U.S. presidents come and go, Erdoğan stays

An image circulating on Turkish social media and messaging apps has drawn attention to the length of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s time in office in comparison to his U.S. counterparts.

Following his election last week, Joe Biden is set to become the fourth U.S. leader to enter the White House since Erdoğan came to power in Turkey.

In that time, control of the U.S. government has changed hands on three occasions, with Democratic Party candidate Barack Obama taking over form Republican President George W. Bush in 2008, only to be replaced by the Republican Donald J. Trump in 2016, before Biden triumphed again for the Democrats on Nov. 3.

In contrast, Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has ruled uninterrupted since 2002, with Erdoğan shifting from prime minister to empowered president, a move reminiscent of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s own efforts to remain in power.

And while U.S. presidents are limited to no more than two four-year terms in office, a loophole emanating from Turkey’s 2017 constitutional amendments could see Erdoğan stand for president twice more, taking him to 2033.

Already aged 66, another 13 years as Turkey’s most powerful man may be beyond Erdoğan, with possible successors rumoured to be lined up from within his own family. But with the sudden fall from grace of Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak, who recently resigned as finance minister under a cloud of mystery, there are now fewer viable candidates. The president may be tempted to hold on.    

Such topics of longevity of regional authoritarian leaders and Western democracies have been a point of comparison for a long time. Turkey was not a part of such comparisons - until now.