliamentary elections.

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