What an Erdogan loss in Turkey’s presidential election would mean for the country and the world

The Turkish leader has held a grip on power for two decades. His departure from the scene would have major consequences.

It might prove to be the most important international election of 2023, and perhaps the most important in the history of the modern Turkish Republic. And as the year begins, polls suggest it may also bring a sea change: After a two-decade-long hold on power, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces the real possibility that he may lose.

The idea that Turkish voters might show him the door carries huge implications for Turkey, the region and the rest of the world, several experts told Grid. Turkey’s status as a NATO member, a pivotal bridge between Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and Erdogan’s own balancing act between Russia and the West when it comes to Ukraine — all these factors give the country a crucial place on the geopolitical map. On Erdogan’s watch, relations with the U.S. have deteriorated, as have ties with Europe. Inside NATO, Erdogan has assumed the role of a wild card, complicating the path to membership in the alliance for Sweden and Finland, and demanding concessions from NATO as the West attempts to mount a united front in the face of the Russian threat.

“Turkey is an important country,” Berk Esen, an international relations expert at Sabanci University in Istanbul, told Grid. “It is not one of the top players in the Global South, like China or India or Brazil, but it has a sizable economy, located in between the European and Asian and African continents, and it is a major Western ally, which has been acting in an increasingly maverick manner within NATO. It’s also hosting nearly 4 million [Syrian] refugees.

“So what happens in Turkey does have real ripple effects, first to the Middle East and Europe, but also globally.”

But it’s a crisis at home that has put Erdogan’s long reign in jeopardy. As prices of everyday goods in Turkey have climbed, the president has continued to slash interest rates — turning economic theory on its head and driving prices higher.

Inflation touched a year-on-year high of 85 percent in October, but while other central banks around the world have raised interest rates to help lower inflation, Erdogan has continued to buck the conventional economic wisdom. The result is an inflation rate that, while off October’s highs, is still in the high double digits, battering the incomes of ordinary people.


“For the opposition, the economic crisis has opened up an opportunity for the first time in many years,” said Emre Erdogan, an expert on Turkish elections and professor at Istanbul’s Bilgi University (and no relation to the president).

The mere possibility of Erdogan’s ouster has surprised many observers and politicians around the world. He has survived multiple crises over the past two decades and over time has steadily concentrated more and more power in the president’s office. Erdogan has also populated the bureaucracy with those loyal to him and his right-wing, nationalist political party, and many dissenting voices have been stifled; most private print and television outlets are now owned by companies with close government links.

Esen, from Sabanci University, said Erdogan has transformed Turkey’s democratic government into a “hyper-presidential system,” in which “parliament is no longer that powerful.”