Mar 28 2019

Pre-election review of Turkey’s Erdoğan era

Turkey heads to the polls on Sunday for local elections that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has presented as a life-or-death struggle against forces seeking to undermine the country, but opposition parties see as a chance to dent the president’s prestige.

Here is a timeline of events that have shaped the rise to power, and rule, of Erdoğan and the AKP:

1994 – Erdoğan is elected mayor of Istanbul in the wake of municipal corruption scandals.

1997 – The military ejects Turkey’s first Islamist-led government from power in what has become known as a “soft coup”.

1999 – Erdoğan is jailed for four months for inciting violence and religious hatred by reciting a poem that included the lines, "The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”

2002 - Just a year after it is founded, the Islamist AKP scores an overwhelming victory in a general election. The party benefits from an economic recovery already underway with the help of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund.

2003 – Erdoğan takes office as prime minister after a political ban handed down with his jail term is lifted. “A political party cannot have a religion,” he tells the New York Times. “Only individuals can. Otherwise, you'd be exploiting religion, and religion is so supreme that it cannot be exploited or taken advantage of.”

2005 - Turkey begins accession talks with the European Union after adopting a range of democratic reforms, such as reining in the power of the military, allowing Kurdish-language broadcasts on public television and abolishing the death penalty.

2007 - Parliament elects the country’s first Islamist president, Abdullah Gül, an Erdoğan ally. Gül is distrusted by the secularist establishment and military, in part because his wife wears a headscarf, which at that time is still banned in public buildings.

2008 – An Istanbul court holds the first hearing in a string of cases against hundreds of military officers and others in the secularist establishment on charges of plotting a coup against Erdoğan’s government. Scores are given lengthy jail sentences after five years of contentious hearings. A book written last year by a former Gül aide said Erdoğan worked closely with members of the now-banned Gülen movement to co-ordinate and rig the trials. “The Ergenekon case has transformed people's perceptions of the government from one regarded as largely progressive, to one regarded as authoritarian,” Guney Yildiz wrote for the BBC in 2013. All the jailed were later freed and their convictions quashed.

2011 – Civil war breaks out in neighbouring Syria, Erdoğan backs the armed rebels and the first of 3.6 million Syrian refugees now in Turkey begin to arrive.

2013 – March – Jailed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan announces a ceasefire and the start of a peace process to end the group’s insurgency that began in 1984.

2013 – May - A small sit-in against the destruction of Gezi Park, one of the last remaining green spaces in the city centre, snowballs into nationwide demonstrations against Erdoğan’s increasingly Islamist and authoritarian leadership. Eleven people are killed and thousands injured in the protests, which are forcefully put down by riot police.

2013 – December – Prosecutors linked to the Gülen movement charge AKP ministers and their relatives on corruption charges, formalising the split between the two wings of Turkey’s Islamist movement. The charges are later dropped and the prosecutors arrested.

2014 - Erdoğan becomes Turkey’s first-ever directly elected president with 52 percent of the vote.

2015 – June – In general elections, the AKP loses its parliamentary majority for the first time.

2015 – July – The conflict with the PKK resumes and quickly spreads. The PKK’s youth wing soon seizes city centres in the mainly Kurdish southeast and the army crushes the uprising with tanks and artillery. Hundreds of thousands of people have since been displaced across the southeast, with 4280 people killed, including 464 civilians, according to the International Crisis Group.

2015 – November – The AKP regains its parliamentary majority at general elections, promising security in the face of the threat from the PKK and a string of Islamic State bombings.

2016 - Renegade soldiers stage a coup against the government. Erdoğan calls the people onto the streets to face down the tanks and defeat the coup, but some 250 people die in the violence. The president later blames the coup on his former ally, U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, yet also calls it a “gift from God”. Turkey enacts a state of emergency, arresting some 50,000 people and dismissing or suspending some 130,000 public servants for alleged links to Gülen.

2017 - Voters approve by 51 percent a new constitution that transforms Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system, scrapping the prime minister’s post and giving the president the power to appoint ministers, prepare the budget and enact laws by decree.

2018 - Erdoğan easily wins a presidential election and the new executive presidency comes into force. The victory “gives him the powers of the presidency, prime ministry, and commander-in-chief rolled into one, rendering him more powerful than many dictators,” writes Ahval editor Ilhan Tanir.

2019 – March - Turkey holds local elections, the first under the new system of government.