Erdoğan the Magnificent
Erdoğan’s natural ally in parliament is the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The two parties were in a pre-electoral alliance, and Erdoğan owes his election to the 11% of the vote won by his political partner. But a deeper, long-term alliance with the MHP will have significant implications for Turkey’s domestic politics and international standing. It will also constrain Erdoğan’s room for policy maneuver.
At home, the MHP stands for order and security. The alliance with MHP will therefore preclude any opening – akin to the peace initiative launched by the AKP government in 2015 – toward Turkey’s Kurds. By the same token, the MHP is not likely to be a natural partner for any large-scale democratic reforms aimed at strengthening fundamental freedoms.
On the foreign-policy front, the MHP’s inherently Euroskeptic stance will further restrict Turkey’s diplomatic space to rebuild its relations with its partners in the West. During the campaign, the MHP leadership even called for Turkey to withdraw its moribund bid for accession to the European Union.
Turkey’s economic vulnerabilities pose a second and equally important constraint on Erdoğan’s authority. Unlike commodity-based economies with current-account surpluses, like Russia and Brazil, Turkey is reliant on foreign savings. Turkey fuels its growth by tapping international capital markets to finance its annual external borrowing requirement of around $250 billion. This substantial deficit is the consequence of a chronic gap between investment and saving, and past AKP governments’ failure to enact structural reforms to raise total productivity and enhance Turkey’s international competitiveness.
An overemphasis on growth in recent years has exacerbated these difficulties. Last year, Turkey growth rate of 7% was among the highest in the OECD. But Erdoğan’s expansionary policies have compounded the country’s structural imbalances, with inflation rising to double digits, nominal interest rates reaching 16%, and the current-account deficit surpassing 6% of national income.
Erdoğan’s performance as Turkey’s executive president will therefore depend on his ability to chart a trajectory that satisfies the MHP’s main priorities and addresses the adverse consequences of economic overheating. Both constraints are likely to become stronger over time, with the MHP increasingly emboldened by its parliamentary leverage, and the economy in growing need of a potentially contractionary adjustment.
Throughout Erdoğan’s coming term, the question will nonetheless remain: Can these practical – and thus ephemeral – constraints serve as even a minimal proxy for the robust guarantees of a consolidated democratic system?
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2016.-project-syndicate.org